The Bible verses we claimed for our marriage in our early days really stayed in sharp focus during this third stage of our marriage. Matthew 6:31-33 -- "Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."
I could write a War and Peace length book about our children. They are incredible people. But one by one, they grew up. They left the nest to pursue their educations (something we emphasized strongly in our parenting). We firmly believed it was our job to give our children both roots and wings. All 3 of them had obtained and used their passports to travel outside the U.S. before they graduated from high school. In contrast, Steve and I got our first passports when we were in our early 40's. There have been times we've thought we went a little overboard with the "wings" part. :) When Laura, Matt, and Julie started flying, they truly soared.
Even though we talked about, planned for, and anticipated the days when they would go off to Auburn, when it actually happened, it was painful. I remember my friend Angie warning and encouraging me at the same time with her words: "You'll cry for 3 solid days, then you'll be okay." Each time one of them left, there were 3 full days of tears, then I wiped my eyes, blew my nose, and started planning what we'd have to eat when they came home for the weekend the first time.
After college, they got married and began creating homes of their own. By the way, we had 3 weddings within 16 months. That marathon alone would comprise a major chapter in my book about them! David, Katie, and Brian contribute so much to our family and love our children very well. They are fine co-parents with Laura, Matt, and Julie, and they are rearing some wonderful children.
When the last one married in December of 1999, Steve and I had a couple of years living in a completely empty nest. His practice was thriving, and I was loving my teaching job at Danville-Neel Elementary. We were living "the good life" (as if we hadn't been doing so from Day 1) and adjusting well to such things as going to the grocery store and buying things WE liked, rather than the preferences of various kids and their boyfriends and girlfriends. We could go out whenever we wanted, wherever we wanted. One of our favorites times each day was when Steve came in from work. He told me about various clients and cases, and I told him about my interactions at school. Uninterrupted. A blessing beyond all others was the arrival of our first grandchild, Allie Grace, in November of 2000. It was truly a blissful time in our lives.
We continued to participate in international mission trips. Each time we returned, we thought about how much we'd enjoy going for longer periods of time and getting more involved with the people, but the timing never seemed exactly right.
In January of 2002, we had dinner with some retired missionary friends of ours and learned of a new program available through the International Mission Board. With this program, missionary appointees didn't have to be preachers or have seminary degrees. Instead, the Mission Board was looking for candidates with skills that could be useful for building relationships and planting house churches in settings around the world. Veterinary medicine was one of those skills. It "just so happened" that these missionary friends knew of a specific need for a veterinarian on a goat farm in Indonesia. Whoa. So, here we were in our dream house in Hartselle with our children happily launched and our first grandchild to love on and play with, but there was a goat farm in Indonesia needing a veterinarian? Was God serious? Was THIS the timing He had in mind?
As you might imagine, we had some intense praying to do. In another of those "it just so happened" categories, Steve's Christmas gift to me had been a weekend getaway to Guntersville State Park that was reserved for the coming weekend. During that weekend, we walked, talked, hiked, made lists, and prayed, prayed, prayed. When we returned, we had made the decision to contact the Mission Board the following day to get the process started. We concluded that as long as doors stayed open, we would walk through them. If a door closed, we wouldn't try to push it open. Amazingly ALL THE DOORS STAYED OPEN!!
We began the seemingly endless task of filling out forms, answering hundreds of questions, meeting with various advisors, taking tests, having physical exams, etc. all while continuing our "day jobs." I'm still astounded that I passed the mental stability tests I was given, considering the scrambled state of my brain during those weeks! In the middle of the interviews, it was determined that we would be a better fit for an opening in Ecuador rather than the goat farm in Indonesia, so we set our minds and hearts toward the Quichua people in the Andes Mountains.
The BIG challenge on the table was selling Steve's 30-year-old veterinary practice, but, once again, in God's provision and as a confirmation that THIS was the right time, Steve had a partner and an associate who were ready to buy his practice.
I resigned from my teaching job. Our house sold at just the right time. We sold most of our furniture, our vehicles, his boat, and lawn tractor. We went through everything we had accumulated through 31 years of marriage and gave away, sold, stored, or discarded each item. A gigantic task.
Our children supported us100%. Steve's mom was another matter. She had been a widow since 1997 and had come to depend on Steve because he was the son who lived closer. She also had to have open-heart surgery during the months we were preparing to leave. Steve's brother and numerous church friends were on board with giving her the attention she needed, but it was still a huge emotional hurdle for all of us. God kept urging us forward.
We were officially appointed as missionaries in September, we left for 6 weeks of training in Richmond, Virginia in October, we came home to celebrate Christmas with our family, then we landed in Ecuador on December 27, 2002. Here is a link to the story that appeared in The Alabama Baptist newspaper right after our appointment service.
Ecuador is a beautiful country filled with gracious people who accepted us (and our strange Alabama accents and ways) with open arms. Imagine a country the size of Colorado with a coastline on the Pacific Ocean, the Andes Mountains running down the center, and rainforests and jungle regions on both sides of the mountains. The actual equator (from which the country derives its name) is in the north near Quito. We lived for 2 1/2 years in the 3rd largest city of Cuenca, and another year and a half in Quito, the capital. Here is a scene in the city square of Cuenca near the end of the hours-long Christmas Eve parade we attended in 2003.
We both started language classes the week after we arrived. Until then, we relied on the Spanish I had learned in high school and college and the goodwill (and great translating ability) of fellow missionaries. Steve arrived knowing 2 words of Spanish -- "taco" and "gracias." Unfortunately, tacos are rarely eaten in Ecuador, so he depended on his smile and "gracias" until he could gain more knowledge. I've never seen a man work so hard on anything. A year and a half later, he preached an entire sermon in Spanish. Just one of many miracles we witnessed during our time in Ecuador.
With the help of a wonderful Ecuadorian Christian young man named Juan Miguel who spoke great English and was a willing translator, Steve was able to start almost immediately providing help to Quichua farmers in such areas as increasing milk production with their cows and fattening up their guinea pigs.
Those guinea pigs are grown in the mountains as a delicacy served on special occasions AND to invited guests. As you might expect, we were ALWAYS the guests. !!! So, we can say with considerable authority that we have eaten guinea pigs fried, roasted, and in soups. And, no, they do NOT taste like chicken.
My jobs were different. I had to learn to navigate a grocery store with very strange products, cook meals at a high altitude (8300 ft. in Cuenca, 9000+ ft. in Quito), and pay the bills. Many errands were done by walking or taking a taxi. I didn't drive the whole time we were in Ecuador for 2 reasons: 1) All the mission-owned vehicles in the country were stick shift, which I never learned to drive, and 2) There is a practice there that if you're in an accident where someone is injured, everyone goes to jail until all the bribes are paid. !!!! So, Steve took the wheel and the risk. Another miracle is that he didn't have any accidents, and if you could have seen the roads and the driving conditions, you would understand just how big of a miracle that was.
I created our newsletter, recruited and organized volunteers from the States, taught many English classes (Quichua teenagers, neighbors, school children, employees of a travel agency, etc.), and did a LOT of hostessing. The idea, after all, was to build relationships in order to share the Gospel.
Here I am with my beloved Spanish teacher Rosana, who became a dear friend.
And here is an action shot where I'm using "The Hokey Pokey" to teach some English words to a group of Quichua children while Steve was teaching a Bible study to the adults in the next room.
I kept copious journals during those years, and selections from those journals became a book when we returned. Telling It On The Mountain: 52 Days in the Life of an Improbable Missionary was published in 2016 and is available on Amazon. Steve has also published a book that might interest you. His is about his 30 years of owning Pearson Animal Hospital, and it, too, is available on Amazon -- What a Way to Make a Living: Tales of a Small Town Veterinarian.
I could write for days about our 4 years in South America and all that God taught us during that time. Our marriage certainly gained another layer as we learned to navigate, survive, and (hopefully) thrive in another culture TOGETHER. We are SO GRATEFUL to have had the opportunity. But, as you can imagine, the toughest part was NOT eating guinea pigs, learning Spanish, or cooking at a high altitude. The toughest part was being away from our family. God was faithful, and He proved over and over that He could take better care of our loved ones than we could. But, as more grandchildren were added to our tribe, God gave us the green light to start making our way back home.
Remember, though, that we had sold our home, Steve's practice, furniture, and vehicles, and I had resigned from my teaching job. Now, at ages 56 and 58, we would essentially be starting over. Another God-sized task for sure.
Our marriage motto -- "But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you" -- was a huge promise we claimed, along with Proverbs 3:6 -- "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and He shall direct thy paths." If ever we needed to have our paths directed, it was now.
Next week in Part 4, you'll get a glimpse into how God must have laughed when He saw that Steve and I were falling in love. HE knew what different personalities we have and what challenges those quirks would create.
Then Part 5 will fill you in on the years from our return to the U.S. to the present.