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Canadian Doctor Faithful in the Trenches
Called of God and dedicated to helping mothers in distress in developing countries, Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese left the comforts of Ontario to live in Uganda and oversee the ministry.

By the time you read this story, Jean Chamberlain Froese, executive director of Save the Mothers will be settled into a new life with a new job, living in a new little bungalow in Mukono, Uganada.

It will be an "average African house," according to Chamberlain Froese; one with a dirt road that runs up to it, and one in which the electricity will go out every other night from 7 to 10 p.m. due to nationwide energy shortages.

To get there, she will have left the comforts of home in Ancaster, Ontario, endured an eight-hour flight to London with her two-year-old daughter and ten-week-old son, followed by a 12-hour stopover, then another eight-hour flight to Entebbe. (Her husband, journalist Thom Froese, flew over days before her, in order to set up their home and ready it for his family's arrival.)

But 12 days before leaving, in the midst of final packing, trip preparations and tending to the needs of her children, she gifted some of her time to me. When I voiced my gratitude, she was nonchalant; perhaps because self-sacrifice comes naturally to one used to acting selflessly.

As assistant professor and director of the international women and children's health program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Chamberlain Froese is an obstetrician and gynaecologist who has worked in some of the poorest nations on Earth, including Yemen, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Pakistan.

But three years ago she determined that her efforts and those of her colleagues were not enough. "I've just seen that building more hospitals and trying to get more doctors and nurses is not the answer," she said. That's when Chamberlain Froese launched Save the Mothers, an international Christian ministry committed to promoting the health and dignity of mothers in developing countries.

She moved to Uganda to engage local leadership to equip them with the tools they'll need to effect change in the arena of women's health care. Working in conjunction with Uganda Christian University, Save the Mothers is offering its first masters of public health leadership program; a modular program in which they are training 20 working professionals each year. Their goal: to have 100 local champions for women's health in that country in a mere five years.

But such goals aren't attained easily. And Chamberlain Froese admits that the practical realities of pursuing them can be frustrating.

"You would not believe the nightmare I've had in getting [my newborn son's] passport," she confided. "I mean you have these great intentions of going overseas and helping the world. But I had to go four times to get his photo retaken before the passport office would accept it. The first one was rejected because there was a glare on his bald head."

People can have great aspirations, Chamberlain Froese reflected, "but it's the work in the trenches that can drive you crazy."

If all goes according to plan, the Froese family will be "in the trenches" for some time. Their vision is to transplant Save the Mothers into a new country every four or five years. "That's why you need a lifetime commitment" she said.

"Everything always takes time," she added, not a hint of resignation in her voice.

… the most difficult aspect of the move revolved around concerns for her children.

Certainly this move to Uganda was a lifetime in the making. When she was only six or seven, Chamberlain Froese said she sensed a clear call of God to work overseas someday. She remembered loving the smell of anaesthetic when as a young girl she would accompany her mother, a nurse, to Christian camps each summer.

She admits that as a parent herself, the most difficult aspect of the move revolved around concerns for her children.

"I think malaria is the biggest medical concern, so we're taking medications. Poor little Elizabeth (two years old) had four needles in one week, which she obviously wasn't very happy about."

Toward the end of our interview we discussed her flight and how she would manage on her own with a toddler and an infant. I told her I admired her courage to be willing to make such a trip, but she was quick to point out that God Himself would be traveling with them.

People sometimes idolize Christian missionaries and overseas workers, Chamberlain Froese said, but that's wrong because, she insisted, such workers are just people doing the work that God intends for them.

"We're just human, and we make mistakes and we have our uncertainties and insecurities. But at the end of the day, each one of us just needs to be faithful to what God's called us to do."

Patricia Paddey is a freelance writer based in Toronto, Ontario.

Originally published in Christian Week, November 25, 2005.




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