Life change, change livesFormer ECH nurse and wife go all-in to serve medical mission in Albania

By on August 10, 2011

By: BETH KACHEL Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

Photo by Stan Hall The Fourth of July Committee recently announced the Queen of Candles court. Contestants are (left to right) Mackensie Buckwalter, Courtney Dussinger, Lauren Lefever, Brooke Gutshall, Abby Grove, Audrey Havan as the flower girl, Matthew Geib as the ring bearer, Danielle Keim, Samantha Weaver, Emily Osborne, Esther Miller, Bethany Ashworth and Vanessa Rave. Missing from the photo is Katrina Evans.

Dave and April Spencer of Denver have known for over a decade that they wanted to serve God in another country.

"It’s always been our goal," said April, "since the day we got married."

Ten years and three children after saying "I do," that goal is getting closer by the day. Come August, they are planning to move to Albania to serve with Christar as medical missionaries.

The Spencers will be living and working in Tirana, Albania’s capital city. After learning the Albanian language, Dave, 32, will be working as a nurse in Christar’s mission health clinic.

"The purpose of this clinic is to provide community healthcare," said Dave. "(It’s) real healthcare…to help people because they are in need."

Helping people has been a priority all his life, said Dave. He worked at Ephrata Community Hospital from 2003 to 2010, the last five years as a registered nurse in ECH’s Intensive Care Unit. Dave said Ephrata Community Hospital, was a "fantastic place" to work.

However, nursing in Albania will be drastically different than in the U.S. Dave described hospitals that run on bribes, where animals roam freely, and infection rates keep you in the hospital five to seven days longer.

"If you go to the hospital," said Dave, "you better take extra money just to bribe people to get the care you need."

When the Berlin Wall fell and communism crumbled with it, Albania was liberated from communist rule. However, it emerged from the dust as a country left 20 years behind the rest of Europe economically, socially, and medically, said Dave.

Located right across from Italy’s rear boot, Albania was described to Dave and April as the "dirt kicked off the back of Italy." On their first trip to this small Eastern European country, Dave said, people asked them over and over again, "Why would you go to Albania?"

To answer that question, Dave pulls out his laptop and shows pictures he took while in the country: images jump off the screen of poor, hungry people dressed in rags and living in cardboard slums. They are Roma gypsies, who, according to Christar’s website, are a despised, outcast group in Albania.

"They’re not allowed in the hospitals, they’re not allowed in the restaurants, they’re not allowed in the schools," shared April. "That’s a big part of where our hearts are — to work with the Roma."

In all they do, Dave hopes to "share Jesus with people. People just don’t know that there’s a Jesus to believe in."

April, 31, will focus most of her time on raising their young family of three children: Caleb, 5, Jenna, 3, and Noah, 6 months. She also hopes to help in the international Christian school where Caleb will attend kindergarten in the fall.

The Spencers journey to the mission field began while attending Word of Life Bible Institute, New York. During the Institute’s annual missions conference, they said God "pricked’ their hearts to serve others overseas. It was an individual decision, but one that would forever shape their lives together.

They had just started dating but didn’t attend the conference as a couple.

"I remember vividly…it was at a meeting at the end of that missions conference that we both stood up and went forward, committing our lives to missions," recalls April. "I remember seeing him up front and thinking ‘this is good, this could work.’"

Their dream took a back seat for a few years to the demands of nursing school and starting a family.

"About three years ago," said Dave, "we just felt God saying, now is the time to become very proactive and start this process of moving overseas."

So they took a "very big leap," as they described it, and sold their house. Next, they applied to work with Christar. They chose Albania, where they would join a Christar team of over 10 families already serving in the country. Ephrata’s Washington Avenue Bible Church, the Spencer’s home church, partnered with them to send them overseas.

Last year, Dave resigned his full-time job at ECH, working part-time instead at the Family Resource and Counseling Center in Lancaster. The family’s full-time job has been getting ready to go to Albania: attending Christar training, speaking at churches in order to raise support funds, and forming a prayer network. To date, over 120 people have pledged to pray daily for the Spencers.

"We feel surrounded by prayer…molding us into exactly who we need to be before we go," said Dave. "We are backed by a lot of people who believe in what we are doing."

After three years of planning, they both agree, they are getting anxious to go. They need 35 percent more financial support to reach their August departure goal.

One more step, they say, that they are trusting God to provide.

"It’s definitely one step at a time," shared April, "through different steps that make you ready. That’s what I think I’ve loved more than anything…watching, step by step, God provide." More LIFE CHANGE, page A15

About Ephrata Review