Andy and Jackie Buie

I want to serve the purpose of God in my generation
I want to serve the purpose of God while I am alive
I want to give my life for something that will last forever
Oh, l delight, I delight to do Your will

Andy and Jackie with a friend in Banalia,
Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 2011

As Jackie sings this song for the first time, she feels God’s presence tangibly, and she asks herself, ‘Do you? Do you mean it? He’s going to take you at your word.’

Jackie had only been a Christian for a short while when she met Andy. ‘I had never heard the true gospel. I became a Christian through reading books about missionaries. I saw that these people had lives that had a purpose. I felt hugely that I wanted my life to count for something. I saw in these biographies that people had their lives changed by Jesus and I wanted my life to be changed by him too.’

She gave her life to Jesus, and started going along to youth group events that included Andy’s youth group too. They were friends for several years before they started dating when she was 16, and he was 18. ‘Far too young, probably’, says Andy with a wry smile.

Soon after their marriage, just over six years later, they settled into steady jobs in Buckinghamshire. Jackie was a therapy radiographer; Andy worked for a good engineering company. They were expecting to live for Jesus in what some might call an ordinary set-up, particularly as their children arrived. Yet God had different ideas…

‘It caught us by surprise’

‘It caught us by surprise’, says Andy of their early call to work with Wycliffe Bible Translators. He happened to see two lines in their church’s newspaper detailing a mid-career workshop run by Wycliffe in their nearby headquarters. It drew him, though he didn’t know why, and he and Jackie agreed he had to attend the meeting.

He sat through the workshop amongst linguists and other translation experts feeling completely out of place, wondering why God had pinpointed this event for them. Yet during the tea break he was approached by one of the workshop leaders, a Wycliffe member overseas. ‘He asked me about my skills and my current job, and I told him, thinking all the time this is nothing to do with languages. His eyes got wider and wider until he said to me, “You’re just the sort of person we need. You have a wide knowledge- and experience-base.”’

‘You’re just the sort of person we need.’

Jackie had had to stay at home to look after their young children, but she remembers Andy coming back from the workshop: ‘Andy was a very placid guy, and he came back from that really enthusiastic. It was like he could see that the skills he had – he was a making-things-work kind of guy – could have huge value in this organisation.’

Andy continues, ‘After that, we just kept pushing the doors. It really caught us by surprise. But then our trust in God dealt with the rest of it. Here’s the path for you to follow, so follow it, and see where it goes. We’ve always said that the best place to be is where God wants you to be, regardless of everything else.’

Andy at the Nairobi office, c1999

It was 1998 by the time they were ready to leave the UK for the first part of their adventure. They had decided upon East Africa as the place with the most need for their particular skills at that time, and ended up living and working in Nairobi, Kenya. They worked in IT (Andy) and in administration for people serving with Wycliffe (Jackie), assigned to the Sudan Branch which, due to political unrest, was based in Kenya.

Looking back on that first monumental decision, they recall, ‘It was quite a big thing to pack up our three kids, who at that point were about 6, 8 and 9, and cart them off to East Africa! It was definitely the right thing to do though, and we were very settled in that. Right from the beginning, we always included them in our discussions – what it would mean for them, why we were doing it. They were fully on board with it.’

‘We always included the kids in our discussions. They were fully on board.’

‘Interestingly we hit some big obstacles; one was funding, and there were a few other things along the way, which seemed insurmountable at the time. But every time we hit one of these major roadblocks, we stopped and we prayed, and talked, and worked a way out, and then we moved on again. We saw God move us past them at each stage, which confirmed for us this was what he wanted.’

‘A gentle buffer into a big change’

Upon their arrival they were welcomed by a Kenyan family whom they lived with in Nairobi for 5 weeks. ‘The family were the most hospitable people you can imagine. They did a fantastic job of bringing us into the best of Kenyan culture without rejecting our own. We have great respect for them and are still good friends 20 years on.’

Their children were quickly settled into good schools – better than they would have had in the UK, remarks Andy – and no two days would look the same for Andy and Jackie. ‘Some days the road to the office just didn’t exist, it simply vanished, and you’d need to drive through the scrub to get there. And Nairobi traffic has to be seen to be believed.’

Neither one could rely on their plans for a given day, as an emergency situation might arise with someone needing Jackie’s immediate attention so he or she could be granted a visa or work permit to continue working, or someone else who needed Andy to fix a technical problem that had just cropped up and was preventing them from working, too.

Andy and Jackie at the Nairobi office in 1999

‘The oil that keeps the engine running’

I was the only IT person in the branch, and it was a baptism of fire. The technology was very different to what I’d been used to. My day could contain phone lines, computers, generators, solar powered electricity systems, you name it. If it had a wire in it…. Or vehicles as well, occasionally. As the only techie on the block – if it needed fixing, it was your job.’

Jackie recalls her work, ‘I spent a lot of time overseeing the immigration papers for our Sudanese colleagues. It was a nightmare. They don’t have birth certificates so I just had to cajole the authorities into using whatever paperwork we could find, so that the Sudanese translators could come into Kenya for the various translation and linguistic workshops that form essential training for them.’

‘As the only techie on the block – if it needed fixing, it was your job.’

Another challenge for Andy and Jackie was getting the financial support needed to work with Wycliffe, whose members aren’t salaried but who are supported financially and in prayer by individuals and churches. Their roles are often seen as less valuable than ministries such as church planting or, within the world of Bible translation, linguists themselves.

Left, running fibre optic cables in Juba (now the capital of South Sudan) around 2006, and right, the Juba translation team at work in 2008

Yet translators are hugely reliant on technology systems, and are not trained – or necessarily skilled – in how to look after their equipment. If it breaks, they would be unable to continue with a lot of their work, and so a translation would unnecessarily be delayed were it not for IT specialists like Andy. He says of his role: ‘It’s about facilitating and keeping the translators working, and the other big side is enabling communications for teams that are often extremely widely dispersed.’

Alex Mutuku works at his desk at Bible Translation and Literacy Kenya (BTL) in Nairobi. Alex is a Partnership Development Officer and oversees BTL's partnerships with schools. Photographer: Rodney Ballard

Similarly, anyone who has Jackie to thank for paperwork enabling them to do the work the Lord has called them to knows how valuable administrative work is. She remarks, ‘I always thought, this is the oil that keeps the engine running. When I’d feel worn down by the work, I thought about the people I was serving. These Sudanese people were phenomenal. They’d come out of refugee camps and all kinds of suffering because of the war and I really wanted to enable them to do what God was asking them to do. My motivation wasn’t the paperwork; my motivation was trying to do my bit to help them do what God was calling them to do.

‘When I’d feel worn down by the work, I thought about the people I was serving...They’d come out of refugee camps and all kinds of suffering… I really wanted to enable them to do what God was asking them to do.’

‘They taught me that God’s truth is not circumstantially always seen, but they lived it. They knew that God was trustworthy. Our faith in the West tends to be very circumstantially led; theirs wasn’t. Their faith was under fire, and they knew him in a deeper way because of it. These lessons live on since returning to the UK. If the Bible describes God to be something, then he is that, and it’s just as much true when I’m suffering as when I’m not. That was part of what helped me through my own suffering.’

Suffering

A huge challenge hit them soon after arriving. Within their first 10 weeks, Jackie got sick, and it took five years for her to get properly diagnosed. The Buies’ time in Kenya was cut short due to her health, and they still consider it a mystery that God led them over so many stumbling blocks to get out there, yet allowed this to happen, which ultimately prevented them from staying.

‘But there was good that came out of that, although it was a huge struggle at the time. Jackie is now a trained counsellor and is able to support others in similar situations now, and she has a lot of empathy with others because of that time of suffering herself,’ attests Andy.

A woman worships at a church in Buruburu,
Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Rodney Ballard

Keeping the commitment they had made when they married to daily read the Bible together helped too. They read a Psalm a day. ‘It was part of our means of holding on to the truth while circumstances were telling us life was the pits,’ says Jackie. ‘We asked, “What does this mean for us right now?” as we read each one. The Psalms are full of people who are going through suffering but yet are still able to say “and yet I will praise you, yet I will turn to you”. So circumstances needed to be put in their rightful place, which is saying the reality that God is God, and his love endures forever, even though we might struggle to experience it in that given moment.

‘To be honest, the Kenyan experience for me was absolutely rigorous and tough, and took me to the edge of myself, but God’s redemption means that it’s also why I do what I do now. I became a trained counsellor upon returning, and am now a pastor, and this experience helps massively as I talk with others who are suffering in various ways, or even in helping people prepare to go overseas. It’s crucial to know your stress points and to be able to communicate them to others.’

‘We learnt that God is reliable... and surprising. We never knew how things would work out, and things that were very bleak would suddenly turn a surprising corner.’

God used this experience in other ways, too. The Buies talk of their children: ‘At their baptisms, both our girls talked about how this time in Africa grew their faith; they had seen times when we leant on God immensely, and they grew in many ways through witnessing that. And we learnt that God is reliable... and surprising. We never knew how things would work out, and things that were very bleak would suddenly turn a surprising corner. It can only be him. He is solid, reliable. We might never understand some of the things, but it doesn’t mean we stop trusting.’

Their work now

Andy teaching one-to-one at a
conference in Nairobi in 2017

Upon their return, Andy joined the IT department in the Wycliffe office, based in High Wycombe, while Jackie took a leave of absence in order to work through what God wanted for her. She has since become a trained counsellor, and is now a pastor in their church.

Andy might no longer be fixing solar panels or working with electricity generators, but he still has a lot of contact with people around the world. He supports about 50% of Wycliffe people from the UK and Ireland remotely.

Another way God is still using Andy to impact Bible translation work overseas is through his training of other technology specialists. He attends yearly IT conferences in Africa and trains others, as well as learning from them: ‘It’s a good time for them to get together as many of them are the only techies in their branch, just like I was. Similar problems exist in different branches, so it’s really good to learn from each other. These conferences are so valuable.’

Looking back on their adventure in Nairobi, they remember the smell of the soil after the rain. ‘You think it rains here? It doesn’t. Rain in Africa is something else. It evokes something. I’m not sure I can describe it really. Adventure, people… it all adds up to something that’s really quite special.’

‘Our children were forever changed because of having lived there...They’ve seen God provide for them.’

Jackie says, ‘People said before we went – isn’t it silly taking three children at this stage of their lives? But my goodness, what a benefit it was! Our children were forever changed because of having lived there. And we didn’t protect them from some of the tough stuff because we believed that God would use it to help them form their own faith. And it’s because of the prayers of God’s people that each one of them has a living faith of their own now. It’s not been an inherited faith. They’ve seen God provide for them and so they know it.’

‘Praise God!’

‘I know! I do – I am so, so grateful. Even through times of huge suffering, when we say yes to Jesus, and we say, “My life is no longer my own,” the challenge for us is: Do we really mean it? I remember singing, “I want to build with silver and gold in my generation,” and I can remember very much feeling the anointing of God when I sang it, thinking, “Do you? He’s going to take you at your word.” I meant it, and I mean it now; I don’t want my life to be without purpose.’

Sarah Graves