ReadersMagnet revisits Dr. Byron’s life-changing journey to a crisis-stricken Ethiopia with his family.
The 1983-1985 famine in Ethiopia is one of the most infamous national disasters of the last century. With over 1.2 dead and over 2 million more displaced, orphaned, and forced to leave the country, Ethiopia’s crisis caught the world’s attention. The world responded by sending aid and assistance to the African country. The international community did not only send money, aid, and other resources; they also sent people. One of those who responded to the call of international solidarity was a young physician named Byron Conner, author of the memoir The Face of Hunger. The Face of Hunger by Dr. Conner chronicles his time in the said African nation. Conner, then a young professional working for the United States Public Health Service, saw a fundraising ad on television and decided to fly to Ethiopia with his family. ReadersMagnet revisits Conners journey to the country and how the famine changed his life forever.
Into An Unfamiliar Continent
In 1984, Dr. Byron Conner decided to do missionary work and flew to Ethiopia with his wife and children. This would be the start of their missionary journey that would last from 1984 to 1987. Arriving in a foreign country in East Africa is no adventure. Ethiopia was at the height of the famine, and everywhere there was misery and poverty. His family mostly stayed in the town of Gimbi and Makale. In Gimbi, Connet set up a small clinic. He stayed in Makale for a total of six months, spending a month home before resuming his duties. From Addis Ababa to Gimbi to the northern province of Tigray up to the rural regions saw the famine’s effect. He also witnesses the poverty that gripped the whole nation and tribal conflicts, diseases such as malaria and cholera, and the lack of medical personnel and supplies.
To effectively perform his duties, Conner needed the full help and support of his family. He recalls,
“Between 1984 to 1987, me and my family served as missionaries to Ethiopia in East Africa. My wife stayed busy taking care of two children, and attending to our home. I spent most of my time travelling around the country overseeing and supervising the work in 1 General Hospital and 12 mostly rural clinics. I id spend 6-months total of one of the rural clinics. I also was ill for 1 month with illness due to hepatitis from which I recovered completely. While I was in Ethiopia, I also was responsible to make sure the hospital, and the 12 clinics had adequate medical supplies. I spent 3 months in Makale at one of regional clinics, went home from 1 month, then I had to return for another 3 months in Makale. The trip to Addis Ababa was to resume the duties, about 400 miles by plane.
I was finally able to return to be with my wife and children. I had spent a total of 6 months in Makale. My traveling days were not yet over as I had to make brief trips to the clinics and the hospital in Western Ethiopia. I was still responsible for the clinics and hospital to receive all needed medical supplies. I made arrangements for this.” (Dr. Byron Conner, 2020)
For three years, Dr. Byron Conner and his family had to sacrifice normal family life in order to serve the villages and communities of the country so torn apart by natural and human-made crises. In the process, the family also learned many things about the country. It also trained them to become better missionaries. The family was able to explore other parts of Africa and spent a vacation in Kenya.
End of Tour and Going Home
After spending two weeks in Nairobi, Kenya, Conner returned to his duties. He notes that there were no significant changes with his work. Finally, after three years of missionary work, Dr. Byron Conner and his family left Ethiopia. Despite returning to Denver, Colorado, Conner knew that a huge part of his self he left in Ethiopia. His experience in the East African country forever left a lasting impression that he would carry for the rest of his life. Upon his return, Conner took up Internal Medicine and continues doing missionary work, although not the same as the one he did in Ethiopia. Many years later, Conner would achieve another important milestone in his life by writing and publishing a book about his incredible journey in the famine-torn country of Ethiopia.
About Dr. Byron Conner, M.D.
Dr. Byron Conner, M.D. is from Denver, Colorado. Byron is the oldest of eleven children. At age nine, he joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Conner finished his premed studies at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. He majored in sociology (1966-1968) and then theology (1970-1972). He also several courses in San Bernardino Valley College and California State College at San Bernardino (now a university). To become a doctor, Conner attended Loma Linda University School of Medicine from 1976-1979. After his residency, he served two years of duty with the US Public Health Service. This stint gave him the needed experience and prepared him for missionary work. Byron Conner served in the US Army from 1968-1970, including a tour in Vietnam. Dr. Byron Conner released his memoir The Face of Hunger: Reflections on a Famine in Ethiopia in 2016.