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Missionary uses talents to minister

Nurse, teacher makes regular trips to Africa

Rose Roach remembers exactly when she first felt a calling to become an international missionary.

A nurse and teacher by trade, Roach, 59, of Ironton, was teaching a hospital orientation class to a group of new nurses. It was about 10 years ago.

She remembers telling the nurses how much she loved nursing and that she couldn’t imagine doing anything else, Roach said.

She had made similar statements to other orientation classes. This time though, she felt convicted about her words. It was as if God were asking her if she would do something else if he asked her to.

After a few months of prayer and attending a church missions’ conference, Roach was sure of it. God was asking her to become a missionary.

“I didn’t really know where I was headed but I knew I had to be willing to do whatever he wanted me to do,” Roach said.

Before then she had never wanted to go to Africa, that’s how she knew the desire to go was from God, she said. Now, 10 years and several summer trips to Africa later, Roach said God has given her a love for the people there and a desire to help.

An assistant professor of nursing at the University of Rio Grande’s, Roach uses her summer vacations to travel to Africa for two to three weeks at a time.

“This is as good as it gets,” Roach said. “I love teaching and it works out well that I work nine months out of a year.”

The mission trips, which usually last between three and four weeks at a time, allow Roach to use her talents for teaching and nursing. The responsibilities of the trips have ranged from working medical clinics, teaching Bible studies and teaching health classes.

Much of the trips to Africa that Roach takes involve taking people who have never been there before.

“What I enjoy about it is watching their faces (when they go) for the first time,” Roach said. As an educator, Roach said she loves to teach them about the culture of the countries, too.

Nursing in the third world counties of Uganda and Kenya can be quite different from that in the United States.

“It’s just totally, totally different,” Roach said of the health care system in African countries.

For instance, there are fewer nurses in Africa, so even in hospitals family members take on a role in caring for the patients, Roach said. Mothers will provide food and bed linens for their sick children, Roach said. The children often sleep in cribs that sit on long legs a few feet off the ground. The children’s mothers typically will bring a bedroll and sleep under the cribs that hold their children. The mothers also take on basic hygiene responsibilities for their children.

Though there are language barriers, interpreters make communicating with the people there easier for the missionaries. Besides the primary languages spoken in the countries, each local tribe has a different dialect. Roach compared it to what it would be like if Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia all have different languages.

After her initial trip to Kenya, Roach came home determined to learn Swahili. She purchased an audiotape and a book to help her learn it. During her next trip to Africa she was disappointed to find out that the Swahili she learned would not be helpful in Uganda, where they speak Luganda.

Roach said she always considers each trip to Africa to be her last time there. She never knows where God might call her to next, she said. For that reason she hasn’t made the commitment to learn the languages there.

“I’m reluctant to jump in and learn a language not knowing if I’ll come back,” she said.

There are positive differences between teaching in Africa and teaching in American, Roach said. When she teaches health education in Africa, “they hang on every word,” Roach said. “That doesn’t happen here.”

Roach gets a much different response from her students in America, who text and otherwise use their cell phones while she is talking.

Over the years, Roach said, many people have questioned why she continues to go back to Africa. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to simply donate money to Africa?

“Throwing money at poverty doesn’t work,” Roach said, adding that Americans should know that from experience here.

One of the hospital administrators she met in Africa summed up Roach’s thoughts on why she goes when he said: “We don’t ask you for money because what we need is your service and knowledge,” Roach said.

Roach regularly speaks to churches and other groups who are interested in hearing about her trips. She will speak at 4 p.m. Sunday at Quinn Chapel AME Church, Ironton.