Sue Steury

Retired Missionary to Kenya
“Missionary Mother”
By Grace Yates, Writing Intern
August 2012

Sue Steury, retired WGM missionary to Kenya, struggled with calling herself a missionary. “I felt that because I wasn’t having contact with the nationals that I wasn’t doing missionary work,” she said. Her husband, Dr. Ernie Steury, was the first doctor at Tenwek Hospital, but most of her work on the mission field involved raising their children.

“I had the four children to practically raise by myself because my husband was at the hospital all the time because he was the only doctor and he was in demand…. I really struggled not having contact with the nationals because I thought that’s what I should do,” Sue said. “It took me a while to realize that my position as a mother was the most important position that I had right then.”

Sue was born in Cherryville, North Carolina, on June 1, 1932. She had an early calling. “When I was 8 years of age, I felt that the Lord had definitely called me to be a missionary,” Sue wrote in her initial application to WGM. Her Sunday School teacher was one of the few who encouraged her in her calling. “A lot of people in the church said, ‘It’s just an emotional stir, and she’ll get over it,’” she added. But she didn’t. At the age of 13, she went to the altar at a camp meeting, where God called her to Africa.

Sue and Ernie Steury were married in 1954, after graduating from Asbury College (Kentucky). She worked as a teacher while he went through medical school. The couple arrived in Kenya in 1959 and served there for 38 years. They had four children: Cynthia, Jonathan, Nathan, and Deborah. Nathan and Deborah were born at Tenwek Hospital, which endeared Sue and her children to the Kipsigis mothers.

While at Tenwek, Sue had a variety of roles in addition to mother. She served as a hostess for many visitors and medical students who came to the field. This included hosting and cooking for as many as 14 people at a time. She also did various odd jobs around the field, including being the station bookkeeper, postmistress, and keeping the hospital’s books.

One of Sue’s major responsibilities was training Sunday School teachers. Her background was in education, and she used those skills to equip other teachers. “That was something I really enjoyed,” she shared. The teachers came to her and learned the lessons they would teach the children. “They just listened intently to the message of each lesson because they wanted to go back and apply it.” She also taught the teachers how to do children’s crafts, which she had adapted to fit the culture and the teachers’ resources.

When her children were older, Sue was involved in Community Health Evangelism. She taught community health workers how to incorporate evangelism with their medical care. The health workers learned six or seven lessons about how to share the gospel. Then these workers went into the villages two by two and taught the people about safe health practices and shared about Jesus. Then they returned and told Sue what had happened. “It was thrilling. I really enjoyed that part,” she said. Many people found the Lord through the community health workers going into their homes.

However, Sue’s main role was as a mother, and raising her children connected her with many of the Kipsigis people. Her children would begin playing with a Kipsigis child, and that created an opportunity for Sue to talk to the child’s mother. Though she didn’t always know it at the time, these interactions meant a lot to the mothers. In a farewell speech when Ernie and Sue were leaving for a furlough, one woman shared that she appreciated how “Mrs. Steury never took her children away from ours. She would let them play with our kids no matter how sick with colds and things like that that they were. She wouldn’t take them away from ours.” Living life with the women showed them that Sue really cared about them and their families and that she did not think she was better. Sue’s advice was “Get to know their [the people’s] hearts. Get into their hearts.”

Ernie and Sue retired from Kenya in 1997. They served for several years as international pastors, traveling to visit and encourage WGM missionaries to the Americas. Ernie passed away in 2002. Since then, Sue has spent a lot of her time calling and encouraging friends in their lives and relationships with God. “There always seems to be somebody that needs your help and encouragement,” she said. Friends call her to ask for prayer, and Sue will spend an hour or two talking with them. “These little ministries pop up all around. Even though they’re small, they might have an eternal value on them that we don’t know. We trust they do,” she said.

Sue lives in Florida, but her four children are scattered in Kenya, Tennessee, Florida, and Indiana. She loves to visit them when she can and spoil her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“My heart’s desire is that they all live for Jesus and seek His will daily for their lives,” she said.