Susan and Stan Godshall, EMU’s Distinguished Service Award recipients, have devoted years of their lives to medical and missions work in the United States and in Africa.
The couple, who met at EMC, first went to Tanzania in 1978 for a service term with Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM). Soon after arriving with their three young children, they found it was a “real eye-opener to the limitations of medical services in rural Tanzania at that time,” Susan recalls.
Stan is a family doctor, but in Shirati, “If emergency surgery was needed. I had to perform it,” he says.
He wrote a letter to his friend, the CEO of Lancaster General Hospital in Pennsylvania, about the hardships they and the community faced.
“Then in December, we get some mail … and there’s an article in the Lancaster newspaper, the first thing I read, saying that Thanksgiving is going to be Christmas for Dr. Godshall in Africa!”
The hospital CEO had mailed a copy of Stan’s letter to his 3,000 employees. The letter alone raised $25,000 for the Shirati hospital. When the Godshalls left after 15 months, medical services were increased so that Stan – previously the lone doctor on the team – was replaced by four doctors: two Tanzanians and two expatriates.
The family returned several times over the years, and continued to fundraise when stateside. Stan even set up a ham radio connection to stay in touch with their Tanzanian friends before email was available.
“Shirati has always been at the back of my mind, and at the front of my mind,” Stan says.
In 1996, Susan was chosen as EMM’s representative to Africa, the first woman in that role.
“It was satisfying and challenging work,” Susan says. She interacted with Mennonite churches and mission personnel in Eastern Africa, listening to understand the needs of those communities and discerning how to assist their efforts in church development, education, health work, and training church leaders.
Both Stan and Susan grew up in rural Pennsylvania – Susan in Lancaster County, Stan in Harleysville – in families that emphasized service as an expression of Christian faith.
Susan recalls her mother quilting for Mennonite Central Committee projects and her parents opening their home to people who needed a place to stay. Her older brother, Robert Weaver ‘62, spent two and a half years in Germany and Algeria with the MCC PAX program as a conscientious objector.
“His letters to our family described new places and people and introduced me to overseas service,” says Susan.
Stan’s family was also involved in service work – one of his sisters, Miriam, went to Puerto Rico to volunteer as a nurse in 1960, and served there as a midwife for 57 years at Hospital Aibonito. His other sister, Lourene Bender ‘61, and her husband, pastor Nevin Bender ‘61 SEM ‘63, served in Vermont. And his father was a member of the founding board of Christopher Dock Mennonite Mennonite High School, now known as Dock Mennonite Academy.
“There was a general ambience of service in the 1950s Mennonite church,” Stan recalls. “And service was a central theme during our experiences at EMC.” But perhaps the biggest push for him happened when he was 14, and his father was in the hospital, seriously ill with sepsis.
“I remember sitting on a straw bale in the barn, crying,” Stan says. He told God that if his father recovered, he would become a missionary doctor.
His father recovered, and Stan made good on that promise. Although Stan points out that the majority of his 40-year medical career was spent in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, at a family health center alongside doctors Kenneth Brubaker and the late R. Clair Weaver ‘66.
The trio had established the health center together to allow breaks for mission work. In reality, that was hard to coordinate, but they did accommodate Stan and his family spending five years abroad over three different stints.
In addition to working in Africa, Susan taught Spanish and English as a Second Language, did administrative work at EMM and Mennonite Central Committee, and raised their three children. She also served on the EMU Board of Directors for 12 years, and was the chair for six years.
Susan later trained as a chaplain at the Philhaven Behavioral Health Hospital. “Listening to persons in crisis felt like walking on holy ground,” Susan says.
The pair now live in Harrisonburg, and say one of the highlights “is relating to the families of our three children” – they have 10 grandchildren in Harrisonburg and Georgia. They love singing, too; in fact, they met while singing in choir at then-Eastern Mennonite College, “and we’ve enjoyed singing together ever since,” Susan says.
Until the outbreak of COVID-19 caused them to stay home, the Godshalls were still serving their community – Susan at the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, and Stan at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Free Clinic.
Reflecting back on their lives, Susan says that, when you make a work or service commitment, you don’t always know what you’ll be called on to do.
“One of my goals was to be attentive to do what I could do, and look to God and others to provide for what I couldn’t do.”