"We can see how God has had his hand upon us"
Joe and Lois Ovenden have had a tumultuous 12 months but are now looking forward to a brighter future serving with BMS World Mission in Uganda
Moving house, the death of a loved one and changing jobs are three of the most stressful life events you can experience.
BMS mission workers Joe and Lois Ovenden have undergone all three over the last 12 months and on top of all that, they’ve had a baby.
Last October, in a matter of days, the Ovendens’ world was rocked by both difficult and delightful news. After trying for some time, Joe and Lois discovered that they would become parents for the first time. Next, Lois heard from her brother, Jonny, that he had bowel cancer. And finally, having worked for BMS in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, for two years they found out their work visa to stay in the country had been denied and they would have to leave.
The next five months were intense. Joe and Lois wrapped up their work in Zimbabwe between November and March, entering the country on 30 day visas each time. Joe had been overseeing the management of several Christian development initiatives, Lois had been doing some speech and language therapy, and they had both been involved in leading a Youth Alpha course through BMS partner Family Impact. Leaving Zimbabwe was hard.
“The wrap-up time made a big difference and made us feel like we were finishing well and we were able to say goodbye properly,” says Joe. “It was painful and difficult because we’d made good connections and felt like we were doing valuable work and made lots of good friends.”
Arriving back in the UK in March, Joe and Lois were exhausted. They saw Jonny, who was in remission and appeared to be recovering well. Days later after their visit, however, he died of an undetected gallbladder infection that he was not strong enough to fight after going through aggressive chemotherapy.
For Lois, although thankful that she had been in the UK at the time of Jonny’s death, and that his illness had led to a greater sense of family unity, it left a lot of unanswered questions about why it had happened.
"My brother wasn’t a Christian and he didn’t know the joy of knowing Jesus” says Lois. “But he was kind of softening. It was amazing. He was an ardent atheist, who loved to debate with everyone, but while he was having these cancer treatments he was open to being prayed for. That was a huge deal for Jonny and I felt really frustrated with God that although we saw some answers to prayer ultimately his journey was cut short.”
Three months later, after the grief of leaving Zimbabwe and losing Jonny, there was the joy of the birth of their first child, a girl. Connie has proved to be a blessing to Joe and Lois.
“Connie is incredible and she has been such a part of our healing process,” says Lois. “It has felt like we have had a lot of grief this year. If we hadn’t had a baby, there would still have been that ongoing sense of grief, of wanting a family but not having a family.”
Following the birth, Lois haemorrhaged over five and half pints of blood. While this was not serious in the UK, if they had still been in Zimbabwe, it would have been the difference between life and death. “The doctors have said to us I would not have survived if I hadn’t been home,” says Lois.
In August, Joe and Lois flew out to Kampala to start a new period of service with BMS. Joe will be supporting the development of future BMS work in Uganda. Lois will be looking after Connie and hopes to use her speech therapy and search out the other opportunities God has for her there.
They are both looking forward to serving God in Uganda, the place where they got engaged in 2007 and the country that Joe did his undergraduate and postgraduate research about.
“To be here at a new chapter of BMS’ work in Uganda is really exciting,” says Joe. “We are going to be part of shaping how the work is going to look in the next five to ten years.”
Currently in Kampala, Joe, Lois and Connie have settled in well. In early 2015 they will move to Gulu which will be their new permanent home.
“I am looking forward to moving to Gulu and having a home, somewhere where we can establish and build friendships and relationships,” says Lois. “It will be nice not to be thinking of moving again. By the time we move to Gulu, we will have moved four times in 12 months.”
Throughout this momentous year for the Ovendens, through the ups and downs, they have seen God’s perfect timing and how he has been looking after them. “We can see how God has had his hand upon us,” says Lois.
Pray for health and safety for the Ovenden family as they settle into life in Uganda. Pray for the work that they and the other BMS staff will be doing there, that they will have a clear understanding of what God is calling them to do.
This article first appeared on the website of BMS World Mission and is used with permission