Mission Story #2 - An interview with Julie-Rachel Elwood
If you are coming to work as a missionary, I think you need a strong ‘call’. If there were a get-out clause, I wouldn’t have stayed. For me, this call was in the form of lots of little things, confirmation upon confirmation. I always wanted to do something for the Lord, but had no set ideas. That had partly motivated my decision to do nursing. When it came time to choose my nursing elective, I considered Murchison Hospital in South Africa. But in the end, I sat down to read through the Echoes magazine (for mission supporters), and wrote down the names of those missionaries who were currently on furlough at home in Northern Ireland. This led me to Betty Magennis, who was (and is) working as a nurse/midwife at Dipalata Hospital in North-Western Province, Zambia. Through Betty, I ended up in Zambia on elective in 2002. It was my first time leaving Northern Ireland on my own, and my first time in a plane! I had a fabulous time at Dipalata and felt the Lord with me. It felt like the kind of work I wanted to spend my life on. I’d also heard of the McAdams [David McAdam is Chitokoloki’s missionary surgeon], so spent 2 days at Chitokoloki at the end of my elective.
After finishing my nursing training, and praying through my future, I came back to Dipalata in 2003 but it didn’t quite feel like the right place for me. I again came to Chit for a week’s experience and felt a strong sense of calling. At the time, there was a nurse called Sandy based here and I went out with her doing village work, teaching Bible stories and so on. As I spent more time at Chit, it seemed so obvious that there was a role for me here.
When I returned home, I told my parents my intentions, and while supportive, they told me to slow down a bit! I applied for a few jobs, and ended up getting a job in the theatre department at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. I was placed in the neurosurgery theatre. I enjoyed neurosurgery, although I wouldn’t have chosen to work in that area myself - it didn’t seem very relevant to a future in a mission hospital. However, the Lord knew what was best – when I was in a big neurosurgery case, the long length of time taken for each surgery would mean that the anaesthetists would have time to teach, and gave me extra skills that have been invaluable at Chit. Also, it was common in neurosurgery for our all-day case to be cancelled, and I would get to work in almost every other type of theatre, where I got a hugely varied experience.
Another confirmation of my call to Chit came from a phone call from an individual who said, ‘the Lord has told me that you are going to be a missionary in Zambia… I’m going to teach the Lunda language and grammar to you.’ I had known how important language skills were, and in 2006 I got a work permit against expectations to work in Zambia, which again seemed to confirm I was on the right track.
On my previous visits to Zambia, I had been struck by how many of the medical challenges came in the form of obstetric emergencies, and I had a strong sense of wanting to also be trained as a midwife. The programme was competitive, with 600 applicants for 40 places, and I prayed that if God wanted me to get in, I would get an interview. I applied for midwifery training, then when I received an interview, I quit my job and came to Zambia again for another spell of volunteering. While I was out here, I heard that I’d been accepted for a place. I finished midwifery training in 2009, then things moved quickly; I received support from my local church elders and Echoes (mission service agency) to come permanently as a missionary nurse at Chitokoloki.
An excerpt from an interview between Julie and the Fergusson's.