On December 14, 1991, I, Chrisann Baker, married Gale Dawson. It was a beautiful Christmas wedding, complete with Christmas trees decorated with colored lights (of course) and wrapped presents under the trees. Our witnesses were joy-filled to share in our special day, especially because it was our love for Congo that brought us together. I was headed to the Congo (then Zaire) as a single missionary and so was Gale. A mutual friend, Sam Abraham, played a pivotal role in bringing us together-a true matchmaker. The wedding was perfect!
By December of 1992, we were in Congo to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. Things were good: we learned Lingala and the culture, started ministry, plus added three children to our family adventure.
But something happened: in 2006, I got sick. Not physically sick, like from malaria. But mentally. I lost my grip on reality and the mind that I could always count on. Could I place my finger on any one cause? Nope. Genetics maybe played a role; various forms of mental health issues were obvious on both sides of my family tree. And brain chemistry likely played a role, as I foolishly started and stopped thyroid medicines, and regularly took mefloquine as a malaria prophylactic (proven to have caused mental health problems in our own military). But the number one factor, I believe, was our years of living under intense fear and trauma.
Our last tour in Congo from 2004-2006, we rented a home on a German lumber company compound in the northern Kinshasa quarter called Maluku. One of the vice-presidents who was part of a compromise government, and his ex-rebel soldiers lived all around the compound, since he had built an elaborate weekend home there overlooking the Congo River. These soldiers and their leader were later tried in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes-killing women and children with machetes to save ammunition. Knowing what they were capable of and living with them on the other side of a chain-link fence was tough on the mind.
I struggled for the year we were home (summer 2006-summer2007), but when we returned to the Congo in the fall of 2007, I was already sliding down the slippery slope of completely losing my hold on reality. I experienced three psychotic breaks that placed me in the hospital and lived manic most of the time that I was not hospitalized. December 14, 2007, I was hospitalized in a small Kinshasa hospital. Ten days later, we left the field permanently.
On May 22, 2008, I was hospitalized for the second time in a South Jersey hospital. I was admitted against my will because I was incapable of signing myself into the unit. Here I was given the label “bipolar” and placed on a wrong blend of meds which left me completely incapable of interacting socially. Finally, after several moves, I was hospitalized a third time in Niagara Falls, New York. And that’s where the rollercoaster stopped. I was prescribed just the right blend of medicines to return me back to me. My nearly four-year ride of insanity was over. Peace returned to my marriage and home.
As I look back on that time and reflect on my twenty-eight years of marriage, I must elevate the role that my husband Gale played during those four years. I’m not sure how other men would have responded, but I know how my husband did for he’s shared this with me several times. During those years he was completely broken and felt a complete and tender love for me. He knew who he had married, and he saw who I had become for four years, and he was sure that I could become me again.
And this is what he prayed for over those four years. It took several moves, years of practically raising our children himself, and having me in the right hospital at the right time to get the right treatment. All I can say is that I am completely humbled by his tender, faithful love, even through those traumatic years where he was married to a different me.
Solomon once stated in his book, known as Song of Solomon, that “love is as strong as death.” And I get to be one of those special people that has experienced this kind of love. This year on December 14, 2019. I celebrated the hope that comes from faithful love; the love that my husband Gale has shown over the course of a lifetime, even through the hardest of times. Yes, there is hope in faithful love.