As we dip below the cloud line, I get my first glimpse of what will be my new host country for the coming months. What first catches the eye is the inverted color scheme from Angola’s southern neighbor Namibia: a russet expanse pocked by occasional scrub brush yields to verdant jungles scarred by clay-colored tracks and trails with only occasional farm lands cleared for cattle. It is surprising, then, the (near) absence of wildlife; the result of unregulated trade in bush meat which is still available in restaurants today.
After a couple hours of scrutiny from the local immigration authorities, my passport received a shiny new visa and I was allowed to go meet the Kubackis who have patiently been awaiting my arrival outside. Dr. Tim and Betsy Kubacki together operate the Cavango Mission Station, an outpost of Centro Evangélica de Medicina do Lubango (CEML) 500 Km away where I will be working in a couple weeks. For now, though, they drive me into town to meet my host family in Lubango, Norm and Audrey Henderson of Ottawa, Ontario. Both couples serve as Anglican missionaries who were brought to this country by the Fosters.
No sooner do I set my bags down in the Henderson’s beautiful mission owned (and styled) home than we set off for dinner “at a friend’s house.” The friend? Janet Foster, daughter of famed surgeon-statesman-missionary Robert Foster, the man who started all of this. Franklin Graham, son of Billy, director of Samaritan’s Purse, and accomplished philanthropist, says of Robert Foster: “[he] has inspired and challenged me, not only in the ministry with which I’m involved, but also in my personal spiritual journey. When I get to the end of life’s road, I pray that God will have used me even a fraction of the way He has used Bob Foster.”
If one substitutes a surgical dynasty for banking, the Foster’s might as well be the Angolan Medici. On a nearly daily basis, I learn of a new Foster and their enterprises. Most of Robert’s children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews became surgeon missionaries somewhere in Africa, with son Stephen Foster taking up the mantle of CEML. The Fosters have become famous for providing the highest standard of care in Angola, saving lives that would otherwise be a lost cause (often for want of very simple drugs and procedures). When a driver asks my address, I simply say “Stephen Foster’s old house,” and no further questions need answered. If you’re getting hassled by the police, or stopped at a roadblock, merely invoke the name Stephen Foster and barricades part.
Much of the middle class I’ve met in Lubango are somehow involved in one of the various ministries and have formed their own social network. CEML is intimately tied to Serving in Mission (SIM): Angola, as such, the physicians largely socialize with the SIM disciples after work, many of whom (like the Hendersons) also work at the hospital. This relationship has grown to envelope the local pilots for Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) and field operatives for Overland Missions. This has gone so far as to evolve into shared housing compounds, leading to braais (South African BBQ) with aggregations of the most worldly, philanthropic, multi-lingual, globally aware, brilliant and all around interesting people one could ever meet.
Janet Foster, an English teacher and missionary, lives on a property that defies description. Sat alone on a mountainside overlooking Lubango, the home is essentially her lifesize set of Legos. Well-to-do families here often employ locals to do various jobs, when those jobs are finished, they invent new ones. For Janet, this meant two decades of additions to her once humble abode until all children, grandchildren, cousins, and visiting relations have scored their own rooms. The kitchen sprawls out into the courtyard with an absolutely massive outdoor hearth, of her own design and labor (she has these built brick hearths for many friends in the area), upon which she prepared our entire multi-course meal.
At any particular time, myriad languages may be spoken around the dinner table, covering topics from fatalism vs. spiritualism, village outreach to at-risk tribes, new surgical techniques being explored for CEML, or job training projects for local citizens. Sat next to me is Ken Foster, renowned surgeon (of course) who’s filling in for his cousin Stephen from Canada while Stephen is away on one of his ultra remote bush treks. A general surgeon, Ken practiced in Afghanistan from 1997-2011 and is one of only a handful of providers capable of repairing obstetric fistulas (explanation forthcoming). Two Australians, Shannon and Denae, discuss their plan to bring metal fabrication and welding training to Lubango which will create jobs while producing rugged, specialized vehicles akin to those used in the outback. The Hendersons provide dutiful prayers and keep everyone’s cups full; the rest of the table is filled in by various generations of Fosters.
Invariably, as the new “dotour” with CEML, everyone takes a concerted interest in my story, postulating ways to help connect me to someone or something that may help advance my efforts. The hospital’s internist, Dr. Haniel Eller from Brazil, was specifically interested in my plan to develop a clinic in Indonesia which will provide disaster relief in the region. “I know many doctors in that area,” he tells me, “I will put you in touch.” Sure enough, the next morning I wake to WhatsApp messages inviting me to come practice medicine in Java. I’ve traveled with some of the most remote tribes in that country, but I had to come to Africa to connect with Indonesian doctors.
Life is weird. Angola is wonderful.