Editor's note:

Today, we’d like to introduce you to one of our favorite people, Marti Ensign. Marti had served in medical missions in Rwanda and Burundi for many years, as well as on many different ministries’ boards—including Renovaré’s—and is currently a beloved member of our Ministry Team. She is also our facilitator for the second book in this season’s Renovaré Book Club. She will lend a very personal touch to her guidance through Corrie ten Boom’s spiritual autobiography The Hiding Place, as she and Corrie were close friends in the later years of Corrie’s life. 

It is impossible to be around Marti for more than a minute without being plunged into one of her magnificent stories. Picking up on the oral traditions of the lands she loves so much, Marti will share tales about her times in Rwanda and Burundi that will have you laughing or crying or speechless in the presence of their piercing beauty or relentless brutality. We’re hoping that this article from the Alumni section of Seattle Pacific University’s Response Magazine (written by Clint Kelly and lightly edited for length and updated information by our team) will give you just a taste of her ebullient spirit and rich history. 

Then, why not join us in the Book Club this season and drink in more Marti stories first-hand as she leads us through The Hiding Place? We look forward to seeing you there!

—Renovaré Team

When Leonard Ensign went to Central Africa as a Free Methodist medical missionary in the 1960s, the mission agency promised him six months to acculturate.

The reality was closer to three weeks.

The official surgeon of Kiyube Hospital in what was then the kingdom of Ruanda-Urundi (now divided into modern day Rwanda and Burundi) was reassigned — without a replacement. A patient arrived the next day doubled over from gastric ulcers. Milk and antacids weren’t working. He vomited blood. Len, an anesthesiologist, was forced to operate.

His wife, Marti Oaks Ensign, can still see him coming down the hill to the house, a huge medical atlas under one arm. “We have to do surgery,” he announced.



A trained lab technician and mother of two young children, Marti scrubbed in. The couple prayed, something they would do over many more surgeries to come. He consulted the atlas, open on a nearby table, took a deep breath, and the four-hour procedure began.

“He’d ask for a certain clamp, and I’d say, ’What’s that?”’ Marti remembers.“He’d point to the proper instrument, and I’d hand it over.”

Hundreds of procedures followed that one, including amputations, caesarian births, and the treatment of burns suffered in tribal conflicts, bites from crocodiles and hippos, and injuries suffered in bicycle accidents. He once even treated a witch doctor for anemia. Len himself contracted typhus and malaria repeatedly.

Those sometimes-harrowing days at Kiyube Station promised and delivered a life of adventure and world engagement for the Ensigns.

“They have courageously gone into places where others would not go,” says Matt Whitehead, superintendent for the Pacific Northwest Conference of the Free Methodist Church. “A Christ-focused entrepreneurial spirit is a significant part of their DNA.”

Marti has traveled the globe in her own efforts to follow God’s leading, including 34 return trips to Africa. On one trip, she was caught inside Rwanda when civil war broke out and later returned with experts in post-traumatic stress syndrome to counsel missionaries fleeing the genocide and relief workers trying to cope with the horror.

She has served on the boards of Mission Aviation Fellowship and the African Children’s Choir, where she was also tour director and interpreter. She worked as director of women in medicine and dentistry for the Christian Medical and Dental Society of America. And, after taking additional theology classes at Seattle Pacific, she became an ordained minister in the Free Methodist Church in 1977, accepted an assistant church pastorate in Seattle, and served as SPU’s campus chaplain for a time.

Marti currently serves on [Renovaré’s Ministry Team]. “I’ve worked with Len and Marti in innumerable ministry contexts over many years and have found them to be sterling examples of lives deeply formed in the Way of Christ,” says Richard Foster, founder of Renovaré. “Their selflessness is legendary.”

Together, the Ensigns have made several visits to AIDS hospitals in Africa. They always take with them volunteer teams of physicians and dentists to help treat people with HIV.

“They bring true love and Christian spirit to everything in which involved,” says Bob McIntosh, SPU’s special assistant to the president for real estate resources. He recalls the excitement in his house as a boy, and the hair-raising stories Marti told, whenever the Ensigns came to stay with the family while on furlough.“They’ve tackled areas others wouldn’t even touch.”

Under an initiative of the president of Burundi, the Ensigns [served] on a task force charged with starting the nation’s first medical school. “Get the people healthy,” says Marti, “and we’ll have revival just because they feel well.”

If Marti and Len Ensign had stuck with their youthful misconceptions, however, they might never have made it to Africa. Mischievous Marti thought all women missionaries were old and wore their hair up in a tight bun. Shy Len was just as certain that all male missionaries were preachers, and he was far too reserved to attempt such a public profession.

But make it to Africa they did, to a place where Len did much of his expounding with a scalpel, and Marti acquired enough French and native dialects “to teach, preach, worship, and joke with the African saints.”

We also have for your listening pleasure some of Marti’s best-loved stories from her medical missionary days in Rwanda and Burundi here: An Evening with Madamo.

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From Seattle Pacific University’s Response Magazine (2009).