Africa Becomes Home for a Missionary Couple
By Ivy Couch*
Accepted for graduate studies at Duke Divinity School in 2010, Eric and Elizabeth Soard decided to take a three-month detour to serve orphaned children in the Mara Region of Tanzania. Seven years and three sons later, the Global Ministries missionaries agree, “This is where our life is.”
This deviation from the comfort of their charted course of graduate study did not make sense to their families, but that did not deter their call to step out in faith. During the years they have served, the Soards have gone on to complete their graduate work while fulfilling their call to ministry. Originally, the couple signed up for the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission program at the Angel House Orphanage, an Advance mission project of Global Ministries. As house parents, Eric and Elizabeth sustained the shelter provided by the Angel House, facilitating education, nutrition, and psychological support for children who lacked parental guidance. The majority of them were orphaned from losing their parents to epidemics such as AIDS, malaria, and abandonment.
When the couple began their mission, they never predicted it would morph into a journey that would change the course of their lives. Three months turned into two years with the Angel House and Angel Secondary School, and the Soards realized their call to serve God was tied to Africa.
In Tanzania, Eric recalls, “we accidently planted a church. It went really well, and the Tanzania Annual Conference picked it up and asked if we wanted to come on as full-time church planters.”
As United Methodist missionaries, the Soards are assigned as church planters and discipleship trainers. The United Methodist Church in Tanzania, with the assistance of Global Ministries, has expanded since its 1989 inception by the North Katanga Annual Conference in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Volunteers in mission have helped to extend the church into the Mara Region in northern Tanzania, but the need for more ordained pastors remains.
Eric and Elizabeth Soard. PHOTO: ERIC AND ELIZABETH SOARD
Elizabeth is often asked how she knew she was doing the right thing by staying in Tanzania. “I’ve always felt called to be in Africa,” she says. “I did some mission work in Sierra Leone and in a few other countries, but I really wanted to do more in depth in Africa.”
Eric and Elizabeth speak candidly about balancing mission work and raising their sons, while tending to the needs of other families. “You’re in an environment where the needs never end,” Eric admits. “The phone calls are 24/7. There’s always something going on, there’s always an emergency, and you have to get used to that.”
The Soards light up when they talk about their boys – ages nine, four, and three – and the life they are cultivating for them. “Our oldest is Tanzanian,” Elizabeth says. “He’s adopted. We met him while we were working at the orphanage.”
Eric and Elizabeth's children. PHOTO: ERIC AND ELIZABETH SOARD
“I think the makeup of our kids really typifies our lives. It’s a mix of an intersection of two cultures, and we really try to enjoy living into that, says Eric. To us, that’s not a challenge or a burden. It’s one of the things that really enriches our lives.”
The couple strives to ensure that their children’s environment has balance. “Our kids have adapted to being part of the work and traveling with us. This is where our life is. Our home is very open, and we’ve developed friends and relationships across the communities we’ve been a part of.” Eric says.
After they experienced the tragic loss of a young boy named Emanuel, whom they had nurtured and baptized in their village, they started the Emmanuel Center for Women and Children (Advance #3021924). His mother, they believe, lacked the resources to provide simple medicine that would have sustained his young life. The center works on advocacy and empowerment for women and children in the village. Through this effort, they help to establish peace and justice on a grassroots level for women who often go unheard. They do this, one home at a time, giving women a voice and their children hope.
To learn more about the Soards work in Tanzania, follow their journey at: ingodslife.blogspot.com
How to Support Missionaries:
1. PRAY for missionaries and their ministries.
2. Stay in CONTACT through newsletters and social media.
3. Seek ways to PARTICIPATE.
4. DONATE by using the missionary’s Advance number (provided in the individual listing) at www.umcmission.org.
Additional Information: www.umcmission.org/Give-to-Mission
• Make an online donation to: Eric Soard #3021468
• Make an online donation to: Elizabeth Soard #3021467
*Ivy Couch is the Missionary Service program area liaison.