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Couple embark on experience of abroad


After working several years in South Africa and Cambodia, Sabrina and Stephen Himley returned to Spokane last summer. 

Sabrina and Stephen Himley
Stephen and Sabrina Himley before they left for Myanmar.

In March, they left again, this time to live in Yangon, Myanmar.

Stephen will be health project manager for HelpAge International.  Over his career, he has applied engineering skills to improve medical and other technologies.

Sabrina hopes to find an opportunity to teach Burmese children, plans to work on art and will continue to share their insights, as she has since 2009, on her blog at 

They hope friends will follow and learn from their experiences of living and working among a poor population in another country and culture.

Stephen has a two-year contract to help the University of Public Health transition from infectious to non-infectious diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.

From 2010 to 2013, they were in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Sabrina taught English to preschool Khmer children. Stephen was Cambodia country director for Medical Teams International, based in Portland, Ore.

From November 2013 to March 2015, Stephen consulted with Catapult Design and PATH, to develop products for low-resource settings. 

In July 2014, he returned to Sacred Heart Medical Center, where he previously worked 11 years as senior biomedical engineer in the heart transplant and mechanical heart program.  They have been attending Manito Presbyterian Church since then.

Their decision to go to Myanmar comes from their wrestling with poverty because of their belief that faith is about justice.

In the U.S., they could live comfortably.  In Myanmar, they live in a developing country to help relieve the burdens of people living in poverty.

“Jesus’ message is to care about marginalized people, especially those in developing countries that suffer the greatest,” Sabrina said.  “In the U.S., we can enjoy the conveniences and comforts of a developed country, but it’s hard to enjoy them when we know so many people elsewhere are suffering.

“Having lived in South Africa and Southesast Asia, we know about the conditions,” she said.  “I know there’s something I can do.”

Stephen came from a non-Christian home, but his parents sent him to a Lutheran high school, where he learned about the Bible and came into faith.

“I’ve been in evangelical churches since I was 16, but had a crisis of faith later when I encountered devastating poverty in Haiti, when I took youth from Garland Ave. Alliance Church there in 2003 and then in 2004 went to South Africa.”

He was discouraged by how government, churches and agencies spend money, while children continue to die of diarrhea and people continue to fight in civil wars.

“The good news is about God’s kingdom.  I believe God’s dream is that we have a life expectancy of 100, that there is no infant mortality and that the lion lies down with the lamb,” Stephen said.  “God’s kingdom is about announcing good news to the poor.”

Sabrina said that in Cambodia she felt she was able to live the words of faith.  Walking to the store, she would pass a woman who held her hand out.

“I gave her 25-cents and knew it would make a difference for her,” she said.  “There is no safety net there.  There are opportunities to make a difference, to feel life has meaning.”

Growing up in western Montana in a rural area 45 minutes from Troy High School, she decided to study at Whitworth University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in music pedagogy in 2000.  She started a piano teaching business, and returned to earn a master’s in teaching at Whitworth in 2004. 

As part of the studies, she spent a month in Thailand where she taught English to Thai children.

She loved Thailand, its culture and people, and hoped to return to live and teach there.

From 2004 to 2008, she taught in elementary schools in Houston, Texas, and then in Seattle.

Sabrina had met Stephen when she was teaching piano in Spokane.  They married in 2006, and lived in Seattle while he studied at the University of Washington.

Stephen, who grew up in Sacramento, earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1982 and a master’s in engineering in 1984 at the University of California Davis.

His work in rocket engineering at Aerojet from 1984 to 1988  led him into an Aerojet spin-off company, Nimbus Medical, which developed artificial heart technology after the National Institute of Health convinced Congress to fund that work.

He helped design and develop a mechanical heart and artificial heart technology there and at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation from 1988 to 1995, except for a year in Spokane, developing a clinical chemistry analyzer for lab work.

Because he liked clinical work, he became a mechanical heart engineer in the Heart Transplant and Mechanical Heart Program at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, serving from 1995 to 2006.

“I scrubbed in for surgery and helped with implants, preparing a device to work in a particular patient,” he said. 

His visits to Haiti and South Africa were during those years.

“I could not believe the effects of grinding poverty, especially in contrast with my work with high-cost mechanical heart implants,” Stephen commented.

In 2004, he worked with AIDS orphans in South Africa through Agathos Foundation, helping address clinical concerns of the HIV/AIDS pandemic that was creating more orphans.  He went twice for a few months.

On the second trip, he met a physician who attends Northview Bible Church.  They visited Doctors without Borders and learned about the gap in treatment.  Few were given antiretroviral (ARV) drug treatment, even though the cost of that drug had dropped.

To try to alleviate some of the suffering he saw, Stephen founded a nonprofit organization, Two Tunics, in 2004, with Mike Nash, MD, then medical director, now executive director. After serving Two Tunics’ as executive director until early 2006, Stephen decided to study public health. 

So he went to the University of Washington and earned a master’s degree in 2008.

In Seattle, Sabrina taught school, and Stephen also designed products for HaloSource, a company that was developing safe drinking water treatment technologies for Tanzania, India, Cambodia and other countries.

He continued work on safe drinking water at PATH in Seattle until 2009, when he and Sabrina moved to rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Sabrina taught English to Zulu children, and Stephen managed research on multi-drug resistant tuberculosis for Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Just before they went to South Africa, Sabrina had been diagnosed with Lupus. The living conditions and insufficient medical care made it hard for her to cope with the pain from lupus. So they left South Africa in 2010, and Stephen worked at Medical Teams International in Portland, Ore.

In Portland, Sabrina had access to medical care that put her in remission, so they could live and work in Cambodia and now can serve in Myanmar.

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Copyright © April 2015 - The Fig Tree