Nothing in Maureen’s background suggested that one day she would leave her beloved Kenya for the sake of Bible translation.
‘I grew up in a home without a Bible,’ remembers Maureen*, who was the youngest of seven children. ‘My Mum was the only one in the family who went to church occasionally, and she was illiterate.’
Lack of education was not uncommon in her rural part of the country, and Maureen was determined to escape the vicious circle of illiteracy and poverty. She moved to the city to get an education and worked hard to become financially independent. In spite of her ‘Bibleless’ home, she herself enjoyed reading the Bible. But somehow the message never hit home – until she discovered the book of Romans and her own need for Jesus. That day, she committed her life to Christ.
In the meantime, Maureen had found work with a car company. But what she really wanted was something else: ‘I told God that I wanted to work in a place where there are Christians.’ A little later, a local SIL member had his car serviced at her company and told her about the work of SIL. Maureen was thrilled – and she was even more thrilled when she received a job offer only two weeks later to work for SIL as a receptionist.
An unlikely career
This was the start of an almost meteoric rise: Maureen moved from receptionist to secretary to Business Manager to Operations Manager and very soon saw the need for more training. She studied Business and Administration and followed a Master Programme in HR and Strategic Management. Looking back at her development from village girl to a leader in her organisation, Maureen says: ‘Nothing is too small for God to use, if you are willing to commit it to him!’
‘We were willing to go where we would be best placed. After all, this is not about us, this is about serving God.’
But this was not yet the end of the story. Maureen married John*, an IT specialist with a great heart for evangelism. She took some trips to Muslim-majority regions of Nigeria and as a result, both she and her husband developed a vision for working in a Muslim culture. Soon after, they found themselves packing up to go and work in a Muslim country – not in Nigeria, but in a place in the Caucasus, which they had never before heard about and had to look up on a map.
‘This place was not our first choice,’ recalls Maureen. ‘But this is where our gifts were most needed. We were willing to go where we would be best placed. After all, this is not about us, this is about serving God.’ Yet the move to the Caucasus was not easy. ‘It seemed we were the first and only Africans there. Wherever my husband and I went, we caused a sensation. Even when I stepped out of our apartment with my laundry, people were hanging from the balconies in droves to watch my every step.’ Still, Maureen and her husband never had second thoughts. And in spite of the difficulties, Maureen loves living where she is – not the least because she loves her work.
Looking out for people
As the HR manager for a vast area, she is in charge of over 90 people serving in locations from the Caucasus all across the Central Asian plains to Siberia. ‘I’m an extreme extrovert,’ confesses Maureen. ‘Talking to people and being with people has such a high value for me. And I get lots of talking to do!’ Maureen loves the fact that she is not just staying in touch with people via email or video conference. She has also had the chance to meet almost everyone in person, many actually in their place of work. ‘You need to understand where people are and what the challenges are. Hearing about winters in Siberia is one thing, walking through the snow and muck yourself is another.’
‘Nothing is too small for God to use, if you are willing to commit it to him!’
Much of what Maureen does has to do with understanding the skills and personalities of people. From her own experience she knows that there is no skill that God can’t use. ‘It is my joy to see people use their God-given talents and to thrive in what they do. I want people to have a good experience, so they don’t give up in frustration.’ This also means that Maureen is there to bring the needs of personnel to the forefront. ‘I see myself as a people advocate,’ she affirms. ‘I always look out for people, at all levels.’ When a project is planned, she makes sure that project leaders don’t only consider the financial needs, but also think of the people: Do they have the personnel they need? Do they need to find new staff? Do they need to offer training to existing personnel? If training is what is needed, this again falls to Maureen. She makes sure that people are well equipped and able to develop their skills. And as if that were not enough, Maureen also makes sure that supervisors are trained, enquirers’ questions are answered and newcomers are well oriented.
Moving away from Africa was a huge step of faith. Giving up on a regular salary to live on support took courage. But to Maureen it was worth it.
‘I know that what I am doing is absolutely essential. Without the things that I do day by day, the translators couldn’t do their work. Each one of us, translators as much as administrators, have their part to play. Bible translation without administration is like a three-legged stool. If one leg is taken away, the whole thing collapses.’
*Name changed for security reasons