Dr. Robert Livingstone Foster passed away last week. Dr. Bob, as he was always known within our mission, was born in what is now Zambia in 1924. His parents were missionaries who experienced first hand the medical challenges of Africa, losing a little girl to cerebral malaria, which also left young Robert’s brother, Edgar, mentally challenged. In an effort to protect their remaining sons, Bob and Harold, their parents left the boys in Canada when they returned to the work to which they believed God had called them.
Dr. Bob became a medical doctor, starting hospitals both in Mukinge and in Luampa, Zambia and later in Cavango, Angola. When civil war ravaged Angola, Dr. Bob stayed at Cavango for years without a furlough until his son Stephen graduated from medical school and could come to Cavango to replace him. Later father and son started a hospital at Lubango. At 82 Dr. Bob spent six weeks camping in the Angolan bush to help build a rural clinic. It was always a spellbinding experience to sit at the dinner table with Dr. Bob and get him telling stories. I felt like I was eating dinner with his namesake, David Livingstone!
Dr. Bob was international director of Africa Evangelical Fellowship (now SIM) at the time that we joined the mission. He was the one who spoke about opportunities opening up in then-communist Angola and Mozambique at the missions banquet at my home church in 1982. “We think that the government may be willing to grant missionary visas,” he said. “We are looking for people who already have overseas experience, who already speak Portuguese [the national language], and who understand theological education, both formal and informal. We don’t know where we will find these people, but we ask you to pray…”
My husband and I had recently returned from four years in Brazil, where we learned Portuguese and taught in a theological seminary. We had previously spent a year in Ethiopia and longed for God to take us back to Africa. To top it off, Dr. Bob was staying in my parents’ home for the weekend, as were we. There was plenty of time to talk about what a move to Mozambique would involve.
Not only was Dr. Bob instrumental in a major turning point in our lives, but his son, Stuart, also joined our Mozambique team and became one of our closest colleagues. Stuart is now “Dr. Foster” in his own right although his is a PhD rather than an MD. Four of Dr. Bob’s other children are SIM missionaries in Angola, including Dr. Stephen Foster. So it is not surprising that as the missionary statesman aged, he and Belva, his wife of 63 years, returned to Africa to spend their last days in the land they loved.
When I get to heaven, I look forward to sitting around the table at the marriage feast of the Lamb, listening to stories from Dr. Livingstone AND Dr. Bob (and many others) about what God did to establish his Kingdom in Africa. I have this picture in my head of a bulletin board by the pearly gates, posting notices like “Africa reunion, Room 123” or “Mozambique Get-together, Room 321. Hear the rest of the story.” See you there.
[Samaritan's Purse has posted an obituary including a video where you can get a taste of some of those stories. If Dr. Bob influenced you, I would love to hear about it in the comments below. Or you can leave your tribute at here.]
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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