April 23, 1946 – July 10, 2010
Marla Jean Foster, whose parents and grandparents were Free Methodist, came to know the Lord as a young child. As early as sixth grade, she felt a call to full time service and an increasing pull toward missions. During high school she began to correspond with the General Missionary Board regarding missionary appointment. After a year at Greenville College, where she met Paul Dyer, she transferred to the University of Kentucky, graduating with a B.S. in nursing. Upon completion of her college work, she and Paul were married.
After Paul studied at Asbury Seminary, the Dyers spent one year in Brussels, Belgium, in language study. In July 1974 they arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo (known then as Zaire), where they served three terms.
Jean divided her time between medical and family responsibilities. She supervised the dispensary/maternity unit at Baraka and taught African nurses. This active dispensary served about 100 patients per day and delivered more than 700 babies in one year.
Living in Baraka, the Dyer family learned to cope with isolation. The nearest doctor was a five hour distance, another missionary child an eight hour drive. Jean taught each of their children – Gerry, Nicole and Jason – until they were old enough to go to boarding school. She felt one of her main accomplishments was learning “how to keep my family happy, fed, educated and relatively healthy in a tropical climate and underdeveloped situation.”
In 1983, the Dyer family returned to the U.S. for five years. Paul pastored and Jean completed her masters in community health nursing, then taught undergraduate and graduate nurses at Marion College in Indiana. Although she found her job and having her children live at home very fulfilling, she stated, “Your African ties don’t go away. That bond won’t let me go. Their needs (overseas) are greater than the needs here. The call of God is still there. The love of the people of Africa is still there.”
Paul, Jean and Jason returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo in July 1988. Jean focused on health education based on the oral traditions of African communication. She effectively used drama, songs (mostly created by the students themselves) and story telling. Jean administered the nursing training program at Nundu Hospital; an average of 50 community health nurses were trained under her supervision each year. In addition, she supervised 12 health centers radiating out from Nundu. She also became an effective project proposal writer, accessing funds from various aid organizations. In her eyes, she functioned as a consultant, encourager and “people developer,” all with the goal of the “Africanization” of medical care.
The Dyers’ time in the Democratic Republic of Congo ended when they were evacuated in the fall of 1991 due to political unrest. They stayed in Bujumbura, Burundi, making periodic trips back into the DRC to meet with church leaders, before returning to the U.S. in July 1992. They returned to Africa in 1995 for a short time to assist with rebuilding efforts in Rwanda.
Jean’s Colleagues Write:
“Jean had an ironic sense of humor, able to see something amusing in most any situation and therefore to put things in perspective. She was an extremely able nurse with unusual medical intelligence. She was often called into consultation by other medical personnel. Africans, both patients and students, benefitted from her quality oversight, her delightful personality, and her modeling in the medical programs and in teaching.” – Bishop Emeritus Gerald E. Bates
“One of the great contributions Paul and Jean made together to the African church community was their teaching Bible truths and good health principles by skits and dramas in the villages. After the Rwanda crisis in 1994, as the country was trying to rebuild, the Dyers served wherever they were needed. Paul, Jean and others carefully crafted a proposal for a medical clinic to be re-opened in the mountains above Kibogora station in Rwanda. The project went well, even at savings on the projected costs, and was left in the hands of Kibogora hospital staff. Paul and Jean and children have been friends to our family. We have been in their home, and they have visited us. Thanks to God, Jean is now free from suffering.” – Jim and Martha Kirkpatrick
“Paul and Jean had preceded us to Brussels by several months and by the time we arrived, they had found us an apartment and made arrangements for our language classes. Jean quickly became a favorite aunt to our two boys, and her genuine caring and hospitality were always in evidence. We all became like extended family even making our initial journey to Africa together. Jean was a committed person—committed to the Lord, committed to her family and committed to the nursing profession. She was a well informed nurse, always expecting a high level of professional performance from herself and others. As a missionary nurse, she was committed to passing her knowledge and skills to others. It was a privilege to have known Jean and to have worked with her. She will be missed.” – Tim and Connie Kratzer