People, especially ones with children of their own, frequently tell me how shocked they are that my parents allowed me to move to Africa as a recent high school graduate - not to mention that they helped me start the school and sent me back two years later to create the foundation. While most parents were struggling to cope with their children going to college out of state, mine were researching antimalarial drugs.
I'm sure I will never fully appreciate the depth of that sacrifice until I am a parent myself.
With his dual role as a parent and as a founding Advisory Council member with SSF, I asked my dad, Thomas Niemann, to share a little about his experience of my adventures in Ghana.
As he often does, my dad's response surprised me. But read for yourself...
That would be of Arc.
Imagine how the 15th Century conversation begins, “Hey Dad, I've had this vision with St. Michael the Archangel. I’m supposed to lead the king’s troops to victory. And don’t worry that I’m only 17 years old. I got this.”
Flash forward to the 21st Century. Your precious baby girl, who was supposed to spend a relatively innocuous “gap year” in Kentucky, now tells you she is fulfilling a lifelong dream and “calling” by going to Africa instead.
Like many dads, I have an over-active sense of protectionism. Like Joan’s dad most certainly had, I had a laundry list of items of why this was a “bad” idea.
You’re too young.
You’ll be with strangers.
Who will watch out for you?
You have no experience with leading troops into battle - oops, I mean, teaching orphans in a foreign country...
But your daughter is this remarkable, incredibly articulate, stubborn and amazing young woman.
She has her fears and worries, but also the conviction of a crusader. She is resolute in doing what she knows with all of her heart is what she has been called to do. So I did what any father would do when faced with the insurmountable will of his extraordinary daughter, backed by the faith of a similarly extraordinary mother, I got out of the way before I got steamrolled; and hit my knees.
So if you know Joan’s story, with a borrowed set of armor, she marched off to join the king’s army in Orleans, France. Katherine, with a full complement of vaccinations and bug repellent treated clothing, flew off to Accra, Ghana. As history tells us, Joan faced many obstacles and naysayers following her dream. So too did Katherine, but like Joan, she persevered in the face of heart-wrenching tragedies and organizational politics. And like Joan, she carried the day.
With a courageous heart and undefeatable spirit, both of these remarkable women achieved what they were called upon to do, and the world is a better place because they believed and would not be deterred.
And like the father of any remarkable child, daughter or son, we stand in awe of what our progeny can accomplish in spite of our limited abilities to grasp how they can accomplish the inconceivable.
And when it is all said and done we breathe a very proud sigh of relief. We thank God that Katherine’s story had a much happier ending than Joan’s. But like Joan’s father, we’re also eternally grateful for having been allowed the inestimable honor of being their father; and we share with pride the abundant crop of new gray hair the experience has brought us....