How Jeff & Bethany Ended Up In Tanzania

JEFF

When Bethany and I started dating, she was in talks with an organization that would send her as a nurse and missionary to a country in Africa. In the end, she didn’t go – in part thanks to yours truly – and the rest is history. For this reason, when we got married it was with the understanding that together we would find a way to work abroad.

Our goal was for one of us to find a position by January and for the other to tag along, hopefully finding work or volunteer opportunities when we arrived. To this end, we have been applying to positions in Eastern Africa and preparing to go for around four months now. It’s the reason we’re currently subletting our home until the end of December with no real option to renew. We didn’t buy a new car when mine was in an accident a few months ago. We’ve been sending stuff to Yarmouth with my parents every time they come for a visit. We didn’t know what opportunity may present itself or when, but we were aiming for the cliff of January with hopeful hearts and slight trepidation.

BETHANY

It was hard to move ahead without concrete plans in place, but I’ve learned over the years that that’s how all of the best things in life happen. Even in starting to date it was hard because the thought of investing years without knowing the end result was terrifying. In the end you just have to trust God, trust each other, and trust yourself, along with each and every little thing in life that leads to these big decisions. We were both sure this is what we wanted and we just needed to start working towards it. 

JEFF

Such faith paid off. I ended up interviewing for a couple of positions and wasmap even offered a volunteer role with the Myanmar National Association of the Blind that I had to turn down with a heavy heart. However there was one position that stood out to me: a Volunteer Coordinator position in Tanzania at an organization that commonly goes by the acronym JBFC. It operates a school for approximately 150 students, a girl’s home for 48 orphans, a farm, and a restaurant in rural Kitongo (around 45 minutes from the larger port town, Mwanza).

BETHANY

We were excited that Jeff may have found a position that fit well and that it was with an organization I could easily fit into. If anyone knows Jeff, you know that he loves to find something he cares about and believes in and then he works tirelessly for it. I can’t imagine a year of him just coming along and figuring it out as he goes; that’s my job and what I love! Jeff thrives in an environment where there are goals that he can exceed so this was an answer to prayers to say the least! Plus, if anyone knows me, this was obviously a perfect fit for me too!

JEFF

The position was appealing for three reasons: 1) Bethany’s passion for working abroad imagescame from a time volunteering in Tanzania, so it was a country she knew and would love to go back to, and 2) the position was something I knew I could do well and 3) JBFC is my ideal organization: small, focused, and making a direct and meaningful impact in a community.

BETHANY

Jeff and his lists… It was appealing for a bazillion reasons!

JEFF

I was thrilled to get the first interview the week before leaving on our honeymoon and my excitement grew as I was scheduled to do two more interviews from Northern Ireland. The big news came while we were staying in a small inn where C.S. Lewis spent his honeymoon just outside of Belfast. Bethany was showering and I was taking the opportunity to check my emails. When she came into the room, I told her emphatically, “We’re going to Oklahoma!”

BETHANY

It definitely felt like Christmas morning; when you are so excited you might pee your pants, but you want to control yourself and not get too excited in case you don’t get that coveted cabbage patch kid you’ve been dreaming of. We attempted to rein ourselves in, or rather to rein me in while Jeff calmly switched into planning mode and effectively managed his expectations. I could see the smile in his eyes though.

JEFF

The founder of JBFC, Chris Gates, wanted to meet both of us in person before officially hiring me. We scheduled it for the second weekend we were back in Canada and in the meantime scheduled a screening day for the position in Myanmar in Ottawa for the first weekend we were back (we didn’t want to close any doors until Tanzania was official – it’s still available if you work for CNIB and are looking for a 6 month international experience!).

BETHANY

Shutting that door with Cuso was harder than I expected. Our good friend Jessie had suggested it to us in the first place and I think from the beginning, my respect for her opinion had made me really look into and fall in love with this organization. If you ever want to do something similar to this as a professional, definitely look into Cuso. It’s crazy to imagine how different our story would have been if we had decided to go to Myanmar, but we are both so confident that JBFC was and is the right fit for us and them! 

JEFF

The trip to Tulsa was amazing. They put us up in a hotel with a pool (which we used three times in 48 hours). They took us out for amazing food including my first chicken-fried steak, meat-stuffed bagels, gourmet burgers, smoked chicken fajitas, and the most delicious dessert fries I’ve ever had. Everyone was so nice, the interview was very casual, and all of the answers to our questions far exceeded our expectations. In many ways, it seemed almost too perfect.

That night at supper, Chris was on his phone and while we played with his barreling St. Bernard puppy he broke the news to us. He’d been texting with his staff and I had the position!

BETHANY

Christmas morning was here. We got the cabbage patch kid! Happy dance commence. Jeff remained level headed though equally as happy in his own way.

JEFF

We’re very excited about the whole thing. The position starts in January, which is ideal. They’re working on a role (with perks) for Bethany helping develop some health promotion programs and conducting some training in the community and school. The organization exceeds our expectations as well. While the organization looks after girls who jbfc-campus-aerial-shot-with-labelsare orphans, they do so in small family units to create a strong sense of home. While the pay is modest, it’s very good for an introductory international development job and includes accommodations and food from the farm. The position itself includes coordinating groups of high schoolers over the summer and a variety of other programs including a “sponsor-a-child” program and a “Pen Pals” writing program. Plus – in our free time – there’s lots of opportunity to get to know the staff, cook for ourselves in a shared kitchen, play soccer, and go camping in the Serengeti.

BETHANY

Even the little bit that Jeff shared about JBFC makes clear all of the potential there is in partnering with them. For me, I’m excited for the potential of how this will impact my future. I love being a nurse, but it’s no real secret that working in hospital-care settings has never been my end game. I am beyond ready for what’s next, with a thankful heart for the experiences I’ve gained along the way. I’m ready to move onward and upward. I can see myself fitting into a multitude of different areas with JBFC and will work with them to figure out what that will look like. I’m most excited to take my nursing, my physically-being a nurse, and using it in different ways. I’m excited to work in the community, improving health in different ways and then take that experience back to Canada. I’m thrilled to become a part of and love their community and hope that this is the doorway into community-care for the rest of my life.

JEFF

Despite our incredible excitement, there’s a lot of work to do before January and I do it with mixed emotions. I’ve been working at CNIB for the last three and a half years. I started as a Volunteer Coordinator focusing on Vision Mates (volunteers that provide weekly one-on-one sighted assistance to a person with vision loss) in Nova Scotia and PEI. I’ve grown this program from 12 matches to 95 matches and intend to match as many of the 50 on the waitlist as I can before leaving.

In my first year at CNIB, the Executive Director suggested we apply for funding to develop some Recreational Programs in Halifax and so I had the additional task of making these programs happen after we received $25,000. That first year did not go well. Programs were poorly attended and we didn’t know what we were doing. But after significant trial and error and the help of Thom Mason calling hundreds of people every week with event updates and reminders, we got into a good rhythm. CNIB Halifax now offers a bi-weekly knitting group, as well as monthly movie nights, audio book club meetings, and painting and sculpting workshops.

The success of these programs and my trial-and-error approach led me to being tapped to lead a committee to develop four new programs for CNIB nationally. Currently, CNIB’s fundraising efforts all funnel into vital rehabilitation services which are offered free of charge to people with vision loss. However, CNIB aims to have these rehabilitation services adopted by the health care system, which creates a gap. If funding wasn’t going to rehab, what programs would the charity “CNIB” offer? My committee’s four programs as well as a dozen others developed by other committees were the answer.

I take pride in these accomplishments. I feel I’ve done a lot of work to get these programs where they are today. This hard work was recognized by a new position at CNIB – Manager of Foundation Programs – with more responsibilities and benefits. I signed the contract for this position three weeks before signing the contract for Tanzania.

The door is open for me to come back in the future, but leaving means finding the next person to take the reins of these programs. The position is in a great situation. If all the programs are run as the status quo, the person would be a success. At the same time, however, there’s lots of opportunity to grow the programs and add new ones if they want to make their mark. It’s a great opportunity for someone who has been a coordinator and is ready to be a manager because it has components of both: running programs on the ground, while overseeing staff, volunteers, budgets, and strategy. In addition to that, we have an intern who will be taking over the Recreation Programs for the first four months (so if you know someone who’s interested, pass along the posting!)

BETHANY

It is with less trepidation that I leave my job. However, it is with so much sadness that I leave this community. This is my home and the home of my friends and family. So many of them have already moved and may not be right next door anymore (or sharing my room, for that matter), but we somehow all find our way back to this beautiful East Coast and still call it home. I have friends I don’t deserve and I can’t believe I’m so blessed to have. Friends who challenge me each day to be better, do better, and live better, because I see such amazing examples in all of you. It’s hard to imagine day to day life without them. I am so thankful for them loving Jeff and I so well and pushing us to pursue this move, along with so many other things.

My family is huge and I often joke that they may not notice this one member missing from family gatherings. They may on occasion drive me crazy, but every single one of them is so special to me and now to Jeff as well. I love them all so deeply. It breaks my heart to think of missing milestones, births, rounds of Globe Trotters (a board game that’s a family tradition), and so much more. We’ll have endless hours of stories to catch up on and new things to debate for the rest of our lives.

I’m sad to leave soccer and our church as well. They’ve become family and have been with Jeff and I from the very beginning, through all our growing pains. We’re nervous to branch out on our own away from them, but feel ready to because of how they have each nurtured us so well. I trust that they will care for each other in the same way in our absence.

So yes, there is a lot we are sad to leave but really it’s just all the people. It’s a testament to how amazing our community is that Jeff and I are ready for this move. We have a lot of amazing people surrounding us making us who we are and supporting us on our way.

JEFF

Certainly I have moments of doubt about my decision to go considering this new position and all the work there is still to do at CNIB. However, I find comfort in this being the right decision. When all my other reasons don’t measure up, it comes down to one thing: babies! The sooner we leave on our Tanzanian adventure, the sooner we’ll be back to have babies. I’d consider delaying our trip by a year, but we’re getting older and we want to go away before we start trying, so now is the time to go!

BETHANY

Let’s be real, moving across the globe or not, this oven is not ready for no bun yet.

JEFF

This thought keeps me on track, but it’s not my only motivation; nor is my only motivation to keep Bethany happy. When I was young, I was an idealist and told my parents, in all the naïve valour of youth that we should go to Africa or start an orphanage. My dad, without realizing how significant his words would be, commented, “Why go to Africa when there are poor people here?” He didn’t mean it as a life philosophy, but I took it as one and as a result my career has been almost entirely in the not-for-profit sector.

Marrying Bethany has reignited that drive. It should be understood that I love Bethany and married her not despite of her longing to work abroad in local communities, but in part because of it. I believe one of the most important things you can do in life is make small differences in the lives of others and I have been incredibly blessed to have jobs where I get to do just that: before CNIB, at CNIB, and now going forward at JBFC.

BETHANY

Jeff and I are still classified as newlyweds, but even this far along the journey we have realized a wealth of commonalities and differences we have. Trust me, there are lots of both! One of the biggest things that drew us together and bonded us as a couple was our mutual love for the community we are in. We do not want to be bystanders. We want to be intentional in whatever community we find ourselves, locally or globally. We recognize how blessed we are in every aspect and strive to not just sit comfortably, but live outwardly as part of our larger community and working with them. I’m so glad I can share that passion with my husband and know we are setting our priorities as a team.

JEFF

So that’s the long and short of it! In the next month, we’ll be packing up the remainder of our things, celebrating Christmas and hosting an epic New Year’s Eve party, getting vaccines, and cramming all the things we want to bring with us into four boxes. At work, I’ll be striving to match as many Vision Mates as possible, while trying to write down as much “how to” information as I can in a book I’m calling “Manager of Foundation Programs 101 AKA How to be Awesome.”

BETHANY

So much to do! So many people to visit! So little time! On to the next of many adventures…

JEFF

We leave in January! Follow me on Facebook and check back to this blog as we keep everyone updated on this incredible new adventure!

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