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Mark Bochat reached his retirement years having never ventured outside the US borders. In fact, up until the day earlier this year when he boarded a 14-hour fight to Qatar—a first stop on the way to the East-African nation of Ethiopia—the retired diesel mechanic’s most exotic travel adventures had been vacation trips to Florida and driving his kids to college in Michigan and Wisconsin.
Now he was to be part of a Wheaton Bible Church GO Team that would be serving at the Soddo Christian Hospital, six hours outside Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa—an assignment that Mark had not accepted lightly.
Over a year earlier, Mark’s friend Ken Amstutz—who serves as president of the board of directors for the Soddo hospital—had told him about the need for someone to work on the hospital’s generators.
Now a GO Team was forming, and Mark was being asked to consider spending two weeks at the hospital, working alongside hospital staff to service the diesel-powered generators that supply electricity to the hospital compound.
Mark and Ken, both longtime members of Wheaton Bible Church, had met a number of years earlier at a men’s retreat when they shared a table at breakfast one morning. But even though Mark wanted to help his friend, it took him a long time to process the request.
He wasn’t so much worried about going to a developing country—although he admits that may have factored into his reservations—as he was about the bigger question in his mind: whether he was the man for the job.
Fixing generators out in the middle of nowhere? Mark had wondered. It’s hard enough fixing things with all the parts and equipment we have here.
He even offered to give Ken the money to hire someone local to do the work, but hearing about the challenges of finding the right person with the knowledge and tools and access to parts—and then getting them six hours away from the city to the hospital—began to convince Mark that he might be needed. But that still wasn’t enough to get him to sign on for the trip.
Even so, he decided one day that it wouldn’t hurt to have a passport. “So I went ahead and got the passport application,” he said. “I filled it out and paid the fees.” Shortly after that, when he went to his doctor for an already scheduled annual physical, he told the physician, “I’m thinking about going to Africa, and I need some shots.”
The staff at the doctor’s office wondered aloud about who “thinks about” going to Africa, but when Mark gave them the list of shots, they told him they had most of them right there. That day he got nearly all the required immunizations. Then, a few days later, he went to the county health department and got the final injection, one for yellow fever, which his doctor didn’t have.
“So I had a passport. I’d had my shots,”he says. “But I still hadn’t committed to going.”
Several weeks later, at his Thursday-morning men’s Huddle Bible study, Mark finally made his decision. “I’m going on the trip,” he told the other guys at his table. “I’m finally pulling the trigger.”
“Once I made the decision,” he says, “God have me real peace of mind.” But the peace he experienced following his decision didn’t stop Mark from thinking through the task ahead and the problems he might encounter.
He quickly began to make serious plans and preparations, poring over manuals and learning all he could about the generators he’d be working on, and gathering all the parts and tools he would need to take.
He also attended training workshops to learn about what to expect on the trip and to learn about the Ethiopian culture and the people he’d meet there.
Even so, the trip was challenging—starting with a 14-hour flight into Qatar (neighbor to Saudi Arabia), followed by a three-hour plane ride from Qatar to Addis Ababa, and then a six-hour ride over jarringly rough roads to the hospital.
But once they arrived at Soddo, Mark could see how his mechanical knowledge and abilities meshed perfectly with the hospital’s needs and with the skills of the other team members. Together they were able to make remarkable improvements to the generators and to the building that housed them.
“Before the trip,” Ken recalls, “Mark would regularly tell me that he felt inadequate for the unknown tasks that he’d face, but I knew his skills and was confident that God would use him perfectly when we got on-site.”
“I never saw anyone enjoy a trip more,” Ken added, “or be more useful than Mark was. He was a blessing to the team, working from morning till night—getting dirty and loving it!”
The trip also brought an unexpected mentoring role for Mark. On his very first day he met a young man on the hospital staff who worked by his side the entire time Mark was there.
“He’s got an Ethiopian name too, but we know him as Tommy. He’s 20 years old, and he’s worked at the hospital since he was 17,” Mark said. “For the prior three months it had been his job to oversee the generators—the lifeline of the hospital.
“Getting to know Tommy, meeting him that first afternoon, helped me get more comfortable right away,” Mark said, “and we quickly became friends. That was obviously a God thing.”
Mark and Tommy worked side by side, cleaning the engines, replacing belts and blown gaskets, and more.
Susan Wegner, who helped to lead the GO Team, was impressed by the organization skills, mechanical knowledge, and safety lessons Mark was able to share with his new young friend.
“Tommy was really open to learning,” Mark said. “If somebody’s receptive, I’m happy to share what I know. And as we worked, we were able to talk together about the Lord and pray together.”
Their conversations didn’t end when Mark flew back to the US. He’s still Tommy’s long-distance advisor and friend, and the two are emailing regularly.
Mark has been a follower of Jesus for more than 30 years. Over those years, he says, “I’ve been learning a lot. I’ve been reading the Bible and going to Bible studies and learning a lot of theology. But it was about time for me to take what I’ve learned and be a ‘doer of the Word.’”
“Signing up for the GO Team, stepping out of what’s comfortable, and going to another country and culture—heading off with a team of people you don’t know—was pretty overwhelming at first,” Mark says, “but God walked me through each step. I’m just a tradesman, but what a blessing being part of that whole experience was for me.”