Thursday, August 31, 2017


People often ask us how reality differed from our expectations in moving to Kenya. In many ways, we didn’t know what to expect from life and work at Tenwek, and we tried to approach our new life without too many assumptions. But, there were some things that surprised us. For me, it was living in community.

Our Kenya field missionary colleagues
Photo Credit: Dylan Nugent

I had not anticipated how living in such close proximity to those we serve with would affect me. Or how it would feel to live with the same people we work with and worship with and socialize with and do school with. This was a cost I had not counted.

It’s easy in that situation to begin to resent the community and those in it. I began to miss the compartmentalized and often virtual life that seemed so easy in the United States, where I could choose who I wanted to know and who I wanted to be known by. And I could so easily separate the various parts of my life – work, church, home, family. And in doing so, I could control appearances. But, at Tenwek, there is literally no facet of our lives that is not shared with others in our community.

About a year into our time in Kenya, a seasoned missionary shared with me a profound reflection on living in community – that if we let it be, community is one of the most refining processes we can ever experience. And why is it so refining? Because it forces us to acknowledge and respond to our own impurities.

Community walks into my house uninvited and stays longer than I planned, and it knows my lack of kindness when my schedule or efficiency is disrupted. Community hears me yell at my child in anger through the very thin walls. Community sees me lose patience and snap at a trainee or staff member. Community sees the way I turn a needy person away without gentleness or compassion. Community knows way too many of the times I’m not living a life of love or reflecting Jesus. Community is invasive and frustrating and hard. And community is indeed refining. Much like a marriage, it is that reflective mirror held in front of my face that reveals all the blemishes I want to pretend are not there. But unlike a marriage, I didn’t really choose this community. And sometimes our personalities and beliefs and approaches to life are very different. In all likelihood, most of them wouldn’t choose to marry me, and I might not choose to marry them.

Our residents (and Bob) work together to untangle themselves from a human knot
Photo Credit: Dylan Nugent

At first this all sounds rather unappealing. Who of us really wants to be refined? But when we let it, the difficulty of community gives way to a messy beauty. Sharing life, which means sharing the really bad and sharing the really good. Because for all the irritations and struggles, when people show up ready to know and love one another, it destroys the idea and appeal of self-reliance. I must rely on others because I cannot and will not make it on my own. Community lets me borrow food when I’m out of a necessary ingredient. Community watches my child when I’m up late at the hospital and makes sure she has dinner and companionship. Community remembers my birthday (even when I don’t necessarily want it remembered). Community knows when I’m ill and checks in. Community brings me a plate of the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever had on a day when I don’t think I can make it through.

A part of our community at Madison's baptism
Photo Credit: Rebecca Denning

In April, right before we left Kenya, Madison had the opportunity to be baptized in the Indian Ocean at our organization’s spiritual retreat. On that morning, as I looked around at the group of people who surrounded us, I was struck by the depth of relationship we had. I found myself loving the way community surrounds and celebrates and cares for one another. And I hold that beautiful picture in my mind as a picture of what Jesus wants for His followers.

Community remains hard, for us introverts, especially. Yet, for all of the hard parts, I remain grateful for the experience of community that we have had. I even find myself missing it and wanting to get back. Being here in the States, we have amazing relationships and people who care for us deeply and for whom we care. And we are blessed by that. But, I have noticed that so many people miss the beauty and blessing of community because it is often hard and inconvenient. And we have created a culture where we don’t need one another. And I find that sad. The word community literally means “with unity,” and living together in unity is what Jesus wants for us as His followers and His Church. Again and again, I see that unfold in the beautiful community He’s put us in, that in turn, refines to makes us all more beautiful.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Phil. 2:1-4

Monday, July 10, 2017

Transition and Questions - A Blog by Madison

Transitions are tough. Anyone who’s ever moved, changed jobs, gotten married, or done anything else that alters your life knows this to be a fact.

Transitions are tough.

I’ve experienced many transitions throughout my life. Coming back after living at Tenwek for two years has been a pretty hard adjustment. Moving there had been tough also, but it was a different kind of adjustment. Then, I was going to a country I didn’t know that would become my new home. Now, I’m coming home to a country I thought I knew, but it is only a temporary home.

My transition back has been full of questions. I have questions of my own, and I am asked a LOT of questions. I get them from old friends, from family, from people that I’ve never met, from everywhere. Some of the questions are fun to answer, while others are much harder.

I found a blog a while back that is written for missionaries by missionaries. It has some amazing posts that my parents and I can definitely relate to. One of these was a post about the top 10 questions missionary kids would love to be asked. I answered five of them earlier for a talk with families from our church, but I thought I would turn those into a blog for those of you who would like to learn more.

Riding a horse in Aberdare National Park

I’ll start by introducing myself. I’m Madison Parker, and my parents are Bob and Andrea Parker. We live at Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya, where my parents are general surgeons. I’m 13 and going into 9th grade this upcoming year. I love reading, writing, listening to music and playing bass, cooking, and drawing. I also love Tenwek, where my family and I have lived for the past two years. We’re excited to get back. We aim to get back in March, God willing.

Now that you know a bit more about me, here are the five questions from the blog that I’ve answered. If you would like to read the original article, here’s the link:

Question #1 What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you overseas?

            The church we go to in Kenya is right on the hospital grounds, and it’s where most of the staff of Tenwek Hospital go, along with their families. Our church is a mix of the cultures we live in. Nonetheless, there are still instances that remind us that we still live on the mission field.

            Before I tell my story, I need to give you one basic piece of background. In the local tribal language, Kipsigis, the sounds “p” and “b” are often interchanged. Hence the reason that signs reading “Pumbs (bumps) ahead” are not uncommon.

            So, we were sitting in church one Sunday during the prayer and praise requests time. People were occasionally standing up to tell their testimonies and ask for prayer, like normal. I had just leaned over to ask my mom a question when the room got quiet.

            Everyone was looking our way, but we weren’t sure why. We just kind of looked around, confused. The man leading prayer, who happened to be a good friend of ours, looked at us again and said, “Mrs. Barger, will you lead us in prayer?”

            My mom wasn’t very well-known in our church then, so she wasn’t sure if they were asking us to pray. To make it even MORE confusing, a missionary was sitting in front of us, whose name was Mrs. Burgert, who had been at Tenwek for a long time and is often called upon to pray.

            Trying to end the awkward moment, Mrs. Burgert stood up, assuming she was being called on, but the man waved his hand at her and shook his head, indicating she should sit back down. He looked directly at us, and said the name again.

            My mom stood up, finally concluding she was being called on to pray. But by then, no one was entirely sure what we were praying for, and unfortunately, my mom hadn't heard. She ended up praying for everything we normally prayed for (though usually at different times): offering, the kids' church, the prayer requests, and everything else she could think of. 

            After she sat down, the man leading the service just looked around and dismissed the kids to service after a few awkward minutes. This is a perfect example of the miscommunication we can sometimes experience. The language barrier isn’t too hard where we are, but even though I may be speaking the same language as the person I’m talking to, it can still be hard to understand each other.

Question #2 What do you miss about Kenya?

"The Squad"
            What I miss the most about Kenya is our community. I knew everyone there, and everyone knew me.  I had an incredible friend group (you can read more about them in the answer to the question below this), and have made many great friends during my two years there. I was able to go outside any time I wanted for the most part, and I could almost always find someone who would talk to me or hang out with me. I also felt very secure where we were, so I felt safe walking to my friends’ houses.

Rees and Madison in Greece

Question #3 Can you describe a regular day in your life?

            I wake up, eat breakfast and get ready, then start school around 8:00, usually. Our househelper, Regina, arrives around 10:30 or 11, and makes chai (Kenyan tea) for me. I have a break from school most days while I drink my chai, but sometimes I just continue to work. I have lunch at one. My parents are usually home for lunch, but occasionally I have lunch alone. I finish up school somewhere around 2 or 2:30 then the rest of the day is mine. I go and hang out with my friends for the entire afternoon most days. I come in at 6, then it’s dinner, time to hang out with family, and back to bed.

            Most recently, I have had five kids my age at Tenwek: three girls and two boys. We’re all really close. Most days just us girls hang out, but we do stuff all together a lot too. If we’re outside, we sit and talk, climb trees, play outdoor games like Cops and Robbers, or jump on the trampoline that one of my friends has. If we’re inside, we sit and talk (this happens a lot!), play a board game, or make/get something to eat.

Question #4 What characteristics of your host country’s culture have become a part of you?

            If you hang out with me enough, you’ll notice one thing right away. I say sorry. A lot. If you drop something and I didn’t even do anything to cause it, I’ll say sorry. This is a very Kenyan expression. It’s a way of showing you have empathy with another person. You say “pole” (Swahili for sorry) to show that you care for them.

Another one is that I’m relaxed and taking breaks all the time. In my mind, there is always time for chai. We can always stop and take a break from what we’re doing. Where we are, every morning around 11, almost everyone stops work and has chai, just like I do in school. I think those are two things that have become part of my personality.

Question #5 How can I pray for you personally?

            The big thing right now is just being back. Please pray for good adjustments and transitions to being in the States again, with our families. I would also love prayer for the right things to say when talking to people about where I live. Thank you for all those who pray for us already, and thank you to all those who will. We always appreciate prayer.
            Thanks for taking the time to read a little about me and what I do, and I hope that I answered your questions. Tutaonana! (Swahili for “Until we see each other!)

Overlooking the Rift Valley

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Welcome Back

These past several weeks have been a whirlwind as we have left Kenya after two and a half years at Tenwek Hospital and are currently back in the United States for a period of home ministry assignment, traditionally called furlough. We completed our work in the hospital at the end of April, having done our best to prepare each of our ministries and responsibilities for our absence. We then spent a week packing all of our belongings, deciding what should be left in Kenya for our return and what should come back with us. We said a lot of good byes – to residents and other trainees, to the hospital staff, to our fellow missionaries and colleagues, and to our church family.

Prior to flying out of Nairobi, we were privileged to spend a few days with other physicians and families who are serving in East Africa and the staff of the World Medical Mission’s Post-Residency Program, the program whose funding has been so instrumental in allowing us to serve at Tenwek these first two years as we learn the ropes of medical missions. Those few days created a needed margin between the sadness of good byes and joyful intensity of hellos.

Our Post-Residency Group

We traveled from Nairobi to Amsterdam to Atlanta to Indianapolis, where we were met by several of our very loving and welcoming family and a great friend. We have spent the past several days catching up with family that we haven’t seen for more than two years, meeting a niece and nephew for the first time, recovering from illnesses, and just generally enjoying resting and relaxing a bit.

Greeting family
Airport family picture with
Bob's family and meeting our new niece, Greta

Our friend, Julie, surprised us at the airport

Uncle Bobby plays baseball

Drawing buddies

And doctor

Meeting our new nephew, Todd

So, what is the purpose of a home ministry assignment (HMA) and what do we hope to accomplish in these next months?

Well, for starters, we feel strongly that God has called us to continue in medical missions, specifically at Tenwek. Despite some difficult circumstances and rough adjustments, God has focused our hearts on the ongoing clinical work, surgical training and discipleship and mentoring that has been our ministry at Tenwek these past two years. We recognize that there is a void that is created by our leaving, and, while we are looking forward to these next months, our goal is to return in March of 2018.

While the purpose of an HMA differs for different missionaries and different phases of life, for us, this first HMA term will focus on reconnecting with friends and family, working, gaining some further education, and building the financial and prayer support base that will allow us to continue to serve at Tenwek. Two years is a long time to have been away from family and friends, and we are excited to spend time renewing those relationships and being able to be a bigger presence in the lives of those we love here in the States. Bob will be working part time at the VA in Providence beginning in August. Beginning in June, he will be pursuing a Master of Public Health degree. This will allow him to be more effective in his role as Director of Research at Tenwek. Andrea’s role will largely be that of our support building. As medical missionaries, we do not draw a salary from the mission hospital where we serve, and we are not supported by an organization. Instead, we rely on individuals and churches who support us financially, thus allowing us to work at Tenwek. We will spend time traveling, speaking and meeting with those interested in our ministry in Kenya. As Madison begins her 9th grade year through North Star Academy’s online school, Andrea will also supervise and assist that process.

We are excited about this year and what it holds. We are incredibly grateful for all God has done and continues to do in our lives. And we look forward to seeing His faithfulness in these coming months. If you or someone you know has an interest in medicine, medical missions, Africa, or would just like the opportunity to be involved in what God is doing at Tenwek, we would love to have the opportunity to meet with or talk with you. We will do our best to keep you updated as this year progresses. We thank you for your financial support, prayer, and encouragement of us in this journey.

To partner with us in the work at Tenwek, simply visit or click on the "Partner with us" link to the right of this post.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Beginnings and Endings

January is a very busy but exciting time in the Tenwek Hospital Surgical Residency Program. It marks the end of one academic year and the beginning of another. Graduation celebrates the chief residents who have spent the last five years of life invested in training to be the best surgeons they can become. In welcoming new first year residents, we celebrate those who are embarking on an incredibly challenging journey of surgical education and spiritual discipleship. And the White Coat Ceremony celebrates what it means to be a Christ-honoring physician and surgeon for those residents who have completed another year of surgery and are moving on to the next year. And in all of these events, we celebrate what God is doing through at Tenwek to provide surgical care for the people of Kenya. As we look to returning for some time to the United States to do further support raising in order to return as career missionaries, it is wonderful to look back on and reflect upon this past year.

General and Orthopedic Surgery Residents and Faculty 


This year, we had the privilege of graduating four surgeons, men and women who are technically-gifted, superb clinicians, and who, most of all, are followers of Jesus Christ, committed to sharing the love of the Gospel with their patients and those around them. Each also has a vision for ongoing training and education of others, whether through training residents or interns or medical students.
They are going to a variety of places and practices within Kenya, and we are excited to see how God uses them. Dr. Seno Saruni will be working at St. Luke’s Hospital in Eldoret, Kenya, providing general surgery and orthopedic care. He will be working with the surgical residency program there to improve education. Additionally, his wife Betty, will be pursuing training in internal medicine. Dr. John Kanyi will join one of our PAACS graduates from last year at AIC Litein Mission Hospital. A second PAACS surgeon will allow the ongoing growth and quality of the surgical program there. Tenwek is honored to welcome Drs. Mike and Liz Mwachiro to our own team as general surgical faculty. Mike graduated from a 2-year endoscopy fellowship at Tenwek Hospital prior to his training in general surgery. He continues to have a passion for surgical endoscopy and research and will work in both endoscopy as well as the general surgery, teaching, training, and doing clinical work. He will also continue to be involved extensively in advancing research projects. Liz is an excellent clinician and educator, and we are excited for her work in the general surgery department. As we are able to grow the faculty within our department, we anticipate being able to increase and improve surgical training.

Graduating Chief Residents: Seno Saruni, John Kanyi, Mike Mwachiro, Liz Mwachiro
Prayer for Our Graduates

White Coat Ceremony

The White Coat Ceremony is a chance to honor those residents who are new to the program as well as those who are moving on to the next year. This year, we welcomed four new first year residents, two to our general surgery residency program, Drs. Nereah Aruwa and Sam Odongo, and two to our orthopedics program, Drs. Silas Ndege and Joyce Lunar. Between the general surgery and orthopedics residency programs, we now have 17 residents in various years of training. In addition to these residents, our colleagues in the family medicine residency participated in the White Coat Ceremony with us.

Current General Surgery Residents

The White Coat Ceremony was a moving time. It is humbling to reflect on the significance of the white coat, what it means to physicians collectively, what it means to patients, and specifically, what it means for us as Christian physicians to wear this symbol of healing.
Each resident was presented with a new white coat and a gift of a textbook relevant to his or her year. In addition, the faculty surgeon who presented these gifts shared a Bible verse and a brief message with the resident to encourage him or her in this upcoming year.

White Coat Ceremony

It continues to be an honor and a privilege to train these young Christian doctors to be excellent surgeons and educators whose lives and work reflect Christ’s love and sacrifice. And we remain grateful to God for all that he is doing at Tenwek Hospital and throughout Africa.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

My Neighbor, Dr. Martin Salia

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. 
John 15:13.

Dr. Martin Salia, a surgeon who gave his life in the service others, has been an inspiration to me. Two years ago, Martin contracted Ebola while working in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, his home country. He ultimately lost that battle to the devastating disease that wreaked havoc on his country as most of the world sat idly by. Over the last couple of years, I have been processing this while mourning the loss of a hero, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts.

Dr. Martin Salia at the United Methodist Church's Kissy Hospital
outside Freetown, Sierra Leone
Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS
I met Martin in 2007, while I was living in Kenya at Tenwek Hospital. He was here for a brief time to learn more about thoracic surgery, through the PAACS (Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons) training program. We lived next door to one another in the guesthouse. At the time, Martin was an enthusiastic surgical resident, dedicated to learning the craft so he could help the people of Sierra Leone. I was a medical student not quite sure about my path. As I learned more about the role of surgery in helping communities in need, Martin’s commitment struck me. He was among several devoted doctors who, because of their faith, wanted to bring surgical care and expertise to neglected areas across Africa. He told me about the lack of surgeons in Sierra Leone and the difficulties faced while working there. But despite those difficulties, Martin exuded hope and had a passion to selflessly serve in similar places. Even after fulfilling his obligation to PAACS (serving for 5 years after residency in an underserved setting) and becoming a naturalized US citizen, Martin continued to serve in Sierra Leone, even becoming the chief medical officer of his hospital. It was well known in his country that Martin took a substantial decrease in pay to work alongside the people he felt a calling to care for. During the Ebola crisis, Martin continued to work and care for his patients, leading to his untimely death.

Martin doing an operation at Kissy Hospital
Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS
Part of my understanding of how surgery could be used to give hope to the vulnerable was through Martin. There are an estimated 56 million people in Africa currently in need of surgical services. More doctors need more training to become surgeons. And beyond their surgical training and the care they provide to patients, these surgeons become leaders in their communities. Those like Martin who are willing to follow the command to serve the least of these inspired me to become a surgeon. Martin was not only intelligent and gifted, he was dedicated to service. He could have used his gifts for his own ambitions, but he did not. It humbles and encourages me to know there are those who would give up their wealth, their esteem, and even their lives in the service of others. I am so grateful that here at Tenwek, we have the privilege of working alongside others who have a faith that commands them to serve. Shortly after Martin’s time here, a surgical residency program was started. Soon, Tenwek will have graduated ten surgeons who, like Martin, will serve in areas with great need. Our residents have a hunger for knowledge and skills so they can provide care in a capable and compassionate way, just like he did. I can think of no better way to invest in the infrastructure of a community than to invest in these surgeon leaders. Even though it feels like Martin’s life was cut too short, he represents the beauty and the fruit of this investment.

As followers of Christ, we are exhorted to love our neighbors. Martin was literally my neighbor for a brief time. His love and his willingness to serve others demonstrated to me how he was inspired by faith to care for his neighbors. I am thankful to have known Martin, and that in one of the most formative times of my life our paths crossed. He helped me choose this atypical, but rewarding path. I will continue to be inspired by him as I know that he finished the race that he ran so well.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Reminders we live in Kenya

You haven’t heard from us in a while so we wanted to remind you that we are still in Kenya. Here are some random reminders to us over the last year that we still live and work in Kenya.

We are surrounded by beautiful landscape with a short walk to other stunning views. 

Driving is an adventure, and usually more of a misadventure. Every few minutes we come across something that we would have talked about for the week if we saw driving like that in the States. And coming from Rhode Island that says a lot.

But the driving is worth it. Going in different directions, we are a few hours from the rainforest, the savannah, canyons, lakes, and so much beauty. 

Overlooking the Kerio Valley Escarpment
Kakamega Rainforest

Overlooking Kakamega Rainforest

Inside Hell's Gate National Park

Overlooking Lake Nakuru
Along the drive from Nairobi to Tenwek, the Escarpment

Andrea and Madison with Kofi Annan, one of two white rhinos protected at the Mara Conservancy. Born in 2008, Kofi was named after Secretary General Annan after he negotiated a peaceful resolution to the 2007 Kenyan election
Sunset at the Mara

Everything takes us longer to do.

Improvisation around power outages

Food. Homemade actually means made at home from scratch. Bread, Pizza, Cheese. Yes, Andrea makes cheese. 

Andrea found this 1960's book at language school - The Missionary Wife and Her Work

To make such great food, why go to grocery stores when food grows on trees? 
Attempts at getting avocados

Bob slayed a Black Mamba on the neighbor’s porch…with a machete.

(no picture so the story can get better each time it is told)

The weather is wonderful. The big question is whether or not it will rain. 

Fifteen minutes after arriving to Crescent Island, a downpour left us seeking shelter.

There are animals in the trees. Madison or a monkey? Can never really tell the difference. 

More than anything, we have the privilege of working alongside an incredible group of people 
Andrea teaching at the Basic Surgical Skills Conference held at Tenwek

We are reminded that we get to be a part of something greater than ourselves. Bob visited Blasto, one of our recent graduates from the surgical residency program. Blasto is doing great and the mission hospital he is working at is benefiting tremendously from a consistent surgical presence.

A dedication of new surgical instruments at Litein Mission Hospital for Dr. Phillip Blasto Ooko