4/12/2013 11:11:00 AM The plains of Africa "revisited'
by Sue Sullivan
On furlough from their missionary post at Evangel Hospital in Jos, Nigeria, Rick and Brenda Naatz returned to Cannon Falls in June, 2011, for a mandated one-year stay. Brenda explained, "Usually it is one year but we have had two of our children married and my husband has gone back to school to complete his master's in Educational Leadership since we have been home this time. It will probably be 14 months more before we return to Jos, but we do plan to go back."
In 2002 the Naatz's five children, whose ages were at the time Elias, 17; Heather, 15; Isaac and Aaron, 13; and Jacob, 9, relocated with their parents to a mission field in Jos, Nigeria, for a four-year term. Under the auspices of the organization SIM (Serving in Mission), they packed their belongings (44 boxes), selling what they couldn't take along, and began their sojourn to the central plateau in a war-torn nation divided between Muslims to the north and Christians to the south. "We just felt 'called,' to the mission field," explained Brenda, "so we went."
Their first night in Nigeria, having arrived in the north where the temperatures were hot and steamy, exhausted by the move and surprised by the culture shock, they cried. "There were huge cockroaches and while we were treated well, the place we were staying was so small," explained Brenda. Shortly after, they were transferred to the hospital compound in Jos's more temperate climate, and they had larger living quarters. There they found four other missionary families and 40 Nigerian families with whom to connect.
While there, Rick is the director of the medical lab at the Evangel Hospital in Jos, and Brenda serves at SIM's travel office. She oversees the details of travel and immigration of the many people in various ministries in country. Rick also teaches the shop class at Hillcrest School, a Christian international school based on an American curriculum. They also take into their home newborn babies whose mothers do not want or cannot care for them, until an adoptive home can be found.
In 2005, during a break-in at the family's home, Elias, then 19, was shot in the upper arm by one of five robbers. He suffered an aneurysm and was flown back to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester for treatment.
An election in 2008 increased the tension in the country and in 2010, with a weak infrastructure and shaky government, the militant Islamic sect Boco Haram began to wage war in the north with the Federal Republic of Nigeria whom "they believe to be corrupt, false Muslims," according to an internet report. Their goal is to establish a "pure" Islamic state ruled by sharia law and they have done so by planting bombs almost weekly in public or in churches in the northeast, and setting fires to schools. "They have a level of sophistication that is more dangerous," explained Brenda. "We used to see more victims of machete wounds and now it is more firearms related." Brenda said they always had bags packed and sitting by the door, in the event they would be evacuated.
By the time they returned for their second term, only their youngest son, Jacob, returned with them. The others were in college in the U.S.
Their years in Nigeria formed a different, broader world view than the one they had when they left in 2002. When asked why they would return, Brenda's answer was simple, "It's God's call."
Brenda will be speaking at Our Saviour's Evangelical Lutheran Church's Spring Salad Luncheon on Saturday, April 13, after the noon meal.