I’d like to pick up the story of Richard in 1995 when Sister Freda was holding the top nursing position at Mt. Elgon Hospital, the best private hospital in Kitale. Even though her work there was important and rewarding, day by day she began to sense a stirring in her heart. God was increasingly burdening her heart for the village people in the slum areas surrounding Kitale, who had so little medical help available to them. Sister Freda could not get them out of her mind.
As she drove to work, she would see them crawling for miles on their hands and knees from the outskirts of the city to get to the district hospital for treatment. “The distance was so great that sometimes they didn’t make it and I would see their dead bodies lying along the road,” she said.
“This is wrong, wrong, wrong! They live so far from the hospital, and there is no way for them to get to there without terrible hardship. They’re so poor they can’t afford even a boda-boda ride. There should be medical care near where these people live so they can get help.”
Like the Good Samaritan, Sister Freda could not leave these people lying by the side of the road with no hope of help. Determined to alleviate their painful existence and answer the cry of her own heart, she agonized over how she could help for she had no money, no connections—only a burden to help and God-given compassion.
“Lord, what do I do?” she cried.
He was a handsome Englishman born in Zambia who moved to Kenya in 1953. His parents, both English by birth, met and married in Zambia, where his father was a metallurgist in the copper mines. Sister Freda and Richard Robinson became acquainted in 1980 when visiting a friend they had in common in Kitale. A short time later, Sister Freda began caring for Richard’s wife, whom she loved very much. But in 1995, after a long illness, Mrs. Robinson passed away.
Richard was a prominent citizen in Kitale, owning at one time 2000 acres of land with fine trees and the best cows in the area. He was looked up to as a leader in this city of nearly 200,000 people. Seeing through Freda’s eyes, Richard, too, became concerned for the almost insurmountable needs that he saw. He caught her vision. Following the death of his wife, their relationship grew.
In 1996, Sister Freda began holding mobile clinics on a piece of land Richard owned in Birunda village, ten miles outside of Kitale Town. This acreage was adjacent to the very villages where the poor had settled when tribal conflicts in their home provinces had forced them to move—an ideal location for a medical facility where needy people could come for help.
By faith she and Richard started construction of a two-room clinic later that year, adding a surgical facility in 1997. Then, in 1998, although they did not have sufficient funds to achieve their dream of turning the clinic into a hospital, they were inspired to press on by the scripture which says, “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7) and by Psalm 121, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
Urged on by the appalling needs that existed, Sister Freda felt compelled to take early retirement in her 40s from her prestigious position at Mt. Elgon Hospital in order to go to work full time establishing the medical center. Richard sold his land and supported her in the medical work. From the beginning they made the joint decision that set apart their facility from the others in the city: they would offer care to people regardless of their ability to pay.
But medical work was not the only thing on Richard’s mind during these busy years. Freda’s soft laugh and loving heart had won his, and Richard was determined to have more than a working relationship with Freda. Finally, in 2001, Richard’s romantic pursuit of Sister Freda succeeded. The word Freda uses to describe Richard’s determination to win her heart is “persistent!” Time and time again over a six-year period he came to her home to urge her to marry him, and, at last, following dinner one evening, Freda said, “Yes.”
Freda and Richard Robinson were married in a colorful ceremony held in the Kabaras area, where Freda’s home village is located. With him Sister Freda found a source of strength with which to carry out her calling. Watching them work together, one could see so clearly that each completed the other.
Richard and Freda formed a non-typical African family. First, theirs was a mixed-race marriage. But together they bridged the gap between African and Western cultures. Pastor Chuck Wells commented to me, “You sense a different flavor talking to the two of them. Sister Freda’s language skills, education, medical skills and range of experience are far above the average African. Yet she understands poverty. Richard has a business background and British heritage. His provision of the land that is now the compound is a vital part of the total picture. There is a distinctiveness about them.”
The center includes 28 acres of land incorporating a small farm that provides their main source of income. Because of Richard’s “green thumb,” the farm thrives with maize, pineapple, mangos, guavas, beans, tomatoes, avocados, bananas, papayas, coffee, and a variety of vegetables. Richard’s cows and other animals provide food or are sold to provide additional income.
The hospital runs in the negative financially because Sister Freda has trouble turning people away just because they cannot pay. Freda, of course, simply writes off their bills. With the farm, the books about break even, but there is never enough for emergencies, let alone physical expansion of the facility.
Those who have come to visit Freda’s work have caught her vision and have donated funds to enlarge the facility so that what began as a mobile clinic has become “Sister Freda’s Medical Center”: a 32-bed hospital, with two rooms for surgeries, an outpatient facility, medical wards, maternity care, a pediatric ward, X-ray facilities, a laboratory, pharmacy, a dental clinic, and a vision department, as well as a pre-school and feeding program. Since 2010 a College of Nursing with 78 students and a Girls’ High School have been added, much of the construction and furnishings being built with Richard’s own hands.
Richard, did you ever dream when you started that the outreach would get this big? God used you to help make it happen. We’ll miss you, dear friend. We can’t bring you any more cheese or new sweaters—or the chocolate Freda said you shouldn’t have. But we can honor your life by helping to carry on the work you began.
And now that you are on the other side—on Heaven’s shore, if you could speak to us today about the future, I think you would remind us that “he who has begun a good work…will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). You’ve left us a good example to follow.