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God in the Life of nurse Nigel Chapelle

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NURSE Nigel Chapelle tells Jo Duckles his story from growing up in a pub to studying pioneer ministry.

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Call the Midwife

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Eve Vause

Missionary Midwife Eve Vause

Saving the lives of mothers and their babies was all in a day’s work for missionary midwife Eve Vause. She tells Jo Duckles her real life version of the life of a missionary midwife similar to the Call the Midwife character Chummy, played by Miranda Hart.

The sprightly 80-year-old who still volunteers at Oxford’s Windmill Fairtrade shop and a hospital café as well as serving as a Licensed Lay Minister at All Saints, Headington, had always wanted to be a nurse and always wanted to be a missionary.

She says she saw midwifery as part of nursing, dealing with the ‘whole person’ and clearly loved her 25 years serving in Sierra Leone, Uganda, Nigeria and the Congo. She remembers supervising health centres in Uganda where, during the troubles, midwives would hide cars in the trees so they could rush an expectant mum to hospital if she went into labour. “One Christmas day we had two women come in the same taxi with ruptured uteruses and we didn’t know who to treat first,” says Eve, who served in the country when Obote and Amin were in power.

A churchgoer as a child, Eve says she went along with her parents because it was a “respectable thing to do on Sundays” and while she believed, she sees her conversion as gradual rather than a Road to Emmaus experience. “I went to Sunday School and people often said I should give my life to Jesus but it wasn’t until I started training with the Church Mission Society (CMS) that I learnt what being a Christian was. I thought I would do my nurse training and then contact CMS but that was the wrong way around and I should have contacted them earlier.”

At 17 Eve began training in orthopaedics in Alton, before starting training in nursing and midwifery at St Thomas’s, Southampton, when she was 19. “I had always had this childish idea of being a missionary, from reading books and hearing stories.”

Nurses work long hours and her first real experience of Christian work was when CMS sent her to Leigh Abbey, first as a guest, then working in the retreat centre and getting to know people. “I remember meeting someone who said ‘we are pleased to meet you, we’ve been praying for you for a year.’ The idea of someone praying for a person they had never met just threw me.”

At first she thought she would be sent to Japan, but they had enough nurses so she first went to Sierra Leone and later Nigeria where she supervised maternity and child health centres up to 100 miles away from Kampala. “That’s where I did proper midwifery and I’m still in touch with some of the mothers,” she said.

Her language skills were put to the test in the Congo, when she could not work out why mothers were not taking her advice to give their children beans and ground nuts to deal with malnutrition. “To give and to kill are the same word. I had been telling mothers to kill their children with beans and ground nuts,” she said.

She also found she loved the work of the Mission Aviation Fellowships. “When I got to the Congo we had an air strip and I loved the little planes. The pilots were wonderful, doing really invaluable pastoral care work. They were the American branch and I’m still in touch with a couple of them.”

And how does Africa compare to the UK? “Africa is much more real, there are no commercial organisations. Birth and death are very real and their Christian faith is very strong. I’d come back and be faced with having 50 types of toothpaste to chose from, whereas in Africa you’d go to the little shop and ask for the one version they have.”

Women who had up to 12 pregnancies, with potentially 10 or 11 babies dying, would find themselves asking for family planning, even if their husbands disapproved. “I’d give them injections because they loved injections. The husbands would be unlikely to notice if they had an injection, and if they did they would not know what it was for.

“People would go to the chemist who would inject toothpaste and people thought injections cured everything.

Missionary Midwife

“As soon as women realised we were keeping their children alive they wanted family planning.” Eve was against bottle feeding, particularly because of the infected water that would be used to mix up the powders. “For three quarters of the children who died, it was something to do with dirty water.”

On retiring, Eve spent seven years working at the Christian Healing Centre at Crowhurst where she liked the holistic ‘body, mind and spirit’ approach “I did everything from washing the floors to ministering in the chapel,” she says.

So what did Eve think of Call the Midwife? “I was thrilled with it. I love Miranda Hart and I’ve noticed all of the elderly male clerics love it. They have dramatised it a bit and one thing that worried me was them looking after TB patients as well as newborns.”

Find out more about Eve’s work with CMS and listen to a CMS interview with her.