(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON -- When Brandon and Vicki Forester first arrived in Vanuatu almost three years ago, filming of CBS' "Survivor" was wrapping up.
But the Sikeston couple had no interest in the reality television show. Their real-life drama was about to kick in as they began their nearly three-year mission trip to Big Bay, Vanuatu, which is located in a group of islands between Fiji and Australia in the South Pacific.
The couple arrived in Vanuatu in June 2005 and served as Assemblies of God World Mission associates until November 2007.
"Our primary goal (for coming to Vanuatu) was to open a clinic," said Brandon Forester, who had worked as a nurse in the operating room and emergency room at Missouri Delta Medical Center. "We were in an area that was severely under served. They didn't have access to medical care or health care."
"Where we lived was a very muddy area. It took four hours to get to our house, and the last hour is driving through knee-deep mud. We had to cross the Jordan River and it was a very huge ordeal to get to where we were," said Mrs. Forester.
Five months after the Foresters arrived in Vanuatu, Hope Clinic was up and running. Forester saw about 100 patients a month, and he treated people for a wide variety of reasons.
"Imagine if there was one doctor's office in Sikeston. Imagine what would be coming in there, and the nearest doctor or hospital is three hours away," said Forester, adding he delivered five babies during his time there.
For Mrs. Forester, daily life was chores.
"You get up in morning, start cooking, cleaning and washing laundry by hand. It took an entire day to get chores done because you're cooking from scratch and it took a lot more time to clean. It was very time consuming to run a house," Mrs. Forester said.
The Foresters had to learn the national language, Bislama -- a mixture of English and French and the native dialect.
"Vanuatu has one of the largest concentration of languages in the world. There are 83 islands in Vanuatu and somewhere between 120 to 150 languages are spoken there for only a quarter of a million people," Forester said.
Besides providing medical care during their mission, the couple wanted to share the gospel with the natives as well, Forester said.
Mrs. Forester said one of the best ways to do that is by taking the time to sit and talk with people.
"In America, we say, 'Hey! How are you doing?' -- but we really don't want to know. But in Vanuatu, we would sit and talk with an individual for five, six or seven hours at a time. They'd come to our house and sit on the front porch and wouldn't leave for hours, and so I really learned the value of building relationships with people," Mrs. Forester said.
The Foresters admitted it was nice not having to deal with the hustle and bustle of daily American life.
"(In America), we have to work for everything that we want to buy. We have to have money. (In Vanuatu), they have these gigantic gardens and spend all their time and energy working in the gardens to provide their food. ... They need very, very little money," Mrs. Forester said.
Americans' lives are defined by time, Forester said.
"Most people (in America) have a watch or cell phone they're constantly looking at," Forester said. "We divide our lives by chunks of time and we define our lives by that.
He continued: For them (Vanuatu natives), it's not that way. Their sense of time is much more loose. We measure time in seconds and minutes. Half a day or a day would be the smallest amount of time they measure."
Before leaving Vanuatu last November, the couple laid groundwork for a high-tech system that allows a nurse at the clinic to send a patients symptoms to a doctor in the United States.
After being back in the United States for two months, the Foresters are now readjusting to life in America.
The couple were even featured in a 20-page spread in the Jan. 6 World Missions Edition of Today's Pentecostal Evangel.
"When you go into another culture, you have a hard time adjusting to that. And then we became part of that culture, and it became part of us, and we found our place there and lived that lifestyle. Then you come back here (to America) and jump back into the rat race," Forester said.
Mrs. Forester agreed.
"You really begin to question why. What is the glamour of it all? ... Why do we have to work 9 to 5 every day just so we can have these things that make us more stressed out," Mrs. Forester said.
But living in the jungle is also a difficult lifestyle. "It is physically challenging, but emotionally, your stress level, you find, is much less," Forester said.
And the couple have no intention of getting stuck in the rat race for the rest of their lives.
Forester, 28, is working to become a nurse practitioner. He is finishing his bachelor's degree and plans to start his master's after that. Mrs. Forester, 26, has a Bachelor of Science in speech and language pathology and will begin a master's program in August. They also are on staff at their church, working as small-group pastors.
The couple said they plan to visit Vanuatu by the end of the year.
"As far as living there on a more permanent basis, we're not sure yet," Forester said.
The couple had to raise money to work as missionary associates. Many individuals and churches, especially the couple's home church, River of Life Worship Center in Sikeston, provided them the support to be missionaries in Vanuatu, said Forester, whose father serves as the pastor of River of Life.
"Once we're through our education, it will become more clear of where our lives will go from here," Forester said.
But Mrs. Forester has some idea about the couple's future.
"I think we'll forever be involved in missions," Mrs. Forester said. "It's a part of us now."