Sue Steury: The Beloved Mother of Tenwek and Missionary in Bomet, Kenya

sue-steury-02 As a young girl, Sue Steury heard a family friend and missionary to India speak at the church where her father was the pastor. During the talk, she felt God’s touch and announced it to her family. “God wants me to be a missionary!” she told them. A few years later, Alice Day, a family friend and missionary teacher who served in Kenya, encouraged young Sue’s dream and prayed for her to find her calling.

sue-steury-03A few years later at age 13, at the altar of a church camp service, she felt the Lord call her to Africa.
In 1959, as a young wife, Sue traveled to Kenya with her husband, Dr. Ernie Steury, as missionaries with the World Gospel Mission. “The majority of the Kipsigis people accepted and welcomed us from the start,” she said. “They are naturally a warm, outgoing, and loving people.” While living there, Sue’s children often played with the Kipsigis children. It took her a while to realize that simply being a mother endeared her to these women, who came to love and respect her — especially after she gave birth to the first white baby born at Tenwek Hospital. “The Kipsigis women in particular were thrilled,” she said. “It was as if they were saying to me, ‘You had your baby at our hospital; now you are one of us.'”

sue-steury-04Sue immersed herself in life at Tenwek doing whatever was required. She cooked and served meals, acted as bookkeeper, postmistress and hospital record-keeper, and helped newcomers learn the Kipsigis language. When she saw the need for educating the teachers, she organized a Sunday school course, designing lessons and crafts adapted to fit the culture and their available resources. Sue also trained and supervised the local community health workers, who went into the villages to teach safety and health practices. In this role, she found it natural to also share her heart for Jesus.

Her teaching had a wide and significant impact. “It was like I finally found my niche,” she said. “I just loved the interaction with the nationals.”

sue-steury-05Along with Ernie, she became a surrogate parent for many young missionaries and medical staff — and a surrogate grandparent to their children. In short, Sue had become the “Mother of Tenwek.” On October 18, 1997, the hospital dedicated one of its multipurpose buildings to Sue with a plaque that commended her faithful and exemplary service to God and the people of Kenya.
Sue served as a missionary for 38 years at Tenwek beside her husband. A faithful servant, she went home to be with the Lord on September 28, 2021, at the age of 89. Her impact on the Tenwek community, especially that of its women, is still felt today.


Janie Leland: Meet FOT’s Director of Development

Sandwiched as the middle child between four siblings and fighting car sickness from a bumpy road full of potholes, Janie Leland had her first glimpse of Tenwek Hospital in 2002. Her parents, both physicians, had a strong desire to make a difference and often took their family on international mission trips.

leland-story-02 At age seven, she marveled at the differences between Africa and her small hometown in rural North Carolina. “It wasn’t just that African people were different in skin color, language, (the) foods they ate, and their culture,” she said. “It was the first time I realized that every nation is not as wealthy as the United States. It was my first encounter with poverty.”

Janie remembers those days of drinking hot chai and visiting Kenyan homes, holding patient’s hands, and passing out candy canes in the wards. At an early age, she began to understand God, herself, and how she fit into the world. “I realized even then how everyone has the distinct capacity to make a difference.”

After college, Janie’s desire to live abroad, combined with her memories and connections from childhood, led her back to Kenya. She accepted a position at Tenwek Hospital as the Friends of Tenwek Ambassador and moved there in May 2019. This position included welcoming and hosting American doctors, and their spouses and families, who came to serve.

“God went before me and I really loved my job at Tenwek,” she said. “I completely immersed myself into the community, spending time in the villages, at people’s homes, with the ladies at Threads of Hope, at the hospital, and in the pediatric wards.”

The friendships Janie developed in the wide Tenwek community gave her a window into the Kenyan culture. Connections she made with missionaries, families, visitors, and physicians became relationships she treasured. “God provided companionship in unique and wonderful ways.”

With the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, Janie returned to the United States. Back in North Carolina, she stayed in touch with the people she had met at Tenwek. “God provided an opportunity for me to continue supporting the mission at Tenwek Hospital as I began to connect with other individuals who also wanted the opportunity to remain involved at Tenwek.” Her work with FOT transitioned to development, first as Associate Director of Development and, in 2021, in her expanded role as Director of Development.

“God has given us money to steward, He has given us time to steward, and He has given us jobs to steward,” she said. “A little generosity can lead to a high impact. Learning and caring about people, finding out what they need, and then offering to help makes all the difference. I am so grateful for the faithful Tenwek supporters, as I get to witness the many ways they steward their resources well.”

Living in the United States, we are fortunate and privileged; we are also not always aware of the suffering in other countries. Just as with Janie, Tenwek leaves a lasting impression on the people who have served there. “The Friends of Tenwek are making a life-changing impact,” she said. “When we give of our time, talent and treasure, we actively practice the belief that ‘We treat, Jesus heals.'”

To read Janie’s Tenwek blog, click here.


THCSHS Student Spotlights

A native of Bomet County, Dominick earned his nursing diploma from the Tenwek Hospital College School of Health Sciences (THCSHS) in 2015. His school fees were sponsored by FOT donors. He took a job at Tenwek directly after graduation and is now in his sixth year of working in the maternity department. Dominick met his wife Millicent, also a THCSHS graduate, and the two now have a three-year-old son, Ivan.

dominickWith his training and occupation, Dominick has been able to buy his mother a plot of land and pay for his siblings’ school fees. Seven years after graduating, Dominick can look back on his life and celebrate where God has brought him.

“I really don’t think I could be where I am today if I had not received the support that I needed,” Dominick said. “So my life has changed through your support.”

While Dominick’s story is certainly inspirational, so is the fact that it’s not the only one like it.

FOT_2021-97FOT donors have also supported students like Winnie. As the second-oldest of seven siblings raised by a single mother, Winnie is now a third-year nursing student realizing her dreams.

“I want to thank you all for your contribution, for the money you’ve given to me so that I can continue with my studies,” she said. “I really thank you so much.”

KipkiruiKipkirui is in his third year of studying to be a clinical officer. With six months left in his studies, he is thankful for those who have helped him along the way.

“I’ve been grateful for the assistance you gave me to fulfill that dream, because it was almost lost,” Kipkirui said. “I’m seeing a bright future to further my studies because I’ve been given this chance.”

EnockEnock is the oldest of five children raised by tea pickers in Bomet County. A second-year clinical officer student, Enock is planning to work on the orthopedic ward.

“I’m just happy to hear that supporters are going to pay my school fees,” Enock said.

Fancy, a Bomet County native, is in her third year at the College’s nursing program. She’s had to make sacrifices to reach her goals. As the oldest of eight children, Fancy lives at home with her father, a school security guard, and mother, a homemaker, to save money. Tenwek donors have eased some of her burden.

Fancy“I’m very grateful for all the helping hands to me,” Fancy said. “You stepped in and helped me realize my goal. I can see that my dream will come true.”

Dominick, Winnie, Kipkirui, Enock and Fancy have worked tirelessly to gain skills that will enable them to become excellent health care providers that can care for patients in Christ’s name. And throughout their journeys, FOT donors have been part of the story.

“Through the support, so many lives have been touched, and may God bless you,” Dominick said. “There’s nothing I can give to say thank you, but we can do the same by helping others.”


To give toward needs at the Tenwek Hospital College School of Health Sciences, click here:

Volunteer Spotlight: Dr. Erik Van Os

Dr. Erik Van Os didn’t know anything about Tenwek Hospital when he first arrived.

“I was looking for an opportunity to serve,” Dr. Van Os said. “I applied to World Medical Mission, and I told them to just send me wherever they needed me, and they sent me to this place called Tenwek Hospital, which was completely unknown to me.”

That first visit, a three-month trip in 1988 as a new Christian having just finished his internal medicine residency in San Antonio, left quite a mark on the young doctor. Working as a general medical officer, Dr. Van Os did basically everything but surgery, including caring for patients in the emergency room and maternity ward.

The graduate of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School has been back to Tenwek three times since then.

erik and sonHe returned for a three-week visit in 2015 with his wife, Nancy, and three children, Andrew, Peter and Elizabeth. In 2018, he went back for another three-week stint, this time with just Peter. Last year, he spent six weeks at Tenwek with Nancy, returning to their home of Colorado Springs in November.

And while many people, experiences and events at Tenwek over the years have left an impression on Dr. Van Os, one person in particular has stood out: Dr. Ernie Steury.

“I have to say my greatest memory is probably my first trip, because I had the great honor and privilege of working with Dr. Ernie Steury directly,” Dr. Van Os said. “He was the most godly, Christlike person I’ve ever met; unbelievably self-sacrificing. He’s really served as an inspiration and role model to me for the rest of my life.”

Dr. Van Os remembers a particularly impactful case during his first trip to the hospital in ’88, a situation that showed the character of Dr. Steury.

One night, a man came to the hospital with a severe head wound. Appearing disheveled and lethargic, Dr. Van Os and the other emergency room personnel assumed he was drunk. However, rather than sobering up as time went on, the patient became more sluggish.

“He was herniating in his brainstem,” Dr. Van Os said. “I thought we had to let him go – there was no intensive care unit at that time in Tenwek.”

Ernie in the background preparing to operate on the patient's headJust to be safe, Dr. Van Os called Dr. Steury to update him on the situation. Dr. Steury was not on call for emergencies. To his surprise, Dr. Steury jumped to action as he had done so many times in his career.

“Shave his head and bring him down to the operating room,” Dr. Van Os remembers Dr. Steury saying. “I’ll meet you there.”

Although Dr. Steury wasn’t on duty at the time, he operated on the sick man anyway, flushing the large clot that had formed on his brain in order to save his life.

man who's life Ernie saved with skull surgery“I have a picture standing next to the guy two days later,” Dr. Van Os said. “A dramatic case and just highlights the versatility and skill of Dr. Steury.”

Throughout his experiences at Tenwek, Dr. Van Os has seen a common thread tying his patients together: one of humility, resolve and grace.

“Some are pretty destitute,” Dr. Van Os said. “Many patients don’t read or write – they’ll sign consent forms with a thumb print. Some don’t speak Swahili. Some don’t have shoes. They may not have more than one or two sets of clothing. It’s really humbling and really a privilege to be able to care for them.”

A few particular patients from his most recent trip represented this distinct persona.

One was a jaundiced woman with pancreatic cancer and an obstructed bile duct, who Dr. Van Os stented in order to drain her liver and resolve the jaundice.

There was also a patient who needed a bile duct stone removed and a woman with bad pancreatitis who needed stenting.

Finally, there was a seven-year-old boy who had inadvertently swallowed sulfuric acid and was suffering from severe damage to his esophagus.

“If you don’t get to that quickly, your esophagus can stricture shut and become nonfunctional,” Dr. Van Os said.

While he doesn’t see patients less than 17 years old in the United States, Dr. Van Os operated on the boy anyway and was able to dilate his esophagus to prevent it from permanently closing. This procedure was done in collaboration with his Kenyan colleagues. Their experience is invaluable in these situations and the teamwork is wonderful.

Dr. Van Os notes that many of these success stories have been made possible by Tenwek’s state-of-the-art support network.

“Tenwek is certainly an advanced hospital by mission hospital standards,” he said. “They’re really pushing the envelope in a lot of areas.”

the current endoscopy teamOne notable technology that Tenwek offers to its patients is ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography), a diagnostic technique used by trained gastroenterologists (like Dr. Van Os, who stayed an extra year during his fellowship at the Mayo Clinic to be trained in this technique).

“That’s a very advanced procedure,” Dr. Van Os said. “There are many hospitals in America that don’t do ERCP. It’s nice to be able to offer that to patients at a rural hospital.”

And while Dr. Van Os has been touched by the patients he’s treated at Tenwek, he’s also been inspired by the long-term missionaries he’s served alongside.

“They’re a neat group of people – very inspiring in what they’ve given up, what they’ve sacrificed, to serve in a mission field for Christ — sharing the Gospel and caring for sick people with limited resources,” he said. “First and foremost comes sharing the Gospel, and I think the missionaries understand that. And they’ve given up material success in the U.S. to serve the greater call of the Gospel.”

Robert Chepkwony, endo team leader, and Dr. Mike Mwachiro, endo medical director“They’ve left behind the opportunity to be quite wealthy and successful. They’ve forsaken that for a higher calling — to be obedient to Christ and to minister his name to the needs of people in Africa.”

Dr. Van Os is also impressed by the flexibility of Tenwek missionaries, the same type of flexibility he was forced to demonstrate when operating on the seven-year-old during his last visit.

doctors in training learning endoscopy 2021“I’m inspired medically by the career missionary doctors, because they’re often faced with having to do things that they weren’t specifically trained to do,” Dr. Van Os said. “It takes courage and ingenuity to try to do something for a patient that you don’t have a lot of experience with – but the patients don’t have any other options.”

Dr. Van Os is also inspired by a different type of flexibility that Tenwek missionaries show — a flexibility that allows them to straddle between distinct, far-away countries and cultures.

“They’re Americans, but they don’t live in America,” he said. “They’re Americans living in Kenya. They’re not Kenyans. They’re sort of a third thing. It’s hard to know who you are sometimes.”

scoping in 2018After retiring from practice in Colorado Springs this year, Dr. Van Os is looking forward to spending more of his time at Tenwek and places like it with Nancy, who, as an experienced seamstress, has enjoyed involvement with Threads of Hope. As he prepares for a new phase of his life, one centered on mission work, Dr. Van Os eagerly awaits the opportunities to practice medicine with the perspective he learned at Tenwek back in 1988.

“My experience back in the 80’s, I have been able to carry with me, and it really helped me to get my priorities right,” Dr. Van Os said. “I would just say when you get over to Tenwek, it’s very, very refreshing, because you’re reminded of and confronted with the reason you went into medicine in the first place – it’s focus on the pure joy of practicing medicine.”my first scopes in 1988, before GI fellowship