Sue Steury: The Beloved Mother of Tenwek and Missionary in Bomet, Kenya
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.
A 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 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.”
Along 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.