Helping Animals and Loving People
By Andrea Phillips
Monday, October 9, 2006
From an early age, Denise Ward ’97 loved animals. Having grown up with a great number and variety of animals on her family’s small farm in Iowa, Ward eventually decided to spend her life working with animals to help famers. After four years at JBU, Ward was accepted to veterinary school at Iowa State. There was just one problem.
“The Lord hard really being working in my life during my senior year at JBU,” Ward says, “and I was convicted that I really needed to let God have control of my life and serve Him in whatever way He wanted to lead me. I started questioning why I wanted to become a veterinarian. How could God use a veterinarian? I couldn’t answer that question satisfactorily. I knew God could use doctors and pastors, but I couldn’t perceive how he could use me as a vet.”
The conflict she felt between following her heart and following the Lord was resolved one day in a divinely orchestrated, brief conversation with a stranger from Congo. Although she did not regularly talk to stranger, this day Denise found herself telling the African man that she was preparing to be a veterinarian. The man replied with a recommendation: Come to Congo because the people of Africa depend on their animals for their very lives. They need someone who can teach them to care for their animals.
“Wow!” Ward though. “If they depend on their animals that much, if I could save their livestock, wouldn’t that open a door so they would be willing to listen to what I have to say about a relationship with Jesus Christ and the opportunity to gain eternal life? Maybe God can use a vet after all!”
During veterinary school, Ward learned about Christian Veterinary Mission (CVM), an organization that strives to show the love of Christ to unreached people by helping them to care for their animals. Halfway through her veterinary program, Ward traveled to Uganda with CVM and became convinced that the Lord was leading her to a career in veterinary missions.
After receiving her degree and honing her skills practicing as a veterinarian in Iowa for two years, Ward headed to Africa with CVM to join the Awanno veterinary project in Ethiopia. In Awanno, Ward treated all types of livestock including cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys, mules, and horses, and in the process she built relationships with the people she served.
“In these [third world] countries, people’s whole lives depend on their animals,” Ward says. “In some families, a death of an animal can mean the difference between life and death of a person or even the whole family. Some will tell you it is easier to replace a wife than a cow!”
“The Awanno vet project’s purpose goes far beyond treating the animals,” she explains. “We have helped the animals become healthier, and the farmers’ families have better food security. The project has also given us the opportunities to build relationships in order to share Christ in an unreached area.”
After that year of experience, War was persuaded to pursue long-term mission work in Africa. After receiving a grant that would pay her school loans while she was on the mission field, Ward returned to Ethiopia as a CVM missionary. Ward was assigned to work with the mission organization SIM Ethiopia in their outreach to Borana. Only she and a church-planting couple are currently at work there.
While still treating animals occasionally, Ward focuses her work today on researching the animal health needs in Borana and preparing to train the Borana people treat their own animals for basic diseases. Ward hopes that by training the local people to treat animals, those she trains can travel to more locations than she could, reaching more people and accommodating the culture’s nomadic lifestyle. Plus, trained locals will be able to continue treating animals even after the missionaries are gone.
“I have heard of people who were loved into a relationship with Jesus Christ,” Ward says. “That is the type of impact that I hope to be a part of in Ethiopia. By showing that I care for their animals I want to show them how much I care for them. They see Christ’s love in action, which gives the basis to form a relationship where Christ and his love can be verbally shared!”