Student nostalgic for life in Africa

By Cara Miller

Arizona Daily Wildcat

At a time when more than one million refugees are scrambling to leave Rwanda, Kathy Hurlburt cannot wait to return.

Out of Africa for only six months, Hurlburt, a temporary University of Arizona student, is anxious to return to the missionary life she began 30 years ago.

After a five-month missionary project in the United States, her husband Winston returned to Zaire in May. But because of the tribal war which erupted in Rwanda in April, Hurlburt remained in the United States.

"I miss the people, and the challenge of leading a simple life," she said.

And simple it is. In Africa, Hurlburt is her own source for food. With only basic resources such as wheat, sugar and flour, Hurlburt makes her own bread, mayonnaise, ketchup and pickles.

"Cooking was definitely challenging," she said. "I would buy the wheat, pick out the bugs, grind it and make the bread."

But cooking is not the only challenge Hurlburt faces when in Africa. After 18 years in Uganda and three years in Zaire, Hurlburt is accustomed to frequent robberies and pickpockets.

"In Africa, the missionaries were considered to be rich, so we were robbed about once a week," she said. "Usually our car was robbed, but I have been the object of pickpockets many times."

Hurlburt was in an even more precarious situation one Sunday morning in Kenya when she

was awakened by a man holding a knife to her throat. Four others accompanied him in robbing the Hurlburt household.

"He cut my throat, and I thought I was going to die," she said. "But it was really only a nick."

Still, Hurlburt said she has never regretted the decision she made when she was 12 years old after she heard a missionary from Africa speak.

"Everything I did from then on was in preparation to go to Africa," she said. "I considered it a call. God made it clear to me what my life's work was to be."

She earned a nursing degree from Wheaton College in Illinois, and worked as a nurse for nearly four years before she met her husband and her dream of becoming a missionary was realized. Hurlburt's husband was a third-generation missionary and shared her vision of going to Africa.

Six years later, the Hurlburts headed by boat to Uganda with their two toddlers and a few barrels of clothing and essentials.

In the 18 years they were in Uganda, the couple raised three children and trained the African locals in evangelism.

While her husband ran a training center for African pastors and evangelists, Hurlburt worked with the African women, teaching them about Christianity as well as community health, sewing and food preparation.

"I did a lot of 'back-door nursing,' like treating wounds, giving vaccinations and various medications and teaching the basic principles of health care and prevention," she said.

After spending four years in Europe, the Hurlburts went to Goma, Zaire, where they lived for three years. The tribal war in neighboring Rwanda broke out shortly after the Hurlburts were called back to the United States for a five-month project. Because of the danger of their location, Hurlburt chose not to return until the fighting subsides.

"We lived in a house right on the border," she said. "The refugees had to pass right by our house to get to the border. Now it is totally destroyed."

While waiting to return, Hurlburt enrolled in a UA 12-week registered nurse refresher course, which ended Friday.

"I've only been in the States a few times in the past 30 years and I wanted to be updated," she said. "I'm just appreciating getting an idea of what has changed since I graduated in 1955."

Since it is not feasible for Hurlburt to return to Zaire right away, she plans on applying to an extended-care facility in Phoenix.

But she said she will know more after she talks to her husband, with whom she has had minimal contact since he returned to Zaire.

With no telephones in Goma, their only contact has come by telephones borrowed from visiting journalists.

Hurlburt's husband is expected to return sometime this week for treatment of a tropical disease he has contracted over the last month.

Still, she is anxious to return.

"I really miss the people," she said. "I have a strong sense of wanting to make a difference in people's lives."

And while the cooking methods and living quarters are a little primitive, Hurlburt said she misses those too.

"I like the simple lifestyle," she said. "I find it challenging to work with something and make something beautiful out of it."

And as soon as she returns, Hurlburt plans on joining her husband in working with refugee camps.

"It's just never occurred to me not to be doing this sort of work," she said. "I consider it my calling."

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