When was the last time you did something for the first time? (Musings by Cheryl)

Almost every year I try to set goals for myself. They’re not really resolutions, more just plans and things to attempt. Usually they’re in one of 4 categories: physical, intellectual, spiritual, or relational. For example, about 25 years ago I had a goal of giving up red meat and pork in the name of good health. All these years later, still no meat, but my 261 cholesterol level hasn’t seemed to notice.

A couple of years ago, the goal was to run at least a mile every day. Turned out to be more challenging than expected when the year began with a stomach bug, but somehow I completed that goal, even with having to run in place in a Nairobi hotel after nearly 24 hours of traveling.

For 2017, in part guided by a question I have always loved, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?,” my goal was to do something new every week. I really wasn’t sure what was ahead with that, but it sounded like a good idea at the time. I kept a weekly log and while I’ll spare you ALL the entries, I thought I’d share a few examples and some insights.  Some of the things I planned, while many actually just happened. Many were positive experiences, but some not as much.

Some of the things I tried…

  • Explored some new Alabama vistas, including its highest point (Mt. Cheaha) and part of the Cahaba River . It’s amazing how much beauty is close by if we’ll just look!
  • Taught a class I’ve never taught and volunteered at some different places, including the Senior Olympics, which was SO inspiring!
  • Attended a coloring night with my friend Lydia at the Vestavia Hills library.
  • Went on my first college tour as an adult, showing my friends Olivia and Kathy around some great Midwestern colleges. Sharing life memories with the special people in your life is really meaningful. (Oh, and I’m very glad I don’t have to do any more formal education!)
  • Started a new position at the college where I’ve taught for more than a decade and then sadly, cleaned out my office on the day the school closed unexpectedly.
  • Began my own business doing leadership training and coaching – and even had some gigs!!
  • Ate at lots of new restaurants, which was my go-to when I couldn’t think of anything else new to do.  Also cooked new dishes (ok, maybe 2), and worked from some fun coffee shops.
  • Watched Amelia, one of our former live-in friends, get married.
  • Attended yoga, pilates, barre, and body flow classes. Found out I stink at most of these activities, but I really enjoy them and decided to keep going. Hopefully I amuse the instructors, rather than frustrate them!!
  • Received a super big hug from the man my husband refers to as my “boyfriend” (For those who don’t know…it was Anderson Cooper!) 
  • Learned more about one of my heroines (Eleanor Roosevelt) by attending a workshop, visiting her homestead, and touring the FDR Presidential Library.
  • Got Invisalign
  • Served as a birth photographer for one of the most important families in our life.
  • Went on a silent retreat at the Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center in Atlanta.
  • Walked thorough a very challenging time with someone I cherish – and joyfully saw them emerge triumphantly!
  • Presented papers  on topics near to my heart at two academic conferences I had never before attended.
  • Took my best bud and running partner, Bart, to the emergency room after my friend Dave pushed him down… (Just kidding, I pushed him down…)
  • Made a couple of new friends after reading an article about how people in mid-life don’t usually make new friends.
  • Planned a 50th Birthday vacation trip and messed up some important details, so planned another trip at the very last minute.

A few insights

To be perfectly honest, my nature is not to be that much of a risk-taker or adventurer. Being married to Nate has brought that out in me,  and also trying to embrace Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to “Do it afraid” has helped. I am continually trying to give things over to God and ask him to give me courage and wisdom.

Many of 2017s happenings I thought and prayed about since I was intentionally being mindful about trying new things.  Others I didn’t see coming, but I tried to be present in them when they occurred.  Sometimes I was, and other times not. I found that without really trying, I hit the 4 goal areas: physical, intellectual, spiritual, and relational.

In the end, I think 2017 was really great preparation for 2018 when our goal is “Sell it all and move to Ethiopia where everything will be new every day!”

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A funny thing happened on the way to Rio…

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We had been planning our anniversary and Cheryl’s 50th birthday celebration for months.  A trip to Rio de Janeiro, complete with hang gliding on the big day and the Christ the Redeemer statue ready to welcome us with open arms.   Everything was going along as planned until… We were dropped off at the airport, bags in tow, readying ourselves for a long 9 hour flight when things started to go south.  And when we say “south” we don’t mean “south” towards the wonderful country of Brazil.

Milton at the Delta counter flipped frantically back and forth through my passport. “Where’s your visa?”

“Huh?”  (Nate’s face began to lose its color)

“You need a visa to get into Brazil.”

“We thought you got it when you arrived.”  (Nate was thinking “visas??  We don’t need no stinkin visas”)

We thought wrong.   “Expedited” service would take anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks.

It was a rookie mistake!!

“So where do you want to go instead?”  “Do you have a Delta magazine?” “How about Barbados? Equador? Honduras?”

We settled on Panama. We heard the canal is nice this time of year.  And now Nate won’t quit playing the 1984 hit by Van Halen – or pretending to be in the music video…  Pictures coming soon!  (Check out Cheryl’s Instagram for a few previews: cherylnross)

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Thing…

(Fair warning: Long post ahead!)

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It was pretty much the last thing on our minds or our “to do” list.  Move to Africa.  Not so much.  That was… until God got a hold of us.  Our story begins back in undergrad at DePauw in Greencastle, Indiana.  Nate was pre-med and knew it was very competitive to get into medical school.  He was looking for anything and everything he could do to advance his cause.  One summer while doing some chemical research with one of his professors, he was approached about going to Sierra Leone in West Africa during Winter Term.  He would be going with the chairs of the Chemistry, Physics, and Biology Departments, all prime med school recommenders.  To Nate, it was a no-brainer.  He had absolutely no interest in Africa or in serving there long-term in any way.  Ever. In fact, while growing up in a church very much focused on missions, he literally said to himself “I sure hope God never sends me to Africa…”  But, he figured it was good for his prospects of getting into med school.

Then in December of 1989 it all changed.  In an instant.  As Nate arrived in Freetown and experienced the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Africa, he was changed.  He was drawn in and loved the people and places. He knew that he would like to return at some point to serve.

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Science classroom in Sierra Leone

However… he really didn’t think Cheryl would share those same interests and kept most of his thoughts to himself.  Y’all may not know this but Cheryl’s not exactly the “roughing it” kind of girl that enjoys mosquitoes, bugs, and lack of basic amenities.

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College graduation at DePauw 1990

Fast forward 15 years and we found ourselves in Ghana, West Africa.  THAT wasn’t really planned either.  Our church was doing a short-term mission trip to serve at an orphanage and setup some local medical clinics.  Being one of the token doctors in our church, we decided to go.

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Accra, Ghana – 2004

After making that trip a few years in a row we were walking at the end of the day together and Cheryl floated the idea to Nate of serving in a more long-term capacity before we “get old.”  It was then that Nate shared that this was something that had really been on his heart as well and we began to ask, “where shall we go?”

We discovered certain things about ourselves which would impact the “what” and “where” of what we were looking for.  We learned that Cheryl doesn’t do well (at all) with malaria prophylaxis meds, so we needed to find a place where malaria was not a big issue.  We wanted to find a place where Cheryl could use her God given talents and abilities to teach.  And Nate wanted to find a place where he could work in the training of other African physicians and not just go and “do a bunch of good stuff.” The idea of training and working alongside the African people became key for both of us.  We also thought that going to a place known for running would be nice! Mostly, we wanted to be where God wanted us to be.

Through a series of “strange coincidences” we journeyed to Soddo, Ehiopia in May of 2016.  Some of you followed us on our blog adventures at that time.

Soddo is a town of about 70,000-80,000 people, about 5 hours south of the capital, Addis Ababa.  It contains a mission hospital as well as a university with about 10,000 students.  About a quarter of the hospital is devoted to OB/GYN and there is a training program for general surgery residents and a family practice residency is planned, as well.  There is only one other OB/GYN there and the university has a need for qualified professors.  It sits at about 6,700 feet elevation in the mountains and malaria is not much of an issue there.  There are amazing people from around the world volunteering there alongside fantastic Ethiopian nurses, midwives, and other personnel and we loved everyone we met.  Not to mention that Ethiopians are some of the best runners in the world. During our stay there and upon our return, after much prayer and consideration we knew that “this is it!”

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So what does this exit from American look like??! (Nate keeps wanting to call this “REXIT.” Cheryl is not onboard, but since Nate is writing this post so he can pretty much say what he wants and hope that Cheryl doesn’t notice).

We’re glad you asked!

On June 30th of next year (2018) Nate will leave his wonderful practice after 20 years of serving at OB-GYN South.  He is essentially “retiring” from the practice.  We will be going to Colorado in July to do some required missionary training.  In August we will get on a plane with 6 large suitcases/containers and leave for Ethiopia.  We will be doing language school for 3 months and then begin serving in Soddo by the end of 2018.

This is a huge change for us on many levels. One of the main changes will be in our finances. We have been blessed over the years with living comfortably from our income.  That will all change July 1st.  While all of the Ethiopians working at the hospital earn a living wage, the non-Ethiopian physicians working at Soddo are volunteers (i.e. missionaries) and raise their own support.  We will be doing the same.  This is a totally new world to us but we know that we serve an amazing God who is able to supply all of our needs.  And He will!

So what are our financial needs?  We’re glad you asked!

Our projected budget looks like we will need a little over $5,000 per month to our expenses over in Ethiopia as well as back in the States.  Our biggest expenses are related to housing there,  insurance costs back here,  travel costs, and other on the ground expenses.  Anything we receive over our projected costs will go into ministry there in Ethiopia.  We will be going under the covering of our home church in Birmingham, Fullness Christian Fellowship (FCF), and all donations will be going through FCF.  All donations are tax deductible.

Cheryl has calculated (and she is not particularly known for her math skills – so this is pretty amazing) that if our family and friends could give just $35 per monththat we would have all of our expenses covered!  We know that some of you cannot donate that much, and we know some of you can donate much more. We fully believe and trust  that God will provide for all of our needs.

Our most important needs are in the area of prayer support and regular monthly giving, but we will have some initial expenses that we will need to cover as well.  The site to give is http://www.fullnesscf.org/missions/nate-cheryl-ross or you can click here.  We have tried to make this as easy as possible, but there area  few steps to the online process.  Giving via your checking account cuts down greatly on expenses versus a credit card, but feel free to give in whatever way is best for you. Or, you can do this the old fashioned way of checks in the mail!! Made out to FCF and sent to: 2575 Columbiana Road, Birmingham, AL 35216.  Just put a sticky note on the check that says for Nate & Cheryl (not in the memo line).

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In some ways we feel like we are about to jump off of a big cliff.  But we also know that the cliff is not as high as we think and we have all the safety equipment on that we need and at the bottom of that cliff is a big safety net put in place by God.  The good news is that we will have GoPro cameras on as we jump and you’ll be able to watch the entire wild ride!  Please partner with us and enjoy the views and stories to come…

And now for the rest of the story…

When my good friend Lauren asked me to accompany her on an expedition to Greece, it didn’t take me long to say yes. The opportunity to travel to a new culture, see ancient history, and marvel at creation was too good to pass up. And yet, I knew this would be a difficult journey. The real reason we came was to better understand something lurking just beneath the surface- an evil so unimaginably prevalent that it has colored the way I have seen much of this trip.  

The picture above isn’t just a run down area of Athens. It is representative of what is occurring from sun up to sun down to sun up: women being trafficked. The red light and the room inside are where a woman works- sometimes up to 16 hours a day, with clients as many as 30- in the sex industry. In Greece, prostitution is legal. But the reality is that most of the women and young teen girls are prisoners behind theses facades- victims of human trafficking who were brought here from other countries such as Romania, Albania, and Moldova. 

Our dear friend Viorica has taught us much on this trip. Her heart – and that of the ministry where she serves, Nea Zoi, is to offer hope and peace to women trapped in human trafficking. To visit women in the brothel and bring a cup of tea, a hug of friendship, a listening ear- that is their work.  Their team goes out several days a week- all in the name of love. 

While I didn’t go into a brothel myself, I walked the area with Lauren and Viorica, praying silently for the women who are victimized and crushed in spirit, who can see no way out. I prayed for the men, too, who we saw walking in and out of the doors in the middle of the day, looking for fulfillment or something darker.  Viorica also reminded us to pray for the traffickers- those whose hearts are desperately in need of being set free from the evil that allows them to see women and girls as a way to make money, rather than as the beautiful human beings that they are. I must admit, it was harder to want to pray for them.

Back at the Nea Zoi office, we saw the comfortable surroundings that women are invited to visit if they are able to. We saw many books and pamphlets they have collected in a multitude of languages to share with the girls to help with whatever they have need of..and we viewed a map of the city where brothels are located so the team will know where to go to reach out.

  

Most importantly, we heard stories of several woman beginning to move into new life.  Rooms down the hallway are set aside for Threads of Hope, a training center in which women learn to sew- a skill that can be used to earn wages. They create bags, aprons, and other items (yes, I purchased a few!) and are beginning to export their products to places outside of Greece. 

                                                               
I wish I could say that this issue is limited to one area of the world. But as most of you already know, this tragedy is happening throughout the world.  Birmingham, where we live, is especially affected because of the proximity to I-20 and Atlanta.  Fortunately, there are ministries similar to Nea  Zoi in Alabama. I’m so proud of my friend Lauren, who founded a nonprofit,  Blanket Fort Hope, to educate people about the subject – especially as it relates to child trafficking. On this trip she’s gained new insights and strategies for the fight. Within a few years Blanket Fort Hope will open a facility to house child victims who have been rescued  and provide them with the safety they need to begin the healing process. 

For now, we continue to pray. We keep our eyes and ears and hearts open to how God might want to use us each day…We partner with those on the front lines in whatever way we can…and we try to live from a place of hope…

                                             

Be where you are…

 

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Hello faithful readers….We have missed you!  We made it safely home from our Ethiopian adventures. This was our view as we flew back into our life in Birmingham…

We certainly enjoyed the extra few days we were able to spend in London on the way home. I can’t believe I had never been to that fabulous city before!! So much history and SO MANY INTERESTING PEOPLE!  We  were amazed at how most of the conversations we overheard were not in English.Here are a few of our favorite pics from the memorable city on the Thames…

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Don’t worry, Nate most certainly did not eat the green things on this plate!

While we loved every minute of our month away (well, with the exception of the flea bites!) and we are praying about what future Ethiopian adventures might look like, for now our lives are here in the Magic City. We know that we are called to live and love right here at this moment.

Nate jumped right back into the thick of things the morning after we got home with an office full of patients and then a call weekend. Fortunately, I had the week to unpack, wash all the clothes that were smelling like the bags of Ethiopian coffee we brought back with us, help my brother and his wife move, and give Gracie girl some needed attention!

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This week, I started my new role at Southeastern Bible College as the Director of the Center for Leadership Development….a new initiative for the college!  I’ll also be teaching in their new Business Administration program, as well as some other courses along the way. I’m thrilled to be able to invest my time there.

We’re planning to keep this blog and to post from time to time. For now, we want to encourage each of you to allow God to use you right where you are. There are people to be loved, words to be uttered, and actions to be taken that you are uniquely positioned to do. To quote one of my favorite authors, Parker Palmer, from the book Let Your Life Speak, “…come to understand that for  better or worse, I lead by word and deed simply because I am here doing what I do. If you are also here, doing what you do, then you also exercise leadership of some sort.”

Peace and love, friends!

These were a few of our favorite things…

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We cannot believe how quickly the month has gone. There have been so many things to love about Ethiopia. As we prepare to leave tomorrow, we wanted to share a few of our favorites!

One: Incredible creation

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Look how huge the leaves of this plant are!


 

Two: Unusual experiences almost every day!

Getting a shoe shine is a must-do in Wolaita


Soccer workouts and  games at 6. am on the nearby street


A baboon attempting to join us. on our porch in at at Paradise Lodge


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A trampoline built into the ground (how smart is that.) – right outside the house we were staying in!

 

Three: Tasty foods and beverages…

Four: A growing city


 

The is the Student Lounge at Wolaita Soddo University, which has grown from zero to 15,000. students in 9. years!!!


All new construction in town must be more than one story


An expanding church and its leaders

Five:  And most importantly…beautiful souls!

Hospital chaplains


Girls just wanting to have fun!


Devoted general practice docs and their senior staff


Department heads with their certificates for attending four weeks of “Essentials of Leadership”


Fabulous OB Team!

And here are a few more pics, just because….

 

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Who doesn’t love a wart hog??

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Thank you for encouraging us and praying for us on our journey.

It has truly been a blessing!

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)

Working on the weekend…

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Yes – we know that the title of the  song is “Working For The Weekend”  but we’ve found that in Ethiopia it’s more working “on” the weekend than “for”.  And the more 80’s references used the better…

Nate’s on call this weekend and Saturday proved to be busy in some good and some not so good ways.  The day started with a couple of cesarean sections and some twins – all good!  And hearing the story of a patient who delivered her baby the previous evening in one of the tiny taxis here called a “Bajaj” – and it was delivered BREECH – the bottom was out when she arrived at the hospital and the midwife delivered the remainder when she arrived.  Mother and baby are doing well so hats off to my right hand man Bakalu (yes – about half of the midwives here are men)!!  Not sure what the taxi driver charged her for her trip but the story was worth a million Ethiopian Birr.

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(used with permission)

Then trouble started late in the morning.  We got a transfer in from another hospital with a patient who was laboring who had had a previous cesarean section.  She presented with severe abdominal pain and the baby had died.  They transferred her here because they had no blood and because of answered prayers here – we do have blood.  This picture shows her sweet father holding the IV fluids when she arrived.  We took her to the OR and found that she had ruptured her uterus and her bladder.  After a long surgery it was all repaired and now she needs everyone’s prayers for a safe recovery and comfort in her time of loss.  Unfortunately this story is not uncommon here.

Cheryl spent Saturday doing some leadership training of the administrators at another local hospital, Wolaita Soddo Referral Teaching Hospital (pictured at the top),  and then got to preach to a packed-out local church here on Sunday morning!  She wasn’t sure how doing a teaching on the woman with the “issue of blood” would go over (from Matthew 9:2-22) – but it was well-received and we really enjoyed the time of worship there and being with such sweet sincere people.  As you’ll see by the pics below she had some people keenly interested!!

Preach It

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God loves a working man…

Some have wondered what it is we are doing while we’re in Ethiopia..


We’re glad you asked! Nate has been doing a lot of what he does at home – maternal medicine and surgeries. Monday and Thursday are cIinic days.  Tuesday and Friday are surgery days. Wednesday is teaching, administrative,  and miscellaneous – I’m still not sure what that entails!

I  was able to go on rounds with him one day. In this picture, he is actually breaking a woman’s water!

In the photo below, the far bed (blue blanket)  is a young teen mom and in the nearer bed is the grandma with the swaddled baby.

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He’s also doing lots of training and teaching, which he loves.

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I have had the opportunity to teach 4-5 sessions of leadership training each week to various groups (Dept. Mgr, Nursing Heads, General Practice docs, and some others). I have completely enjoyed the experience and have learned a great deal in the process.  Many have never had the opportunity to have any type of leadership training. For those who attend all four sessions, next week they will receive a special certificate for completing the program.

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I have had the benefit of having a fantastic translator, Paulos, for several of the groups.   I could not do it without his assistance! He also also good at teaching me cultural things I need to know such as proper greetings.

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In our free moments we are getting to know the many wonderful people who serve here full-time.Lots of the conversations take place on this sidewalk.

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Soddo is a fantastic place, but as you would expect, there are also many challenges, such as high infant mortality and blood shortages.

Everyone has been incredibly hospitable and generous, especially Mark, the OB (pictured above) and his wife Allison. Time is FLYING by. A month sounded like a long time when we were planning to be away….but it’s far too short!  Your continued prayers and well wishes  are greatly appreciated, especially for the coming week as Dr. Mark has left town and Dr. Nate is flying solo!

There’s a whole world out there…

 

As the great American thinker and philosopher, Charles Tippett, once said while I was sitting with him on top of a volcano in Hawaii watching the sunrise…”There’s a whole world out there…”  And indeed there is!

 

We took some time away from the hospital this weekend and went to an area 2 hours south of Soddo called Arba Minch.  It sits between 2 large lakes, which contain the largest crocodiles in the world measuring up to 20 feet long!  There are also hippos, fish, and tons of birds.  The place we stayed also had a healthy population of baboons, one of which almost tried to enter our room.  The isthmus between the 2 lakes is called “God’s Bridge” – and the whole area truly is a testimony to the greatness and handiwork of God!!

 

It’s such a blessing to see this part of the world – we’ve never seen anything quite like it!  Think Hawaii….but instead of oceans surrounding the spectacular green mountains, think lakes…

 

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