“Mozambique has a very special place in my heart,” says Steve, 46, who took his first intrepid steps into the poverty-stricken African country in 2002. God moves in mysterious ways, as this was a result of an unpaid sabbatical from British Airways, keen to reduce its costs in the wake of the tragic events of 9/11 in New York. It was this year the course of Steve’s life changed forever.
It was during this year that he met Rebekah, his future wife and a British nurse, at Maforga Christian Mission in Manica province, central Mozambique. It was also in 2002 that Steve and Rebekah met orphans Zacharias (Zac) and Monica. “Zac and Monica’s parents had died from HIV/AIDS and the children were brought into the orphanage at Maforga,” Steve explained. “Zac was suffering from severe malnutrition and Rebekah provided round-the-clock care. Incredibly he recovered, and we both bonded with him and Monica like we had never done to any other children in our lives, prior to having our own. It was an extremely tough decision to relocate them back with their extended family in a nearby village. We would send money to Maforga to buy them food while based back in the UK and visited them on our occasional visits to Mozambique.”
The couple married in the UK the following year but something had instinctively changed in their lives and they returned to Mozambique in 2005, with a young baby. They were utterly devastated that same year when Zac (five) and Monica (nine) tragically died.
“Monica’s final few days were spent at Maforga and she called for us,” said Steve. “We flew down from the north of Mozambique, where we were then based, when we heard the news. They shouldn’t have died and nothing could have prepared us for the loss. I’ve been through some very dark valleys and my faith has been tested through the experience. But ultimately Monica and Zac continue to be a huge inspiration and motivation to what I do. They inspire me in my efforts to help lift people out of poverty.”
Steve said that we could learn much from the Mozambican people and their less ‘cluttered’ way of life. “They live very much for the day and don’t think about the next,” he said. “There is real beauty in that level of simplicity, as people focus purely on their relationships.” Steve, however, is acutely aware that life is fragile in Mozambique and is not to be romanticised.
“There is desperate poverty with people often not knowing where the next meal is coming from, particularly in the months before the harvest,” he explained. “Each season brings about its own challenge. For example, family homes are often crafted from materials such as wooden sticks, mud and straw, with some collapsing in the rainy season. Things that in the UK we just cannot get our heads around. I set foot in Mozambique a decade after the civil war when it was the tenth poorest in the world. One in five children would not make it to five. I thank God for the Millennium Development Goals which took responsibility globally for beginning to address the horrific nature of infant mortality and maternal deaths in childbirth.”
Steve was appointed The Leprosy Mission’s programmes and advocacy officer for Africa earlier in 2016, travelling to Africa for up to 12 weeks a year to monitor projects in the field.
On a recent visit to Mozambique he was able to witness a transformed community in Cabo Delgado, as a result of a collaboration between the Peterborough-based charity and the Department for International Development, reaching out to 5,000 people struggling with the devastating impact of leprosy.
“I was thrilled to be sent back to Mozambique for work. It’s always a delight to go back as it has a real sense of home now for me; I think my heart will always belong there. It was an amazing visit. With poverty often comes leprosy, and in these communities it is common to see people with hands and feet disabled by leprosy. Those affected by the disease still experience severe stigma, meaning that they continue to hide symptoms because they’re afraid that they’ll be shunned.”
Steve and Rebekah have three children, and the family now live in the north of England while Steve bases himself in Peterborough during the working week.
“Working away from home in the week, I feel I throw the rest of the family’s carefully choreographed routine into disarray at the weekend,” Steve said. “I honestly don’t know how Rebekah does it, looking after three children and holding down a demanding job as a health visitor while all the time supporting me. God is equipping and strengthening her.”
“I have the privilege to live out a calling to serve people trapped in poverty and disease through my job at The Leprosy Mission,” he reflected. “I don’t think I’m anything special, as I think many people have a yearning in their heart to do something like this, but somehow find themselves trapped on the treadmill of a ‘proper job’. The only difference between us is that I have been supported by my family to do what I feel called to do.
“Approaching middle age, health concerns, family obligations, education, financial commitments, ageing parents – the list of reasons not to follow your heart’s call seem never-ending. Believe me, Rebekah and I continue to wrestle with these issues long and hard. It also goes completely against the cultural flow to opt out of the rat race and pursue something different. It really is a privilege for me, and for any of us, to follow a dream – and it comes at a cost. I guess I’m only finally learning now, in my middle years, that for me this is what it means to follow Jesus. Micah 6:8 says it all for me really.”
“… And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV UK 2011)