The Words of the Robinson Family

My Experiences as an IRFF Pioneer to the Ivory Coast

Ruth Robinson
November 1987

The people of a bush village attend a class on primary health care, led by Ruth Robinson.

Before I left for the Ivory Coast in June 1985 to be an IRFF pioneer, I asked Rev. Kwak for some guidance. He said to me: "Ruth, wherever you go and in whatever situation you may be, always carry our True Parents' love and spirit with you." With those words in my heart I set foot in a land that I did not yet know.

In 1975, long before I came to the Ivory Coast, our brothers and sisters had started their mission there and met the heart of our Heavenly Father under much different circumstances -- they were truly the pioneers of the formation stage. By the time I arrived, I had the advantage of being able to find that God's heart was already being consoled and elevated there after 6,000 years of suffering. Also, I had the knowledge of the Principle and the privilege to know the True Parents here on earth. All this I had taken for granted many times in the past. Only now could I more deeply realize the value of what I possessed.

Into the Stormy Waters

For our IRFF pioneering activities, there was only one available method of learning: on-the-job training. My responsibilities included:

1. Witnessing and educating people -- introducing them to God's heart.

2. Organizing our IRFF Mobile Vaccination Team to reach out to the outlying bush villages.

3. Meeting local authorities and testifying about God's viewpoint and our True Parents' work for a better world.

This was a great challenge for me, as I am a rather shy person. In my past 14 years in the church I had never had the opportunity to be trained in leadership; neither had I done any public relations work nor led a medical team. I had to learn by experience what is essential for a balanced life of faith. I truly felt our Heavenly Father accepted with a big smile my idealistically volunteering for IRFF activities and then threw me gently but directly into the stormy water of life in this new society!

Arriving in the Ivory Coast, I experienced such deep culture shock that it took me three months to overcome the feeling of being in the minority as a "white person." I adjusted with difficulty to the African tropical climate and the food. The fact that most of the native people had neither any notion of time nor an organized lifestyle annoyed my impatient heart. Here I was, having been raised in one of the most structured countries in the world -- Switzerland! Heavenly Father truly has His own schedule in dealing with each one of us. I was determined to make the most out of it by offering Him my love, my loyalty, and my determination to succeed in my chosen mission.

Rev. Kwak's direction for us was to remain "mobile." Therefore, after a few months of social and medical research inside the country, we established, with the help of the Minister of Health, a comprehensive mobile vaccination program for the rural areas. In this way, IRFF in the Ivory Coast was able to contribute toward the realization of the worldwide goal of UNICEF -- "Vaccination for everyone by 1990" -- and also toward the Ivory Coast's own goals: to educate at least one sector in preventive medicine and to improve their vaccination program at the national level.

I realized very quickly that in order to accomplish this mission, it was absolutely necessary for me to establish and maintain an inseparable relationship with God and True Parents. I felt this was as important as having food every day. Humanitarian aid to third world countries has almost always failed to bring long-term results -- in part because it hasn't involved God. Inspiring people who are living at the survival level to help themselves and each other and not just receive is a vital factor in their advancement.

Our Strengths Were Tested

We laid a spiritual foundation for our work through prayer. I experienced how heaven provides if only we have faith and do our own five percent portion of responsibility. We were guided to someone who could help us to get to the "right people." Support came in the form of receiving free vaccines and over 20,000 needles and syringes to start our vaccination program. To complete our supply of essential medical materials, we knocked on doors of pharmacies and explained to them what we were doing in cooperation with the Ministry of Health. They were eager to help and gave us scissors, metal medical boxes, surgical cotton, alcohol, and emergency medicines. I could understand more deeply what Jesus affirmed 2,000 years ago: "Even if you have only a little bit of faith, you can move mountains!"

We were in charge of two whole districts, encompassing 50 to 60 villages. For the first month of our medical activities, in January 1986, our staff consisted of three registered nurses -- from France, Germany, and Switzerland. We also had the support of two nurses from the local hospital.

Starting out was not easy; our professional abilities and organizational know-how, as well as our spiritual strengths, were tested. During those first days, I felt that heaven was saying: "Ruth, do you still like being an IRFF pioneer? Do you still like being thrown into the rough waters?" I renewed my determination with a hearty "Yes!" and in that moment I acutely felt how essential is a trusting, deep relationship with God and True Parents, as well as an unwavering dedication to our given missions.

However, after only one month, without any previous notice, our team was reduced to only two staff members, and help from the local hospital nurses was discontinued. I felt like everything was going to break down! On top of that, both of us who were left became seriously ill, and our work was forced to stop for two weeks. I did not ask Heavenly Father for help. How could I? Was it not my responsibility to find spiritual children?

Ruth Robinson gives a child a tetanus vaccination, assisted by an IRFF volunteer.

Goal-Oriented Witnessing

I was on my knees repenting deeply when I heard a voice saying clearly, "Ruth, you must speak publicly, and don't forget about all the students in the colleges!" I was shocked. Who, me? I did not know the language very well, I was shy, and I had never been schooled in public speaking. What topic would I speak on? All of these reasons I used to justify my resistance. I prayed and struggled a lot. I even came to understand the heart of Moses and began sympathizing with his excuses!

However, I did manage to schedule a small "speaking tour!" With the cooperation of our local pioneer brothers, my first IRFF speech was addressed to about 20 college students who already knew a little about our movement. Next, we arranged to speak at eight different colleges on the topic: "The Spirit of Volunteerism in the Field of Preventive Medicine."

We had three goals:

(1) to introduce young people to the meaning of volunteerism based on the Principle,

(2) to inspire them to participate actively in ongoing IRFF activities, and

(3) to educate them in the necessity of preventive medicine.

Our speakers included a governmental staff nurse who talked about the field of preventive medicine, an HSA-UWC pioneer brother who spoke on the subject of active volunteerism, and myself explaining the internal meaning of service to society.

Through goal-oriented witnessing, we also reached out to working-class people and gave seminars on volunteerism for them in our apartment twice a week. We enrolled some of the people from the workers' group and the students' group in medical training and Principle studies. Like us, they experienced on-the-job training by coming out to the villages with us to help. For further Principle studies and workshops we relied on the help of our brothers and sisters in the church pioneer center. As a result of this training, 10 people became regularly active either in our mobile vaccination program, IRFF secretarial work, or public relations. Most were able to do volunteer work one or two days a week.

I could see the helping hand of our Heavenly Father, who granted us the help of at least one of those precious young people every day. Without them, our IRFF activities in the Ivory Coast could not have gone on. Our foundation is still small, and much needs to be done. There are so many courageous young people out there waiting for some direction. I feel it is my responsibility to reach out to them!

Our Vaccination Program

For the first three months, we were living out in the bush villages without a car, and every day we walked one, two, or even three miles to get to our scheduled area. After greeting the village chief, we set up our tables under a shade tree. There we gave the vaccinations to the children one by one. The second year we also included a simple educational program for mothers, explaining to them through pictures about the vaccinations needed at each stage in a child's growth. There was much interest in these classes, even from men and older people.

Actual starvation is not common in this sub-Sahelian zone, yet malnutrition is one of the main causes of death in children under the age of five. The children just do not survive the common childhood diseases because primary health care is not adequate. Ancient traditional medicine is practiced daily, and not all of it is bad or ineffective, but it has to be combined with modern medical discoveries for the quickest results. Some still seek the help coming from the "white man" as mysterious, not in line with their own spiritual awareness, and therefore against their own "gods."

We had to deal with tropical sickness ourselves as well. I want to express my gratitude to my sister Frieda Gasser, who fought with determination and endurance through all her difficult physical conditions for an entire year as an associate Unification Church member. Despite the fact that she needed professional medical care at least twice a month, she never gave up. Her love for our True Parents and her devotion to her mission carried her through.

In the beginning, when we had to walk to the villages, our African volunteers resisted strongly. They preferred to just sit down on the street come, hoping that a car would drive by and pick them up. Many times I would testify to our True Father's words: "If you were really serious about getting to your goal, you would try everything to accomplish it even if you had to walk there!" Often I would hardly be finished speaking when a car would drive up and the owner would ask if he could be of service to us. Yes, internal determination and external effort are part of our five percent responsibility!

Knowing our Limitations

Time is short! In order to love and guide others, we must be capable of giving the unconditional love of True Parents. To give others the possibility of believing in our Father and Mother and following them, we must become an example ourselves. Working in IRFF I could understand this more deeply and also come to know my many limitations. I know the only answer is to have an unbreakable relationship with Heavenly Father and True Parents.

In the past, I had done many conditions such as cold showers, long prayers, and fasting, yet gradually this changed because of the limitations in my situation. Instead, I learned to gain spiritual power and assistance by investing 100 percent in our activities, by communicating our plans to Heavenly Father and True Parents, and by offering to them our determination to carry out our goals to the very end -- always trusting in the spirit world to help. Exchanging ideas during our daily prayer meetings, Principle study sessions, and medical briefings became an important aspect of our work.

Despite our busy schedule, God somehow gave us the time to share parts of the Principle with the natives even in the most remote villages. One experience I had hit my small and still immature heart deeply. We all know the sentence from the Principle: "I, myself, am a product of history." I had never experienced the meaning of that statement heartistically. Then in one village I defended myself with all my pride to the simple native people; I explained that since I came from Switzerland, I had nothing to do with the French exploitation of Africa. The people seemed to be satisfied with my explanation and even welcomed our medical work more easily thereafter, but at home I could not sleep well for quite a few days. Finally, I cried bitter tears of repentance as I suddenly realized that while I might not be a native of France myself, I, too, belonged to the white race and was a "product of history." Thus I was also responsible for what had happened in the past.

This experience shook my heart so much that I went the whole 60 miles back to that village, just to explain the reality of my discovery to the people I had spoken to previously. Only after telling them some simple aspects of the Principle and God's heart throughout history could my own heart calm down.

Accepting the Challenges

Looking back, I can clearly see the constant spiritual struggles we had. Problems are inevitable. My physical father trained me not to run away from any difficulty -- but to stick it out. From my True Father, I learned to digest everything with a loving heart in my growth toward maturity.

Many times Satan came close to us, trying to stop our mission by seriously weakening our physical bodies. For the first 10 months we were without transportation (just one day before the scheduled start of our medical activities our car broke down completely). In the second 10 months, there was not one public event -- a speech, a radio or newspaper interview, or an important meeting with a local contact -- that my sister Frieda and I were able to do together. One or the other of us was always sick right on that important day! But we never changed our scheduled plans, and we were never late for an appointment. Under all those spiritual and physical pressures, we accepted the challenge, always knowing and feeling the loving spirit of our True Parents with us.

Yes, we gave over 80,000 children vaccinations and the chance for a better physical life. Also, we got some good newspaper coverage about our work, and we did our best to testify to our True Parents. It seems we gave so much, yet our work was small com- pared to what we gained ourselves! God, True Parents, and Africa gave us so much more! I know they formed and helped develop my character and heart.

Our faith in God may sometimes waver, our love for each other may be small, our struggles may be great and our victory zero, but even so, our trust in and loyalty to God and True Parents can give us the power to never forsake the ideals we all carry deep in- side our heart. By holding on to these ideals, I want to express my gratitude and love to our True Parents through all my daily activities. 

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