Dordt College News

Kate Reinsma

January 25, 2013

Opening herself to sorrows and joy

When asked what words of advice she might give to Dordt students getting ready to graduate, Dr. Kate Reinsma says, “Travel. See God’s world.”

She follows those statements with, “Open yourself to the sorrows and the joy that are prominent in this world. Allow yourself to see what breaks God’s heart and then ask yourself what you can do to bring about redemption and restoration.”

Reinsma’s road to Niger began at Dordt. She graduated with a health, physical education, and recreation major as well as a missions and evangelism minor.

“At the time it seemed like an odd combination, but those classes prepared me well for what I am doing now,” she says. Her senior science classes prepared her for graduate school, and the theology classes helped give her the desire to work cross-culturally in international development.

“Because of my Dordt education I am constantly asking myself, what does it mean to be a Christian public health professional? What is a Christian response to health care reform? How is God at work and how does he want to use me to bring about redemption wherever he has placed me in the world?” she says. “I fondly remember in one of my theology classes talking about our call to be caught up in the Mission Dei, the Mission of God. I’m thankful for that prompting and for being encouraged toward a lifelong quest to glorify God in every aspect of my life.”

Two service opportunities during her college years, one in Eastern Europe and one in Nicaragua, exposed her to the needs of individuals, families, and communities in the developing world. She decided she wanted to help improve health through nutrition.

The words of Isaiah 58:6-11 were a further call:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to lose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. And if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land.

“I wanted to learn how to better provide for the poor wanderer and spend myself on behalf of the hungry,” she says, so she enrolled in a master’s program in nutrition and joined the Peace Corps.

In college, Reinsma knew that she wanted to help mothers in developing countries get access to resources that would help them meet the nutritional needs of their families. Already then, she planned to get a master’s degree—although she didn’t know she would also earn a doctorate. 

“When I was studying for my master’s I learned about Plumpy’nut®, a fortified peanut paste used to treat malnutrition,” she says. “When I first learned about it I was quite enthralled because I LOVE peanut butter. I joked that my life goal was to solve world hunger with peanut butter. Now, part of my job is to oversee the distribution of Plumpy’nut® to malnourished children. It’s interesting how God directs our paths!”

Reinsma enjoyed her time with the Peace Corps, even though there were challenges.

“It’s hard to describe how Cameroon shaped and continues to shape me personally, spiritually, and professionally. I went there as a Peace Corps volunteer to share my knowledge about nutrition, but I learned so much more from the people. I learned solidarity, hospitality, trust, and friendship.” Reinsma feels fortunate to have been able to return to Cameroon for both work and pleasure and plans to stay connected to those she knows there, many of whom are almost like family. 

“I’m thankful both for the relationships and for the way God used me to show his love and make a difference in people’s lives,” she says. After her Peace Corps service, Reinsma returned to the United States to begin a doctoral program in public health nutrition in the School of Public Health at Loma Linda University. She felt she needed more training to help address the nutritional and health needs of people whose lives are fragile because of lack of knowledge or resources.

“In a providential way, my doctoral program led me back to Cameroon for my research,” she says. Working with her colleagues in Cameroon, she received a research grant from the Nestlé Foundation to develop and test an audio program that promotes breastfeeding as the best way to nourish a child.

Ironically, at Dordt Reinsma had encouraged her classmates in a persuasive speech in a communication class to boycott Nestlé because of their unethical practices in developing countries. In the 80s, they were training health workers to tell mothers to formula-feed and offering free gifts for doing so. Such efforts are now banned and health organizations help prevent it from recurring. Today, the Nestlé Foundation funds research like Kate’s on maternal and child health in developing countries—including programs that encourage only breastfeeding.

When the research project ended, she moved to Niger and her current job with Samaritan’s Purse.

“I am fortunate to be able to build on what I learned in Cameroon,” she says. At the same time, she is using new and innovative ways to help prevent malnutrition and improve community health. One of those efforts uses text messaging and targets husbands to help address maternal and child health issues. 

Reinsma spends most of her time at the office in Niamey, planning new projects, evaluating data, writing reports, and attending meetings with the Ministry of Public Health. Even though she would like to be out “in the field” more, the current security situation with Mali and Nigeria makes it unwise if not impossible. 

Much of what Reinsma does is what any manager would do in the States. She believes that her work is not more important than that of her friends who are taking care of young children or teaching or managing businesses. At the same time, she encourages anyone who has an interest or yearning to know or work with people in different cultures to follow it.

“It can be overwhelming and scary because there are a lot of unknowns. I actually don’t do transitions well, but it is surprising where one step of faith will take you. I took one step to join the Peace Corps as a volunteer and that resulted in an international journey of love, growth, and humor that I wouldn’t trade for anything,” she says.

Reinsma knows that God calls his people to a wide variety of vocations and that he calls all of them to bring about redemption wherever he has placed them in the world.

“Two-thirds of the world’s people do not live like North Americans,” she says. “Ask yourself what does it mean to be a Christian teacher, businessman, scientist, or musician, and how can that be used to bring about justice, mercy, peace in our broken world?”


Media Access: Download Word Version | High Resolution Image: 1