2nd Verse, WAY Different From The 1st

Each face represents a million women

When I entered the country here in Ethiopia on August 18th I became #326 – actually it might be #327 – or #330 – but the most recent data says #326.  “What the heck is #326?!?” you say.  I’m the 326thOB/GYN to be currently practicing in Ethiopia. For a country of 110 million people. In comparison, Alabama has a fraction of our population, 4.8 million, and it has almost 500 OB/GYN’s – a State that’s 4% the size of Ethiopia.  And of our 327 OB/GYN’s here, as far as I know, I’m the 4thfrom outside the country.  So the needs here are great, and in many ways overwhelming, but it’s such a privilege to be here and to serve here!

I really loved the first 20 years of my career – 20 years in an amazing private practice in Birmingham with great doctors, nurses, staff and patients.  And after 20 years there was the occasional unusual case or situation – but things were definitely in a routine and I was familiar with 99% of the things that I dealt with on a daily basis.

During this “second half” of my career here in Ethiopia… not so much routine and familiar.  At.All.  And I love this part of being here.  I see things that I’ve only read about in medical school or residency-  and sometimes things that I’ve never even heard of.  I was blessed to have an amazing education at Indiana University and then at the Medical University of South Carolina.  They weren’t particularly preparing me for medicine in Africa – but they managed to teach and instill the things that I’ve needed to practice here in this amazing place. And for that I am SO grateful!


One of the main things we deal with here is something called “pelvic prolapse.”  To spare y’all too much detail – it’s when a woman’s pelvic organs decide that they’re tired of staying up where they’re supposed to be and they literally “fall down.”  In America this happens but people come in right away when it’s mild and there are many ways to address it.  Here these sweet women have been “living” with it for 3, 5, 10 or more years.  And it makes life extremely hard.  Hard to work, hard to do basic bodily functions, hard to have a normal relationship with their husband.  At one of our outlying clinics, in just 2 clinic days they identified 25 women who have this problem and are waiting for me to do surgery. We’re currently seeing and operating on 4 per week and by the time we’re done helping this group, I’m sure there will be many more waiting to be helped.  Probably a third of the surgeries that we do here are for that specific reason.


Another big concern here medically is infertility.  In Ethiopia having children is VERY important.  Important to help with the family farm or business, and in helping the parents as they become older.  And polygamy is fairly common in this area and to the south.  So if a woman is not able to have children, there is a good chance that her husband will divorce her.  And a divorced woman has a tough time marrying again and has some social stigma that makes life difficult for her.  So many of our patient visits involve this area and we do what we can to help them achieve a pregnancy.

There are lots of unusual things I see and I’m constantly reading and researching about them.  There are a lot of infections that affect the population here and we’re regularly dealing with HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis, syphilis, etc.  Then there are the just plain weird things that I see:

A charming 45 year old woman was referred from another hospital with what’s called a molar pregnancy.  It’s a weird deal where pregnancy tissue just goes crazy in growing out of control and it can eventually turn into cancer.  These cases are very rare in America – especially being 4 months along like she was.  We were able to successfully treat her with surgery and the chances of it turning into a cancer are very small.

Another young woman was very nauseated early in her pregnancy and was throwing-up a lot.  So much so that she… ruptured her esophagus.  I wasn’t even aware that this was possible in pregnancy.  Fortunately the rupture was small and she got better and is doing well.


Most women in America get an ultrasound very early in their pregnancy.  Here… not so much.  Most women have never had one.  We had a patient who came in at 26 weeks for her first visit and they called me because they thought there was more than one baby… and there were… THREE.  She found out at 26 weeks that she’s having triplets. So far so good for her and please say a prayer that she and her babies do well during the rest of the pregnancy.

As  you can imagine, I have more stories than I can tell at one time and I’ll try and write occasionally about some of these. But my days here are constantly filled with amazing patients with interesting and challenging problems. Some of these we’re able to help with. Some we are not.  But we do all we can in the name of Christ and know that He is the great physician and able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than I ever could.  I’m glad someone has my back.


As y’all already know we are serving here and missionaries and we’re so thankful to those who continue to support us.  If you’re interested in giving then please click on the link below:





Gobble Bloggle


This shouldn’t come as a surprise to those of you who know us well, but we’ve never really been what you would call “traditionalists.”  Thanksgiving is no exception. Almost all of our 26 Thanksgivings together have been different. We’ve been in Indiana, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, just to name a few places. We have eaten with friends, relatives, friends of relatives, relatives of friends, and even complete strangers. Probably the closest thing we have to a tradition is Nate being a turkey…err…uhhh….wearing a turkey costume.

The randomness of our Thanksgivings began when we first moved to the southern part of the U.S.  We were living in Charleston, South Carolina, with Nate working 80 hours a week in residency and us having met very few people.  We decided to drown our homesick sorrows in a Thanksgiving buffet, so we headed off to Ronnie’s Seafood on Shem Creek. We must have been the most pitiful pair in the joint, chomping on those legs of crab and turkey. Fortunately that was our last lonely Thanksgiving, as we made amazing lifelong friends in Charleston and often had friends and family visit us for the holiday.

This year, we’re in another new situation. Pretty far away from anything that even resembles a turkey, I might add – until Nate puts the costume on, of course. (Shh..don’t tell!) 


And, although Thursday is a busy work day for Nate, we’ll be gathering on Saturday afternoon with the others who are serving here at Soddo Christian Hospital. This will include other forenjis: Swedes, Australians, and even Californians! We will have one important thing in common, though: a deep conviction that every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:7).  No matter how weird the food tastes that day (and by that, I mean whatever I manage to cook!), how many times the electricity goes out, or how far away we are from so many we love, we want to have hearts that do this:

This is our guest bedroom/office!!

This year has been such an adventure and really, we have only just begun. It hasn’t all been easy, but we are so thankful for each of you who take the time to pray for us, send us cards/packages, write us encouraging emails, like our Facebook pictures, support us financially, and look after our still unsold home in Birmingham.  We could not do this without each of you and the part that you play. We give MANY thanks to God for you!  


Oh…and here’s our address just in case you’d like to send your fun Christmas cards to us. It just takes an international stamp from the post office…the hardest part is going to the post office!!! 


For your efforts, we promise to proudly display your cards on our fridge! 


Here’s our website link!




Do you see what I see?

Last week we started Phase 2 of our Amharic language and culture training. With a new teacher (Yididya) and no other classmates, we began learning to read and write, as well as to tell stories using our increasing vocabulary. While I’m sure that sounds like loads of fun, it’s actually been pretty challenging.

One of the tools they use in the ‘Growing Participant Approach’ is called “Busy picture.” We look at the picture and use known vocabulary to describe the scene and then we learn new words. The picture above is the riveting tale of “The Banana Thief Monkey.”

On Wednesday, our picture was the scene below…

I wonder…when you look at this, what do you see?

I saw a campsite. Something people do for fun (although I’m not really sure why!). As we described the scene, we were both thinking in terms of setting up for a cozy campfire and some s’mores. People in the picture most certainly had chosen to engage in this activity.

And then Yididiya gently allowed us to see that we are still looking at the world through our American eyes. She began to explain to us that in Ethiopia, camping is primarily an activity of those who have been displaced from their homes.

With some additional research we learned that From January to June of this year, 1.4 million Ethiopians became internally displaced persons. That’s more than in war torn Syria or Yemen for the same time period. Ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia drove people from their homes and they have been forced to find shelter wherever they can. These numbers are in addition to Unicef’s estimates of 2.8 million previously displaced persons (due to ethnic violence or natural disasters) and nearly 1 million people who have sought refuge in Ethiopia from countries such as Sudan, Somalia, South Sudan, and Eritrea.

Many of these precious souls are living in tents. Others are on the streets or living with friends/relatives.

I’m not sure about you, but my mind has a nearly impossible time comprehending what this would be like. The trauma of having your home violently seized, family members killed or wounded, and everything you own taken is beyond my understanding. I can only ask God to give me a growing compassion for these individuals, and tools for loving them when we encounter one another.

I don’t think I’ll ever view camping in quite the same way again…

Mystery Revealed!… (in part)

One of the great mysteries during the last year of preparing to move and then actually moving to Ethiopia has been our house.  We bought our current house (yes, it’s STILL for sale…) 3 years ago with one of the main reasons being that it would be “easy” to sell.  Great location, no issues, mid price-range, and super cute. Honestly it was on the bottom of my list of “things to worry about.”  When we listed it in May our realtor, and us, and everybody we knew, were sure that it would sell in a matter of days with multiple offers.  Well… it didn’t.

IMG_0150 2

So now we’re 4 months into this deal and we’ve left the States having sold everything else and we’ve started to serve here.  But the house… it’s still sitting there.  Empty. And we have to make mortgage payments on the thing.  And taxes, utilities, lawn care, etc.  As we arrived here in Ethiopia and started language school I knew that we had not budgeted for the house expenses.  Have I been worried about it?  Not really. You know why?  Because I thought I had it under control.  And just as I falsely think that I have a lot of things “under control,” it turns out that I don’t.  Not one thing.  My “plan” was to simply dip into our savings.  We had put some money away for emergencies and for future retirement stuff. As we began to live from our support money I thought “no problem God!  I’ll just transfer some money around and we’ll be just fine.”  And that would have worked.  But that’s not what God wanted.  He wanted to show us something different.


Yes, I’ve heard all those “missionary stories” where people needed money, or food, or a car, or whatever, and then miraculously at the last moment God provided.  Totally believed them but thought that those kind of things just wouldn’t happen for us.  Because if THAT happened then that would have mean that I actually needed Him to provide. That it was out of my control. And if there’s one thing I just love, it’s being in control.


Earlier last week Cheryl’s brother Rob let me know that a couple of checks had arrived, and one of those from an insurance company.  I had cancelled a policy that I just didn’t need any more and I knew that I would get a small check from an overpayment.  When I checked our bank balance this past weekend I was pretty sure that there was an internet problem here in Africa.  The amount was WAY WAY WAY more than I was expecting.  Enough to easily cover our house expenses for at least a couple of months.


Why hasn’t our house sold?? I don’t know entirely why, but I do know that part of the “mystery” was to show me what a good God we serve.  I thought that I had a plan.  That I was in control.  That I could say “don’t worry God, I’ve got you covered!  I’ve got this.” Wrong. He’s got this.  He has me covered.  And I trust that He will continue to reveal Himself and His plan for not only our house, but for our lives as well.  And you can trust Him as well.

Happy New Year!!!

Happy New Year!  Melkam Addis Amet!!!

There is a HUGE expo at the main square in town


Wait, what, what??  Are Nate and Cheryl so completely overwhelmed with language school and jet lag that they think it’s New Years??   Well, we have good company with more than 100 million Ethiopians who are also welcoming the New Year of 2011!  2011?!?!

Yes, it’s 2011 here.

Holding traditional yellow daisies that bloom at the New Year

In case you’re totally confused (as were we) here’s a little background:

The calendar that we are all used to is the Gregorian calendar (named after Greg Brady from the ‘Brady Bunch’… oh wait… it was Pope Gregory XIII…our bad) which was introduced in 1582. Apparently when you’re the Pope you can do a lot of cool things and making a new calendar is one of them. Well Ethiopia had been/has been using a different calendar based on a different date of the Annunciation (the fancy way of saying when Mary found out she was preggers).  So when the most of the world adopted the Gregorian calendar Ethiopia said “no thanks” and continued to use their traditional calendar. Lots of other countries didn’t adopt the Gregorian calendar until the 1900’s – like China, Russia, and Greece.


Unlike America where the tradition is to stay up really late, watch a giant ball drop in Times Square on television, sing ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ and then go to bed wondering why you did that, the Ethiopians celebrate throughout the day by spending time with family, eating traditional food that includes fresh meat (mostly sheep and chicken that make their eternal exit early that morning), drinking coffee, burning “chibo” which are long bundles of tied up sticks, and singing and dancing.  Overall we’d say this makes a little more sense than the whole “ball dropping in Times Square thingy.”


We see so many advantages to it now being 2011 versus 2018:

  • We’re now 7 years younger and still in our early 40’s!
  • The Cubs still haven’t won the World Series so we can place our bets in 5 years
  • We have 7 years to plan on attending the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle


Now THIS is some serious coffee!!!!


We’re excited to experience our first New Years here and we get little break from language school to “experience” Ethiopia.  Truly an amazing country!



Say What??

In high school and college, Cheryl “studied” French. On our honeymoon, when the cruise ship made a stop at a French speaking island and she had trouble distinguishing which was the men’s and which was the women’s restroom, we concluded that foreign language really wasn’t her thing. Nate’s high school and college German learning experiences were a little stronger, but as we planned our move to Ethiopia, we knew that learning Amharic was going to be one of the major challenges of our relocation. It’s been a big prayer request, as you know, that our 50 year old brains would activate and be able to comprehend and remember this complex language. So…it’s kind of funny that everyday on our way to school, we pass by this mural of the brain pictured above.

Amharic alphabet

Amharic just happens to be one of the oldest written languages in the world, similar to Hebrew. The alphabet is not Romantic (not that it’s not lovely, it just doesn’t use roman characters, which means we can’t read it). In addition, at our training in Colorado, we learned about phonetics and all the sounds other languages have that don’t exist in English. Amharic utilizes “explosives,” which we don’t use in America. Here’s an official definition of that, “Denoting a consonant that is produced by stopping the airflow using the lips, teeth, or palate, followed by a sudden release of air.” What this means is that we also can’t say a lot of the words correctly.

At the same time, we are completely convinced that in order for us to be effective workers, friends, and servants in Ethiopia, we have to be able to communicate with people in their language. So, we’ve committed to this pursuit of language learning both while we’re in language school and after we get to Soddo.


So far, it’s going OK…even surprisingly fun at times! We have a fabulous teacher, Ebise, at a school that uses a method called “Global Participant Approach,” which replicates the way children learn object names before they can actually say the words. And boy do we feel like silly children at times in the class!

Ebise grew up in the countryside and learned English at a school run by Finnish and American missionaries.  She’s been teaching English for 20 years. She’s incredibly patient. In our class, we use dolls and pictures, lots of pointing and doing actions, but no actual speaking in class for at least the first 3 weeks.  Of course, Nate has managed to crack Ebise up a number of times!

Our class is small- just 3 of us- which allows for great individual attention.  We record parts of the sessions and then watch them later for our homework, somewhere between 3 and 2000 times each afternoon!

Our class…in parentheses is what our names sound like when Ebise says them: Ebise (Ebisay), Cheryl (Cher-ly and sometimes Shirley), Nate (Net) and Meredith (Meridee).

This week after we learned fruits and vegetables, we took a walking field trip to a local vendor (the shop is pronounced “sewk”), where we actually did some speaking by asking how much the potatoes, bananas, and chick peas were. Don’t worry, Nate was not tempted to ask about any of the green vegetables.

shoppingThere are about 20 other people from around the world taking basic and advanced Amharic, as well as learning other languages (Oromo, English, etc). We get to drink tea and coffee together each morning at the break and make attempts to understand one another during that time.

Nate enjoys talking with this sweet Kenyan nun who will be teaching math at a school in the countryside

After class we walk the 1 1/2 miles (all uphill) back to the guest house and usually take a brief siesta before reviewing our homework.  On the way home, sometimes people make conversation with us, most of which we don’t understand. Often they laugh and yell, “forenji” or “China” at us. We do our best to respond, but we really aren’t sure whether we are telling them to “have a good day” or to “look at the floor.” However, Ebise assures us, “It will come.”

The guest house has a fantastic rooftop terrace with 360 views of Addis, so we enjoy studying there, although we sometimes distracted by the sights, sounds, and smells.   And, since we are in the throes of the rainy season here, our umbrellas, raincoats, and rainboots are never far from us!

As we close in on 2 weeks of living in Ethiopia, it’s amazing to realize we have “learned” about 200 Amharic vocabulary words.  And, oddly enough, some of that French and German has been coming back to us at funny times, too. I guess we have activated the frontal and temporal lobes of our brains enough to get the language juices flowing. Just maybe we’ll be able to remember which restroom to go in!

Please know that we are so thankful for all of your prayers and expressions of love and support. We couldn’t do this without you!

In addition to our blog, we do have an e-newsletter. If you would like to be included on that, you can send an email to Cheryl  (aka Shirley) at cherylnoelross@gmail.com

Oh, and here’s the link to our giving site if you are interested in partnering  financially with our mission in Ethiopia! 





A number of years ago I had the cracked idea to do the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon which involved, as one might guess from the name, a swim from the island of Alcatraz back to San Francisco.  Now this might sound a bit crazy to you, and as I look back at it there probably was a little “crazy” to it.  As I was on the ferry boat that took me out to Alcatraz and thought about jumping into 55 degree shark-infested waters I had several thoughts of “WHAT am I doing?”  “OMG, I can’t believe I’m about to do this,”and “How am I supposed to pee with this wetsuit on before I start the race???”

Please note – not an actual race photo

As we’re about to disembark on our journey to Ethiopia in less than 2 weeks, I might have had a few of the same thoughts, sans the “pee” question (and no, I’m NOT telling you the answer to that particular question).

We’ve been in training at Missions Training International in Colorado for the past 2 weeks and have a little less than 2 weeks more before we leave.  A lot of what we’ve learned so far has involved phonetics, linguistics, and “how’ to learn a new language (for instance “OMG” phonetically is in the title of this blog).  We’re now learning more about how to enter a new culture and not totally freak out and lose our minds.  After working/training pretty-much non-stop for the last 24 years, it’s been odd to not be in that routine.  To have some actual down-time to hike, rest, read, pray, and just BE, along with our training has been good – just a different kind of good.  And, spending time with 39 other amazing people- who are about to do the same as us in countries around the world- has been refreshing and encouraging.


When meeting with our coach here in Colorado at MTI, Andrea, and telling her of our upcoming schedule and plans, though, I think she was a little taken aback.  Her words were “so what you’re telling me is that you’re leaving the training here early, flying back to Birmingham for one day to pack up the rest of your things, getting on a plane at 6 a.m. the next day, arriving late in Addis Ababa, unpacking your things the next day, and then starting language school the next day?!?!” Cheryl and I looked at each other and sheepishly said “ummm… yeah…. pretty much” – I then offered her a stress ball and some tips on meditation.

So as we wrap up our training at MTI and prepare for the upcoming whirlwind of travel, we’re excited, eager, and slightly petrified as we venture forward.  But we know that we are not doing this alone.  We have a great God who goes before us and we have amazing friends across the globe that are praying and lifting us up!

If you’d like some additional information about what we’re about to do, or how to get more connected click on the following link.