International Ministries

Freedom to Dream..and to Become

July 2, 2010 Journal
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Joelle has dreamed of becoming a doctor since she was a young girl.   The obstacles she faced however were not determination or intelligence….but rather gender and a humble family background.

Medicine is a male-dominated profession in many parts of the world including Congo which to boot, has one of the worst human rights record against woman and a cultural bias that relegates women to second-class citizenry.  But Joelle had a dream and a calling.

Her grandfather, Mr. Emmanuel Kimpiatu was a nurse trained by American Baptist Missionaries in the 1950s at one of the earliest mission stations in Bas Congo Province (Sona Bata).   During the upheavals of the 1960s when missionaries had to leave the country, Mr. Emmanuel assumed the duties of nurse and doctor….faithfully making rounds when there were no doctors. He later took over the obstetrics and surgery departments teaching younger nurses to give anesthesia while he performed life saving surgery.   After keeping the hospital open against all odds during a dark period in Congo’s history, he was named Hospital Director when ABC staff returned.  Joelle remembers her grandfather caring for patients even in his later years and she dreamed of carrying on that work.   She shared that dream with her parents, both ordained ministers who had neither the political will nor financial means to get her into medical school.  Her mother, who completed her pastoral studies in a neighboring country when the church in Congo would not allow women to attend divinity school, reminded her that, “with God all is possible”.   Indeed it is.

Joelle applied to medical school in 2002 after distinguishing herself in preparatory school and was one of 3000 students admitted into the first year of a seven-year rigorous pyramid program.   She shared with us stories of how first-year students had to push and shove just to make their way into classrooms, considering themselves privileged to find a place to stand for 6 hours at a time. The majority of students had to sit in hallways and beg class notes from others.    A minority of women were admitted in that class of 3000 but that number diminished significantly as did the class size in a system that allows 3000 students in but graduates less than 300.   Joelle is now in her 6th year of medical studies, one of a handful of women remaining in a class of 400 students and is determined to be the in the final 300 that will graduate next year.   As she recounted to Bill and me the obstacles she has had to overcome, we realized she is indeed a blessed and determined woman who has been called to serve.

Joelle is 25 years old (past the normal marrying age in Congo) and has spent the past 6 years studying day and night.  Rather than mix with classmates in the dorm, she takes a 2-hour bus ride home every weekend to be with her parents who she considers her greatest ‘earthly’ source of support.    Despite volumes of work, she teaches Sunday School every weekend spending precious hours with children who she describes as the ‘future of Congo’.   When I asked her what area of medicine she was wants to pursue, she readily smiled and said, “Pediatrics of course……children suffer the most in this country and I want to help them”.

Some would say Joelle has ‘suffered’ for 6 years; insults, jeers, pressure for favors from teachers, finances, distance, loneliness, and discrimination. Her smile belies any such suffering as she recounts the work of her grandfather and proudly states how she will follow in his footsteps.

 You will Joelle, and we as American Baptists are so proud to be a part of that journey and heritage!


“God's gifts and his call are irrevocable”   Romans 11:29  


Ann and Bill Clemmer

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo