Thiessens in Madagascar

In February of 2021, Fellowship International missionaries, Jesh and Julie Thiessen along with their three children flew from Canada to Madagascar to serve at the Good News Hospital.

In partnership with FAIR and PAACS (Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons), they joined a team working to launch a new Christian surgical residency program to help train new surgeons to address a massive medical need in the country. There are less than 100 surgeons serving a country with a population of 26 million people, so the impact of each new surgeon is enormous.

To help get this program established, FAIR has launched the Out of the Waiting Room special appeal with the goal of raising $145,000 to fund this training program for the next five years. People can give directly through our website and/or participate in the upcoming Walk for Madagascar on November 14th.

To help you get to know Jesh and Julie, we had a wonderful conversation in August over Zoom and want to share some of the highlights of that with you here.

FAIR: “Can you introduce yourselves?

JESH: “I’m a general surgeon”.

JULIE: “I’m a stay-at-home mom taking care of our three kids.”

JESH: “We didn’t plan it this way, but I work tons of hours so it works out well since I’m often away.”

JESH, “In Canada, we were part of Bay Park Baptist Church in Kingston, ON where I did my surgical residency program. We got connected to that church through another surgical resident who happened to be attending. We went there throughout our time in Kingston and this church continues to be our home church and our sending church.”

FAIR: “How did you initially get involved in mission work?”

JULIE: “So, missions has been on both of our radars growing up. Both of our families had exposure to mission work and so we as kids were exposed to the idea of missions. Then as teenagers, we both had different experiences doing short-term mission trips. When we got together, we had it in mind for missions to be part of our life but we didn’t know how. So, he (Jesh) initially was studying to hopefully get into medicine and we had an idea to do missions while he was working in medicine here in Canada. Then it was sort of a step by step process that this was the idea. During residency, Jesh was trying to decide what specialty to do and he had done some trips to East Africa and realized the need for surgery which is really why he went into a surgical practice. And then we were still thinking short-term, but after our first trip together we realized that in order to invest in the depth of relationship and impact that we wanted to make, we needed to consider being present on a longer term basis.”

JESH: “My heart is to teach and it is really hard to teach if we are in and out. Our heart is really to invest in surgical residences here in Madagascar and so we really need to be here to do that.”

FAIR: “What drew you to Madagascar?”

JESH: “When we were looking for a hospital, we were looking for somewhere rural and we were also looking for a country where there was a high rural density so that the majority of people were living without access to health care. Madagascar has a very high number of rural people. In terms of a hospital, we were looking for a hospital where we could get in at the ground level and help develop that hospital, develop surgical program and basically move there with the intention of investing our life into that hospital and in the people of that hospital. Madagascar is really cool; it’s incredibly poor, probably amongst the top five poorest countries in the world but also in the top five of most beautiful places in the world in terms of nature. While we weren’t totally drawn to nature, it happens to have a really cool natural presence.”

JULIE: “Actually, when he first met another surgeon in Madagascar at a conference, they just related on terms of similar cases and similar hospital settings but this hospital was a few steps back in terms of development. And when Jesh was telling me that they really need a surgeon, I laughed saying there is no way we could go to a cool place like Madagascar. It sounds beautiful and there are lemurs that would be too cool and exotic. But when he came to see it, we knew what we needed to sustain our family. He saw that the hospital community was integrated with nationals and had other kids so that our kids are not totally isolated, and had some help with teachers (since I am not a teacher) to support our kids as they get older. Looking at the overall picture, it was a mix of health care, community, and the hospital setup.”

JESH: “It is one of the harder places to live but has lots of potential but no Starbucks unfortunately.”

FAIR: “What does an average week for you look like?”

JESH: “For my week, I work a full-time job doing surgery, seeing patients, operating, and then I’m on call. In July I was on call every other night and every other weekend. And so, anyone who needs an urgent c-section or some urgent operation, no matter the time, I’m called every other night. It has been pretty crazy here. The borders in Madagascar are all closed and so some of the relief for our team hasn’t been able to arrive so our hospital team is pretty stretched. My week is generally working and then recovering from work. We do that by watching movies, pizza nights, and being low-key.

JULIE: “On the home front, we are pretty rural without a supermarket or big grocery store so we make everything we eat from scratch. I spend a lot of time managing the household, meals, and kids. The kids’ time is split between English school with other missionary children and a French school with local kids here so they can develop relationships and the French language. I’m split between educating them and supporting them in their education. And then I also do a lot of the administrative side of our work mainly in communication and writing for our blog.”

Thank you Jesh and Julie! We love to hear your passion, vision, and heart for the people of Madagascar. The team at FAIR is excited to be helping you to launch this new Christian surgical residency training program.

To learn more about this opportunity, please visit the Out of the Waiting Room appeal.

You can read more stories from the Thiessens on the FAIR blog and you can follow the Thiessens on their ministry blog.