Missionary Schooling and Training
From high school, I went to Grand Rapids School of the Bible & Music to major in Missions. One of the most influential courses I took was Church Planting. The Lord had already given me the desire to work with remote people groups, and He further used this class to show me the vital importance of discipleship and a functioning local church. When I began looking to join a missions board, I found New Tribes Mission was the perfect fit for me because of their focus on church planting among tribal groups. So after graduating from GRSBM in 1986, I entered New Tribes' training program.
It's ironic how the Lord gives us desires and talents, and when we lay them all on the altar, He gives us ways to live them out that we never would have dreamed of! I was always interested in law and becoming an attorney, because I like DETAILS! Well, I couldn't imagine any way that God could use me as a missionary in that capacity (now I do, but when I was a high school student I couldn't see it). So, I sacrificed that pursuit. When I began the linguistic phase of New Tribes Mission's training, suddenly it was as if God had rewarded me for that sacrifice. Instead of law and all its "details", I would study languages and many MORE "details" than I had ever dreamed! I still have hopes of being involved in Bible translation. What a job! Can you imagine "working" with God's Word 8 hours a day? Now that's a job that I would PAY someone to let me do!
I had studied Spanish for 4 years in high school, always intending to go to Latin America and saying, "Brazil will be the last place I go, because they speak Portuguese there." After finishing the training with New Tribes, in September 1989 I went to - you guessed it! - Brazil! God definitely has a sense of humor.
So, after a year of "Portuguizing" my Spanish, I joined an all-Brazilian team of missionaries working in the Nyengatu tribe of northwestern Brazil. It was an idyllic location… except for the cockroaches and other bugs. It was also an eye-opening experience into the humanity and frailty of missionaries versus the pedestal that we often put them on. I learned the invaluable lesson that we missionaries (myself included!) battle with our flesh and struggle to walk with the Lord on a daily basis. When we fail to stay in step with God, things can get ugly. Guess that's why we need so much prayer!
The Lord, in His grace, eventually removed me from Brazil by not allowing me to obtain a visa to stay there. I returned home broken in spirit, confused by the lessons God had tried to teach me, and doubtful of even being a missionary any more. During the succeeding two years, God graciously healed me and taught me how to walk in the Spirit again, just taking baby steps. It was at that time that He led me to go to Mexico.
I arrived in Mexico in 1995, exactly 6 years to the date after I had gone to Brazil. God's grace saw me through a deluge of spiritual battles during my initial 4 months on the field. At the end of a year and a half of "re-Spanishing" my Portuguized Spanish, the Lord led me to join a team working in a small mountain village named Caborachi, ministering among the Tarahumara Indians.
I began studying the Tarahumara language and culture, hoping to be a part of the translation team one day. Watching God at work in the lives of the Tarahumara people was awe-inspiring! In the 2 ½ years I was in Caborachi, the tiny group of believers grew from 3 people to 15, and many others were coming to the teaching. Most of the believers were firm in living out their faith, which was a testimony to the entire community.
As a result of God's grace changing the believers' lives, the non-Christians began persecuting and threatening them. "Come back to the old ways, be real Tarahumaras and sacrifice to God and drink corn-beer like we do," they would say. "If you don't, we'll run the missionaries out!" The Christians responded, "We have seen the light, and there's no way we will go back to walking in darkness! Do what you will." So, in February 2000, the Indians in the community voted that we missionaries should leave Caborachi. What a great reason to be expelled from your workplace!