All in the families
Legacy of kinship, partnership strengthen couple’s ministry in Africa
December 11, 2009
Presbyterian mission workers Frank and Nancy Dimmock have worked with African partners for nearly 25 years to tackle some of the most challenging problems on the continent.
Together they have provided care for orphaned children, improved public health, expanded educational opportunities, and helped communities create income-generating activities.
Their work with partners has had a significant impact on the lives of many, but the complex problems facing the continent persist. Nevertheless, the Dimmocks are not pessimistic about the future. They draw strength from a strong mission heritage and hope from a firm faith in Jesus Christ.
Nancy grew up in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries David and Polly Miller. Frank’s father was director of evangelism for the Presbyterian Church in the United States, a predecessor denomination to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). His mother, Chick, was the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries Robert and Emma McMullen, who served for many years in China.
“I am proud to be a Presbyterian in global mission and to reflect on the role of my missionary grandparents in China and my in-laws, who spent 40 years in Africa,” Frank says. “Presbyterians have a rich mission legacy that must be maintained.”
“I often draw strength and motivation from ‘our great cloud of witnesses,’ from Scripture, and from the church around the world and our family heritage of putting faith into action,” Nancy says.
For Frank, the steadfast witness of African colleagues nurtures a sense of hope. “My inspiration comes from the people I work with,” he says, “partners and others who are engaged in overcoming challenges. Their faith is an inspiration and that builds hope, and through hope resilience is built. That hope keeps people going.”
After serving for 15 years in Malawi, the Dimmocks in 2007 returned to Lesotho, the country where they began mission service. Frank is the PC(USA)’s Africa health liaison, working with partners in eight African countries. He offers counsel and helps church leaders exchange their wisdom across national borders. He encourages them as they “cross-pollinate” ideas and draw inspiration from each other.
Frank, who holds a master’s degree in epidemiology and tropical medicine, says his primary focus is to help churches build healthy communities. While that includes traditional public health concerns, it also means addressing issues like education and development. Lessening the burden of poverty helps eliminate the diseases of poverty such as tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria.
“My work is on a macro level, helping partners determine where the needs are and how they should be engaged,” he says. However, the macro level can have micro consequences.
Two new preschools opened in Ethiopia this fall thanks in part to Frank’s work. They are based on a model that Frank observed in Zambia in preschools operated by the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian. The Ethiopian schools are sponsored by Bethel Synod of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus. They are for children ages 2 to 6. .
“The preschools will get children ready for primary school and improve their chances for staying in school,” Frank says. “They will also free up time for parents and caregivers to garden or go to market.”
In all of his work with partners, Frank says the “long-term goal is to encourage and motivate others through a faithful expression of the gospel and to build self-sufficiency through education and income-generation.”
Over the years Nancy’s appointment has been to “team ministry,” a designation that recognizes the contribution spouses make in mission work. Much of Nancy’s time has been devoted to the couple’s eight children. Yet Nancy, who holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s in international agricultural development, has lent her creativity and commitment to ministries far beyond the Dimmock household.
While living in Malawi Nancy helped expand the Ministry of Hope, a community outreach started by a Malawian friend in 1999 that includes a crisis nursery for infants up to age 2 found in life-threatening situations.
The crisis nursery began after the Dimmocks encountered a severely malnourished infant at a community center one day. When they asked police and hospital workers what usually happened to abandoned children needing special care, they were told: “They usually perish.”
The Dimmocks received permission to take that particular infant into their home, and ultimately they adopted her.
They sensed a call to help other abandoned infants. Their home was approved as a temporary foster home and as many as 10 cribs lined the walls of their living room. Eventually a building was constructed in the capital city of Lilongwe and a second one in the northern Malawi city of Mzuzu.
The Ministry of Hope Crisis Nursery has continued after the Dimmocks moved to Lesotho, with a qualified staff of Malawians. One mission couple continues to serve the Ministry of Hope in Mzuzu, PC(USA) mission workers Paul and Darlene Heller. More than 300 babies have been saved through the crisis nursery ministry.
Just like previous generations of mission workers, the Dimmocks are forging their own legacy in mission. It’s a legacy informed by their heritage but molded by their own sense of calling. While a college student in the United States, Nancy says she longed to go home to Congo.
“But over time God showed me that loving and obeying Him are the priorities of life,” she explains. “The ‘where’ is less important, since there are people with needs everywhere. Ultimately He confirmed His will for me to serve overseas.”
Frank felt the tug toward career mission while serving in a two-year volunteer assignment in Congo with the Presbyterian Church. He became immersed in the local language and culture and realized he was gifted for cross-cultural service. It was a life-changing experience for a North Carolinian who jokes that he “didn’t even have a passport to South Carolina.”
While the Dimmocks took different paths to mission service, they serve with a common commitment to helping partners open new corridors of God’s love and grace in Africa.