ifteen years ago, my husband and I heard God asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people?” We responded by saying, “Here we are. Send us.”
Bobby and I had always been involved in our local church, and were compassionate about those in need, yet we were content in our self-absorbed little bubble of safety. Through a time of study and strengthening of our relationship with God, our faith in and commitment to Him grew deeper. As we surrendered more of ourselves to God, He opened the eyes of our hearts and created within us a burning passion for the poor and oppressed.
Our eyes were opened to the reality of poverty and injustice all around us. God challenged us to show His love to the multitudes who have never known such love. With every new awakening, our hearts were broken with God’s love for those who are suffering.
Before long, we were sent forth by our local church to serve in missions. We quit our jobs, sold our possessions (home, truck, fishing boat, extra furniture, artwork, even the dog), and moved into a housing complex of inner-city Atlanta to participate in an incarnational ministry project. Leaving a sleepy, small town in Alabama, we moved to a place ripe with gang and racial tensions. In our new home, chaos and crime were so common that they were barely even noticed.
Selling our possessions and moving our small children into the ghetto seemed drastic
and even crazy to many onlookers. To us, this was the exciting culmination of our searching for God’s will. It was as if we had been on a scavenger hunt and finally found the prize. Sure, we felt nervousness over entering this new and strange world, but every step was taken in complete peace and assurance that we were following God’s guidance. There was no turning back.
After five years of inner-city missions, we began to hear His call once again. We felt a strong sense of God sending us to work in a developing country, but had no peace about exactly where. Knowing we had learned so much that could be applied in yet another culture, we began to seek counsel from several pastors and friends.
As Bobby spoke over the phone with his former missions professor, Rick Waldrop, at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, God began to reveal His plan. As Dr. Waldrop talked to Bobby about the needs of the Church of God seminary in Quito, Ecuador, I was only hearing Bobby’s end of the conversation. I was able to understand they needed a professor of missions (which perfectly fit Bobby’s gifts) and there were many children in need (which fit my passion and calling). The peace of God began to fill both of our hearts, along with a deep passion for the Ecuadorian people we had yet to meet.
While he was still on the phone, I wrote a note to Bobby that said, “Where do we sign?” as my way of expressing the confirmation I felt. Bobby shared that confirmation; we knew Ecuador was the next place to which God was sending our family. Not long after this, our 8-year-old twins came to us and shared how they had been praying and they strongly sensed that God was preparing our family for “something big.”
Fueled by such strong confirmation of God’s plan, we applied and were appointed as missionaries for the Church of God to Quito, Ecuador. Once again, we sold our home and other possessions, in preparation to go where God sent. We moved to Ecuador with only a vague memory of high-school Spanish and little knowledge about what our daily life would entail. It was another leap of faith that we took while relying on God.
Can Children Be Sent?
A missionary calling affects the whole family. When God called us, He called our children as well. Our children, indeed, heard their own callings from God to participate in the Great Commission throughout various phases of our journey. For example, after befriending a former Ringling Brother’s clown who was homeless, the twins began ministering as clowns as kindergarteners. Another example was when, in response to the need for workers in our children’s ministry in Ecuador, they started a puppet and drama team using their friends. I could give you many more examples of how God has used them mightily.
Our children were sent, along with us, to live among those who live on the streets . . . who have been abused . . . who are hungry and hurting. Because they grew up in this reality, they relate naturally to people from all walks of life, as they have very little bias or prejudice that would normally be a barrier. They instinctively care for and are very empathetic to others. They are passionate about issues of human rights because they have witnessed firsthand the injustice of poverty. They continue to follow their own personal callings in various ways. Our daughter is currently studying at Lee University in preparation to work in Asia when God is ready to send her.
Life as missionary kids isn’t always easy. Our children have sacrificed intimate relationships. They have left behind Christmas gifts that were too large to fit into the suitcase. They have endured times of intense loneliness and were forced to mature much more quickly than most children.
Attempting to blend into a totally different culture, while never truly being able to fit in, has intense emotional effects. Our kids experienced culture shock, both here and there. When we first moved to Ecuador, they jokingly debated about how much money they could make from selling their blond hair because people petted their locks. The first time we returned to the U.S., they were overwhelmed and confused by the plethora of choices for gum and candy in the grocery store. There is the constant uncertainty of “Can we drink the water here?” or “Do we flush the toilet paper here?”
Also, their safety has been at risk. As 3-year-olds, living among nightly gunfire in “the hood,” the twins thought there were fireworks every night in Atlanta. In Ecuador, they have to follow safety precautions against theft or other dangers as a part of their daily routine. They have even been on lockdown while watching an attempted government coup take place live, on television.
Yes, our children wear a few emotional battle scars from being sent to this missionary life. However, they also wear many ribbons from the experiences that have positively shaped and enriched their lives. They have friends in many different places. They have visited beautiful and historically important sites. They can understand and empathize with the foreigner trying to make his or her way in a new culture.
Most importantly, they have seen the reward of a life surrendered to God. They have held children who were traumatized by abuse. They have seen God miraculously heal the sick and wounded. They have shared their food with families who had nothing to eat. They have seen God provide not only for themselves, but also for children with tattered clothing and shoes. Our family has seen the face of Jesus in the lost and hurting, and have had the extreme honor of serving as His hands and feet extended to care for them.
Our Extended Family
If our family leaves any mark on the people we have served, it will be evident in those around us who decide to take up their crosses and allow God to send them into their own areas of ministry. Our overarching goal as missionaries is to serve in community with the people to whom we are sent. Working with the existing leadership, we aid in the training and sending of more local leaders. We strive to continuously “work ourselves out of a job” and see that indigenous local leadership is equipped to take over our various roles and lead the ministry further into unreached territory.
We have the privilege of working alongside ministers throughout Latin America who are completely sold out to God’s work. The passion and sacrifice by many of our students and ministry partners, who have become our adopted family, is both humbling and encouraging. God is moving and stirring revival around the world as individuals continue to surrender their own wills and say to God, “Here I am. Send me.”