Some pictures of our journey so far:
We arrived at Big Woods (FMC) last Saturday evening and have just completed our first week of formation. Part of formation this week was a series of talks introducing us to life in missions. Such as what our relationship with God is, what our identity is, how much God loves us and how we have chosen to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus. We have also been doing lots of praise and worship and prayer and reflection. One of the reflections was based on the bible reading of Romans 12 in that we are many parts, but we are all one body. I have often thought of the missionary vocation as being the part of the feet.
In the beautiful adoration chapel at the Cathedral of St. Mary’s in Fargo, there is a larger than life depiction of the last supper as stained- glass windows behind our Lord in the monstrance. I used to stare at the feet of Jesus wrapped up in his sandals and I used to long to wear those same sandals. I sketched a picture of those feet in my prayer journal. I knew that the longing came from the Holy Spirit and that it didn’t make much sense outside of this calling to missions. Although, if we rightly see missions as the calling of every Christian, then it should make sense to everyone, that we would want to follow in Christ’s footsteps. But the way we follow in his footsteps is so unique to everyone. We all can’t just be the feet or the hands or the mind or the heart. God created each of us to be our own specific part of the body of Christ on earth. You were created to do something that NO one else can do. If you choose not to seek out the purpose of your life in God’s eyes, and what he wants you to do, then he will choose someone else to work through, but he has to do it in an entirely new way, unique to the gifts that he has given them.
I have developed an increased awareness of being the feet in the past three years of discernment into foreign missions. When we were in Haiti, I was wearing a pair of Chacos on my feet. In meeting a long-term fellow missionary with FMC, I was sitting next to her on the bus that was taking us to L’Asile. She said, “I like your sandals. I always heard you have to be a missionary to wear Chacos.” I looked down at my feet, proud to be sitting among lots of missionaries for the first time in my life, and to be counted among them for a second, even if I was at that point just a week-long mission-tripper.
Later in the week we had what they call a “Desert Day,” where we go out into nature or somewhere quiet and reflect on God’s word and what he is speaking to us. I was frustrated and crabby that day because it was super-hot and buggy, and I was dealing with some back pain. Right when we got there two of our kids had to “use” the bathroom and so I had to figure that out alone, since Brad and I were switching off going alone to pray, and he was first.
When it was my turn, my irritableness upped a notch when I couldn’t find anywhere that someone else was, and when I did it was a path full of goat poop with nowhere to sit down. But, I found a tiny uncomfortable rock to sit on and tried to read my bible. It was a dry time. Nothing stood out to me and I felt like God had left me. I was SO looking forward to desert day from reading other missionaries’ blogs and this was so anti-climactic. I got nothing. I felt like I was on a date with God and he was just staring into his phone. I put the book down and looked out at the amazingly beautiful mountain hills that reached up to the clear blue sky, and tried to just be with God. Sometimes it’s not the profound Holy Spirit-filled encounters that say the most. Sometimes it’s the simplest thing that speaks to our hearts. And if we’re not carefully listening, we would miss them altogether. So here I was begging God to shout something to my heart, you know, like “I want you guys to be foreign missionaries!” and again, nothing. Then I looked down at my feet and here’s what I hear. “You’ve got to be a missionary to wear Chacos.” I smiled. Who would’ve thought a silly little statement seemingly without any weight to it would mean so much to me in that instant. That moment has been one of the most meaningful moments of my discernment life. And it was far beyond anything I had been hoping for. And it wasn’t a shout, but a whisper.
Fast forward to this first week at Big Woods. It has been a hard adjustment. The trip went pretty quick and was pretty painless, but when we arrived here we found out we were staying in one of the trailers furthest away from the community house. We had to walk through swampy grass to get to it. I was pretty bummed that weren’t staying near the other families or closer to the community house. I was trying to make the best of it and trying not to complain according to the guidelines of having a missionary heart. After all, we gave it all up to follow Jesus into missions. We don’t get to choose where we live any more or have the funds to decorate as we’d normally like. Someone had to stay in the last trailer, as my dear husband pointed out, why not us? So, I’m organizing and putting things away, and trying to get settled that first night and I’m in our new bedroom of this newly added old oil rig trailer and all of a sudden, my toe is screaming to me in pain. I look down and think I saw some sort of bug, but it’s nowhere to be seen now and I have no idea what bit me. If I had to guess I’d say it’s some sort of gigantic mosquito that hurts like a bee sting. So, I nurse my toe with some essential oils and move on. Later that night I see a cockroach scurrying across our kitchen floor. Brad tries to conquer it, but it is faster than we know yet, and it goes off somewhere to laugh at his efforts. My feet are now timid to walk amid the trailer at night. We just aren’t used to this. Later on, as we are walking back and forth to the community house, my feet are getting hammered by these larger than normal size mosquito bites. Did you know that bites hurt worse on the feet than anywhere else on the body? Maybe not enough flesh? I don’t know… I do know I hadn’t been sleeping very well due to the bites on my feet. Then last night we went to a pool party that some locals host every year for all the missionaries at intake. I’m sitting at a table just eating my dinner and chatting away and all of a sudden, my feet are stinging on fire. I look down. Fire ants.
I’m thinking of this verse again, “How beautiful are the feet on the mountain of those who bring the good news.” I cherish the image I have in my head of Mother Teresa’s feet. They are most precious in all their glory of love and broken-ness. The brokenness for Christ. The brokenness of giving up her life, of denying herself and taking up her cross and following Jesus, despite the cost. Because Jesus gave his life to be brutally tortured for the sake of love, despite the cost. And he’d choose to do it again if he had to, for the sake of his love for you and for me. My feet are still hurting as I write this. A constant reminder of what I’ve chosen to do. But I can only hope that I can continue to tread on this path that leads me to the broken and unreached with these poor feet of mine. In hopes that I won’t weary of trying to follow in Christ’s footsteps and be the part of the body of Christ that God had planned for me since before I was born. There is a part you were born for that God envisioned for you. How beautiful it would be to see all our parts played out in the way they were meant to be! I pray that we will all be open to carrying out His most perfect plan for us in the way it was meant to be.
“…and we boast of our hope for the glory of God. But not only that – we even boast of our afflictions! We know that affliction makes for endurance, and endurance for tested virtue, and tested virtue for hope. And this hope will not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” –Romans 5: 2-5
“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect” ~Romans 12:2
One motto I like to say is “There are two types of people, people who get it done, and everyone else. Be one that gets it done.” To that end, I have tried to live my personal and professional life under this mantra. God has called me and my family to do this most urgent and radical duty of the Church, can I ignore it any longer?
I joined the catholic church 12 years ago, and I often have wondered what God wanted me to do for Him. I always had a feeling it was going to be something radical! That being said, I still would not have imagined that Foreign Missions would be the call.
In the time I have known and loved Jesus, I have realized I am not doing His will. He has been saying “Live radically for me” through various ways and in various times in my life. He has been saying this since my wife and I got married, although only now have I begun to listen!
I set out in my business life to be as successful as I possibly could. God, it seems, has always had another plan for me. I have never been fulfilled in my work, even though the companies have all been very successful! I used to say, if I could sell this much, we would be doing outstanding. Well, we sold “that much” and not too much later, I remember thinking “If we could only sell this much more.” Then we did that. I was never any happier. On the contrary, I had been growing increasingly lost, unhappy and with a restless heart. One day it hit me: God had been asking me a question throughout my whole business life, and it was first spoken to me through a Jimmy John’s poster of all things. “Then What?”
God began asking me this question all the time! “We can expand our business and add new locations and trucks!” – “Then What?” “We can buy a new rental property and increase cash flow!” – “Then What?” “Well, more money” – “Then What?” I continued chasing this empty dream and empty promise.
One day God splashed a cold bucket of water on my face. We lost a key permit we needed to operate our business. It was devastating. Like most major life events, I did not understand God’s reasoning for this at the time. In hindsight, this event set off a chain reaction that has led me closer to God and with a more detached, open heart to the will of God.
I realized there was never a good answer to the “Then What?” question. Especially if you aren’t doing the Lord’s will and ignoring his calling. I know in my heart I have never truly done the Lord’s will. Sure, I go to Mass every Sunday, say my prayers, etc.… but was that enough?
When I was at our Come-and-See weekend, I realized why God brought me and my family this far down the path to Foreign Missions. I laid in bed the last night we were in Abbeville (after a cancelled flight), crabby, tired, and wondering why I was still here, and I hear very clearly in my head “Brad, there are two types of people…” The time has come to live extraordinarily for God!
After our mission trip to Haiti, Brad and I knew that we needed to attend a come-and-see weekend at the Family Missions Company base in Louisiana. This is a weekend that FMC puts on to help people discern missions, and is sort of like a mini version of Intake, which is their full-time foreign mission training program. It’s a chance to study scripture, pray, work and eat together in community, ask any questions we have and meet other missionaries. So we booked the soonest we could find and off we went again on a plane with our five kids.
Leading up to the trip a sickness began spreading through the family. The morning we left, Benny threw up. The first day at Big Woods (nickname for FMC) Aaron threw up in the kitchen. We were under the impression there would be a kids ministry (which I was getting mixed up with Intake). There wasn’t. So while we had the same first impression we had in Haiti when we had arrived – like this felt like home – that feeling quickly changed into misery.
We couldn’t delve too deeply into the discerning process because our kids were so high-maintenance. As frustrating as this was, we were also being bombarded with negative thoughts. We’re too old for this. We have too many kids for this. We aren’t holy enough. Our kids aren’t holy enough. We should’ve left our kids at home so we could properly discern. And on and on with the downward spiral. I was fighting despair as I began to think that the past three years of prayer and desire were just a tease from God. What kind of cruel joke was this? We said we would give it all up, essentially professing our love to the one and only, only to have him reject us? That is what it felt like…
And then it was our turn to meet with the directors of FMC to go over any questions we had. As we sat across the room for them, I tried to be emotionless as we explained that we were absolutely miserable. That we shouldn’t have brought our kids, that it was too hard… and so on. As we’re speaking it hit me like a ton of bricks that none of these thoughts were from God. We were getting spiritually attacked. Yes, they said, it sounds like that could be true. And yes, you should’ve brought your kids with you, because you need to know how hard this is. You don’t want any romantic notions of what missions will be. It’s hard work and definitely not glamorous. But it is glorious. It’s good to know exactly what you are getting into. And then we prayed together.
After the prayers, we were both immediately lifted as if any negativity and down-cast thoughts fled the room. We felt so much lighter; so joyful. For the rest of the weekend the Holy Spirit was tangible and we were walking on air. We are able to participate in a deeper way, without all the negativity distracting us. That is… until we tried to leave.
We were getting ready to leave Big Woods and fly back home where Brad was due to go on a work trip. As we packed up our things I asked Brad where he was at. I was convinced that he would say we should fill out an application after feeling all the peace and joy for the remainder of the weekend – but he didn’t. He said, let’s just go home and think about it some more. He needs more time?! Even after discerning for two years and going to Haiti? Even after reading a verse in group prayer and saying that God spoke his language, saying “There are two types of people… those who make it happen and those who don’t. Are you going to make it happen? How long do I have to wait?” (This was one of Brad’s trademark phrases.) It was Pentecost Sunday. I’d never seen Brad so joyful before. I knew God was going to take care of it. So I surrendered, packed quietly and said nothing more.
We drove about an hour to the airport and got settled in to await our flight. Suddenly we got news that our flight was delayed due to an incoming storm. No big deal, another hour. It’d be a struggle with the kids, but I’d offer it up. Delayed again. Brad needed to get back on this flight so he wouldn’t miss his work trip. We had to fly into Minneapolis and then drive for four hours. I was juggling to keep the kids happy and busy. Brad was searching for the quickest make-up flight. Elizabeth accidentally pushed on an emergency door and the alarm goes off. Finally, in all the stress, Brad lost his cool. “Just so you know – we will NEVER become missionaries. Mark my words.” He said. Zach, my oldest who was 9 at the time, turns to me and says, “Doesn’t dad get it? The flight got canceled because God wants us to go back and be missionaries!”
A kind soul graciously agreed to pick us up at the airport and take us back to Big Woods. Once we got back to the house we had stayed in, we unpacked everything and had to re-make the beds and undo all the packing we’d done earlier. Zach told his dad that God wanted us to be missionaries. He was very quiet; still understandably upset.
The next morning a missionary family generously offered to host us for breakfast. We asked a lot of questions, got a lot of answers and the kids enjoyed playing together. I know that visit was meant to be for all that we learned that morning. It seemed to make up for our lost time at the beginning of the weekend, and solidify our calling even more.
As we were packing up to leave for our make-up flight, Brad spoke from across the room, “So I think we should apply.” I was thinking of what he said in the airport. I’m thinking, did he just say that? He continued, “Last night I couldn’t sleep, wondering why God brought us back here. Look at how far God has brought us in the whole missions process? Filling out an application is our yes to God.” I was filled with joy, for it confirmed what I’d been feeling at the airport; that God had a reason for this canceled flight.
These joy-filled feelings, this desire for missions – it’s not that we think this choice would be better and we definitely know, not easier than how we’ve lived – it’s just that it feels so right. And it feels like it’s not coming from us and our wants, but from what God wants.
In conclusion, we tried our best to make it to intake last year, but we own three businesses we needed to figure out, and suddenly I realized I would need a series of oral surgeries that would take a whole year to complete. We knew it wasn’t the right time. Also, in October we found out we are expecting our 6th baby! This year of waiting has been one of the most intense years of our life, almost feeling like spiritual boot camp. But here this desire is, going on stronger and stronger for the both of us, and here we are planning on arriving for intake in Sept., totally relying on God to get there.
In March last year, our family of seven went on a mission trip with Family Missions Company to a small mountain village in Haiti. We had been thinking about doing a mission trip for quite some time, but going to Haiti seemed like a pretty big first step into missions. Still, everything just fell into place.
We stayed in a small two-room house with bunk beds (and mosquito netting) on the church grounds, which also had a school, a kitchen building and a playground all set on a hill in the mountain village of L’Asile.
When we settled in after a long journey with our five kids, it seemed our whole family had a certain kind of peace about us. We were blessed to be around the gentle souls in Haiti, and to be surrounded by beautiful full-time missionaries and other mission trippers living out the truth of the gospel in prayer and service.
Each day we began with songs and prayer in the church followed by breakfast in the kitchen building. We would then split off into groups for service. One of the projects involved painting and cleaning out the Ezekiel Home, which is a building they’re renovating to make a place for kids to go to after school. We helped host a party there before we left, with toys and games for the kids to play with, and a boxed meal for each kid.
We also went on home visits to outlier villages. We drove in a pickup truck across rocky roads, we walked across rivers, and walked through villages to visit newborn babies, elderly and sick people. The kids usually played with any other kids that were around. We spent time talking with them, and the full-time missionaries assessed the needs of their friends for their next visit. One of the mornings we gathered at the home of our missionary leaders and made up a bunch of what they call “dispensas,” which are bags of basic food pantry items for people in need.
The afternoons were spent visiting close villages and inviting people for prayer services. Our mission trip leader brought his guitar and everyone would sing – and can the Haitians sing! We also took prayer requests and prayed over them. This was hard to hear, as they are longing for things so many of us take for granted. We heard from the missionaries that on a return visit to that village, a woman told them she had asked for her wrist to be prayed over because she was in such pain. She said the next day her pain was completely gone! She told them, “I want to thank the whites for praying my pain away.” Praise God!
The poverty was heartbreaking. One little boy was wearing an adult size ripped polo shirt, half hanging off. Many were living in make-shift shacks while they were trying to rebuild their home beaten down by the hurricane. Despite the hardships they’re enduring (and what sticks with us the most), was the warmth and friendliness and dignity of the Haitians. What very little we could communicate with the locals was worth every effort. A simple smile and their faces lit up with joy. It was easy to be around this easy-going culture. It was also easy to gaze upon the gorgeous views of the landscape, whichever way you looked. Best of all was the grace of God that seemed to surround us continuously. It was very hard to leave and say goodbye to our new friends, especially for the kids (they cried).
Because of the money that was raised for this trip, we were able to help provide a home for a family in need. We were able to assist in digging the foundation while we were there. It was so neat to see and realize that because of the collective generosity and prayers of family and friends we were able to be a part of working on such a meaningful project. God is good!
There is no way we could relay everything that happened in those seven days. We partook in everything we could, but sometimes it was difficult. It made us question being there at times. These doubts were suggestions from the enemy that I was doing it all wrong. That I wasn’t engaged enough in the locals’ lives. That I couldn’t even speak their language, so what I was even doing here? But these are misleading thoughts that are not from God. We don’t do anything. He does. God can work wonders through a simple smile. I know because I have received such a smile.
Our trip is still changing us spiritually. In the beginning we were challenged to trust on a level that we had never known before. We were questioned by well-meaning friends and family on our decision to go. We were forced to lean heavily on God, through prayer and scripture, leading up to the trip and through it all. Every time I doubted that I should bring my family of five kids to a third world country, even though I felt strongly about going in my heart, I grabbed my bible seeking words of wisdom. I was like Peter sinking in the sea and His word was Jesus grabbing my hand and pulling me up. And when we arrived, all that fear dissipated and transformed into a deeply felt peace that we were exactly where God wanted us to be.
It also revealed to us a false sense of security that we didn’t even know we had, and highlighted the fact that our only true security is in God. Should we remain safely in the comforts of home at the cost of leaving our brothers and sisters in need? Isn’t it worth it if even one soul is helped through the work God is allowed to accomplish through us? We had to force ourselves to forgo caring about what others thought of our decision to bring our five little kids on a mission trip to a third-world country, and it was the best decision our family has ever made.
Finally, we’d like to share with you what the kids had to say about our trip:
Zach (9): We made a ton of friends, some of them were very poor. I made a friend named Johnson and he could kind of understand me. Like the words come, go, and I’m busy. We always had lots of fun, like climbing trees, watching the birds, and running around the playground. Then me and Johnson went to paint the Ezekiel house. He followed me there and we did a lot of work. It was for the kids who had no parents to play with after school. Then we went to a church on a truck ride. It was scorching hot and I got to ride in the back of a pickup truck. On the way, it couldn’t get up a steep hill so the adults had to get out and push it up. When we got to the village, there were lots of chickens and pigs. We went up to each person’s door and we invited people to come and pray with us in the church. At the church there was music and a lot of prayer. Then afterward we played in the back of the pickup truck. We also had a lot of suckers. They were from the festival at the Ezekiel House. There were a lot of games there and we invited a lot of Haitian kids from school. It was super sad when we had to leave. I cried for an hour because I missed Haiti. I told my mom it was a lot better than living at home and that I wanted to live there.
Elizabeth (8): When I saw a boy, I saw Jesus in him, and how he was so poor, and I was really sad because seeing that face wasn’t what I expected. He was wearing a man’s shirt probably that he found and it was really, really sad to see because when I picked him up to take him off of the truck, he wasn’t wearing anything else other than the shirt. It made me really, really sad. When we were at a church in the village, I handed out rosaries, and it made me very happy because everyone wanted one. When we did the prayers, it made me so happy I almost cried. Making friends with the missionaries was very joyful for me, and when I left my friends we were all crying and I didn’t want to leave. I was too sad to even say goodbye. But I am glad I went, and if I didn’t go I wouldn’t meet them. I’m so happy I even came, because if God didn’t even call me, I wouldn’t be there in Haiti. And after church Mom and Dad took us to go get pop. I was so happy.
Aaron (6): We donated all our clothes (ha!). We went on the side of the church and Benny fell. Me and Eliza and Zach said funny things. We saw the ocean. And Dad danced with Luke at the Ezekiel Home to the songs. We digged a home for a family. My favorite part was the games and we got to go in the back of a truck. I learned to be helpful. I felt Jesus and I was happy and I liked it.
Benny (3): I fell down. I give Dane my shoes. He’s my friend. We got there in a hairplane. It was fun.
As for Luke, although he can’t talk, I will vouch for him. He was a little over a year old in March. They say kids make the best missionaries, and while I saw that with all our kids, Luke was the star of the show as far as ice-breakers go. Everywhere we went smiles lit up at the sight of this little white baby. Groups of kids would surround us and try to communicate while feeling his skin and hair. They also would grab him out of my arms and snuggle him up close. I was shocked at the difference between Haiti and my home in regard to children. There were kids everywhere, and they loved to see ours.
We are so grateful God gave us the experience of being among full-time missionaries in Haiti. Our faith has grown as a result and we are left with a deeper longing to do God’s will and to truly strive to live out the Gospel no matter where we are. May God Bless you all and inspire you to do the same!
Brad and I were hanging out one evening after our kids were in bed wondering why we were so dissatisfied climbing this ladder of the American dream. Where did we fit in this life? We felt like such outcasts. Where did God want us in all of this? We owned successful businesses and could buy nice things for our house. Everybody wants that and it’s totally normal — so why were we so unsatisfied? What was wrong with us?
We decided if we felt this unsettled, God was urging us to change something. So we began to think all sorts of crazy thoughts. Let’s leave America! Let’s go live a simpler life and not follow the American way. How can we serve God actively as a whole family? We wanted to instill in our kids what the gospel really means. We had this burning thought that there had to be more than just going to church on Sunday and returning to our individual lives for the rest of the week. We tried to pray and become involved, but we were longing for even more. So that night, as we sipped on our wine, we wondered if families could ever be missionaries. The thought was so exciting we had to jump up immediately and check with google. And Family Missions Company popped up right away.
So I did what seems like a lot of other missionaries I’ve talked to have done. I devoured the entire website and all the blogs I could find. I began to think back on our lives since we were married and began a family, and if this were true, if God really did want us to be missionaries, then so much of what we had gone through suddenly made so much sense to me. All the traveling back and forth through the years, learning to live simply, having a strong desire to detach, when our hearts were moved as we bonded with the locals on our honeymoon… I just sat there and thought and thought in wonder if this could be what God was preparing us for.
We talked about it on and off since that night. This went on for a few years. It became very painful for me, as I was convinced right away this was where God was leading us, and sometimes Brad would agree and be excited about it, and sometimes he would push it away. I had to wait and wait while feeling this calling so strongly. I began praying for God to take this desire away from me. If Brad was not on board, then it wasn’t going to happen and I wasn’t going to pursue it.
Despite praying and trying not to talk about it, I realized the desire was becoming stronger still and I couldn’t help it, and I finally convinced him that we should bring our family on a mission trip to discern. He agreed, I think partly because he knew if we didn’t check into it, it would never go away! I was pushing for a specific mission trip to Mexico, but it came and went. Then one night Brad was at church alone and heard a missionary from a ministry in Haiti asking for help. That night, in total confidence, he said “I know where we need to go. Haiti.” What!? Why Haiti? Well let’s pray about it, that seems like such a big first step, I had said, but he shook his head and said, “I don’t need to. We’re going to Haiti.”
I was still nervous to bring our five kids to Haiti for our first mission trip, so we decided to pray for a sign from God. Not long after that we were vacationing with my family at a cabin and had gone to mass on the Sunday shortly after we arrived. As we were walking out of mass, Brad and I headed for the door and at the same time saw a huge sign with big black letters on it that simply said “Haiti.” We just looked at each other. I guess that’s our sign then!
We went to Haiti last March, and we have another post describing our trip, but I’ll just say here that what happened on a spiritual level there was pretty indescribable. The amount of peace we felt flood our hearts while we were there seemed like God was telling us this is where He wanted us in all of this. Maybe not necessarily in Haiti, maybe so, but definitely in this calling.