OBITUARY: Life-saving Christian missionary Margaret Young

Margaret Young during one of her spells in a midwifery unit in Malawi
Margaret Young during one of her spells in a midwifery unit in Malawi

Margaret Young made it her life’s mission to help mothers and babies in one of Earth’s most poverty-stricken places.

In total she spent roughly 15 years working in east Africa as a midwife and teacher, before she died of cancer last month.

She was born into a Christian household on September 12, 1959, in Londonderry, the daughter of Harriet and William, the latter being a civil servant with the admiralty in Ebrington.

She attended Clooney Primary School and became involved in Sunday school teaching, Girls’ Brigade and Junior Bible Club in her home congregation of Glendermott.

After her A-levels at Foyle College she began training as a nurse, going on to work at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

She served for a year as a midwife in Ekwendeni Hospital, northern Malawi, in 1990 and the experience was a pivotal one.

Her mother Harriet said: “She loved it. She felt it was where she was meant to be.”

On May 7 1995, the Presbytery of Foyle commissioned her for missionary service to the country, and she left 10 days later to take up the role of second-in-charge of a 72-bed maternity unit.

She served there for almost nine years and during that time the number of babies being delivered annually grew from about 2,000 to 3,000.

However, Malawi has high rates of infant mortality and HIV, and not all survived.

The country is currently in 174th place (out of 187) in the UN’s Human Development Index, beneath states including Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe.

By contrast, the UK stands at 14th place.

The church’s Board of Mission Overseas (BMO) noted that “providing hospital services with a full complement of trained staff in Malawi is very difficult”.

The facility struggled to maintain staff levels, and at one point it shut down for three weeks due to cash shortages.

“It was in these demanding circumstances that Margaret faithfully served,” the BMO added.

In 2000, she was appointed in charge of the unit, and started to teach midwifery too.

She returned home in 2004 and went back to working in the Royal – but after a few years, Malawi drew her back once again.

She went to work at St Luke’s Hospital in Zomba, southern Malawi, where her duties included training midwives and running an HIV treatment and prevention programme for pregnant women.

She also found time to start a Sunday school class for 60 to 80 children.

She spent a final year at Daeyang Luke Hospital in the capital Lilongwe, where she set up the maternity department.

She returned to Londonderry in 2009, and took up work at Altnagelvin.

The BMO issued a statement, reading: “Her commitment to demonstrate Christ’s love and to engage holistically in mission in both the hospital and in the wider community is testimony to her as an ambassador of Christ.”

It added that they “miss her and wish her every blessing”.

Her mother said she became frustrated by what she saw as waste in Northern Ireland, with “so many things being thrown out because they’re not up to the latest standards”. She organised for redundant medical equipment to be sent out to Africa instead of being dumped.

Harriet added: “She was certainly very dedicated to her work, and very fond of the people out there.

“She found them very grateful for anything that was done for them.”

Even when she was at home in Northern Ireland, she would constantly knit little cardigans and baby clothes to be sent out to Africa.

On November 1, 2013, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

It caused her to lose the use of her left hand, and she was forced to stop work.

She died on November 1, aged 55, at home in east Londonderry.

Levi N Nyondo, general secretary of the Church of Central Africa’s Presbyterian Synod of Livingstonia, said her death had “shocked the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia and the community around Ekwendeni Hospital”.

A funeral was held at home on November 4, and she was buried at Glendermott Presbyterian church grounds.

She is survived by her mother, sister Anne Spence (and her husband Ivor), and brother Samuel Young (and his wife Avril).