SO much has happened over the last few months! If you haven’t heard the news… we will be moving back to the States at the end of July / first of August… less than a month away. Sean will now be serving as the Regional Area Director for the Northeast Caribbean. His top priority will be continuing to develop the work here in Turks and Caicos but he will also help with the work in The Bahamas, US Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Bermuda. We are very excited about this opportunity but I know a lot of people have questions about this decision. So we would like to give a little bit of background information (personal and ministry related) about how this all came to be.
At the end of April we flew to Colorado Springs for a week-long missionary debriefing program. This is actually for missionaries returning from the field or in between assignments… we were supposed to attend this program last year but had to leave the first day because my (Mandi’s) grandmother passed away. CEF leadership felt the program would benefit us anyway even though it didn’t seem applicable to us anymore. Initially, we were frustrated with having to go but we are so grateful we ended up attending. Over the course of the week our eyes were opened to a lot the stress we were under and the effect discouragement had on us. We knew we were stressed, discouraged and burned out but we didn’t realize the extent of it until then.
You see, it’s been 4 years since we made the decision to move to St. Kitts & Nevis. Those 4 years have been amazing, life-changing and wonderful. But they have also been hard, discouraging, stressful and tiring. There is nothing abnormal about that… such is the life of missions! It’s a paradox… the same rewarding life of being a missionary can cause the greatest amount of stress. We learned that most all missionaries experience the same paradox. That’s why it is so important to take care of yourself and your family… spiritually, physically and emotionally. We learned that missionaries tend to push the line of “normal” out continuously until what is abnormal becomes normal everyday life and then wonder why we begin to have problems. Sean and I were blind to how far we pushed the normal line until we were forced to objectively look at it all in Colorado.
Our time in St. Kitts was awesome. We got to be part of a ministry overflowing with fruit. We made some of the best friends we will ever have. We were part of such an amazing community. We grew closer as a family, learned to live away from America and overall had an amazing time. We will NEVER be the same. We also lived with the constant reality of being robbed. Every time we left the house we knew everything could be gone when we returned. Every night we went to sleep knowing someone could break in. We all slept in the same room, not only to save on electricity, but for safety… we had 2 deadbolt locks on our bedroom door. We hid everything of value every time we left and every night before bed. Several of our friends were robbed, our first mission team was robbed across the street from our house, our upstairs neighbors were robbed, someone tried to break into our home, we kept nothing of value in our van and left the doors unlocked so they wouldn’t break a window (and it was regularly searched) and there was daily life of constant heat, a high cost of living, frequent power outages, centipedes, large spiders and being homesick. The “normal line” was pushed pretty far. But it’s that paradox again… we would do it all over because it was such an awesome experience!
In fact, we WANTED to do it all over again so we made the decision to move to Turks and Caicos (after seeking the Lord’s direction of course). So we left St. Kitts when our time there was over and went back to America for our furlough… but it wasn’t much of a furlough. I was 18 weeks pregnant and our time was spent traveling, meeting with people, raising support and having a baby. During the 7 months after St. Kitts we traveled to Turks and Caicos, Orlando, Spanish Fort Alabama, Montgomery Alabama, Houston (area) Texas, Colorado Springs, back to Houston, Seattle, Portland, Denver, Dallas, back to Houston, Spanish Fort, Indianapolis, Warrenton Missouri, Knoxville Tennessee, Montgomery, Spanish Fort, then moved into a missionary house back in Montgomery, gave birth 6 weeks later and 6 weeks after that moved into a missionary house in Spanish Fort for 3 weeks. Sean moved to Turks & Caicos, I left the missionary house and stayed with his family for 2 weeks and then we followed him to TCI. Oh, and when I was about 36 weeks pregnant Sean flew to North Carolina to speak at the CEF International Conference.
And that felt normal to us… the line kept getting pushed.
Turks and Caicos has been vastly different than St. Kitts. Life here is so much easier. Crime exists but it’s nowhere near as bad. The infrastructure is better, the power hardly ever goes out, the grocery stores are nicer, we can get more things on the island and it’s about an hour plane ride from Miami. It’s very “western”. That being said, we have faced much more discouragement here than in St. Kitts. The ministry has so much potential. Efforts have been made to get things started here since 2011. All everyone thought (including us) was that we just needed someone on the ground. Once a missionary was placed here things would take off as it has in every other target country in the Caribbean. The more western culture may offer us a familiar lifestyle but it comes with western apathy. One of our friends, a leader in the church we attend here, compared Turks and Caicos to a beautiful apple tree that bears no apples. When we talk to people about the ministry they are genuinely excited to be part of it but it has been difficult getting them to put feet to their words. What little development we had when moving here has slowly unraveled over the last year. It is difficult to work so hard and see so little fruit. There is so much potential here and we can see God moving but it will not be so easily done as it has been in the rest of the Caribbean.
At the same time we were facing discouragement with the ministry we were also experiencing stress within our family. We were so grateful to have Riley-Grace but she wasn’t an easy baby. She didn’t start sleeping through the night until she was 10 months old. We were sleep deprived for most of our time here…. which really got to us after a while. Maddy was having her own issues too. She had very few friends and never really got to play with kids because she was homeschooled… nobody really homeschools here. She was struggling socially. So we placed her in a private school and that came with it’s own challenges. She had to go by a different name, she had some problems with other kids at her school, struggled with her handwriting and we were realizing she might have ADHD. She wanted to go to school but often came home sad. (While in the States her doctor confirmed she probably does have ADD or ADHD and he has also recommended she have occupational therapy for her fine motor skills.) I (Mandi) was struggling myself to make close friends that I could be with on a regular basis. I would often go weeks without speaking to an adult other than Sean except for the “Hey how are you doing? Good to see you” at church. It is much hotter here, our house regularly reaches almost 100 during the day for most of the year. Riley-Grace does not like the heat and often crawls (and now walks) around crying. I’m not trying to complain, so please don’t take it that way… I simply want to let you know where we were at when left for Colorado Springs in April.
We knew we were struggling. We just didn’t realize how much.
And the guilt……..
The guilt weighed heavily on us. “Why were we having such a hard time? It’s Turks and Caicos for crying out loud! It’s the #1 island in the WORLD. Why are we miserable? Why can’t we make it here? What’s wrong with us? Other missionaries deal with far worse”. On the rare chance we voiced some of our struggles to people back home we risked being told “You live in paradise!” “I’ll gladly trade places with you!” We felt like such failures.
And this was still all normal for us.
But God is SO GOOD.
Aside from our personal struggles, we knew something needed to change with the ministry. Whatever we were doing wasn’t working. At the same time, our regional director was making plans to create new positions for people to oversee a group of islands. Now that all of the Caribbean islands have been reached there is a huge need to make sure these infant works continue to grow… and he couldn’t do it by himself. So after speaking to our leadership about our personal struggles and the struggles with the ministry we took a step back to see what God was doing. We had our plan for how things were going to go in Turks and Caicos… and God has His. It became clear to us that it would be better for our family to be back in the States and for Sean to travel to Turks and Caicos regularly. We have a heart for the Caribbean and felt no peace about walking away. This new role Sean will be serving in gives us the opportunity to continue working in Turks and Caicos, continue developing the work in the Caribbean but doing it while we live in the States taking care of our family.
We are sure the Lord wanted us to go to Turks and Caicos… he made that clear. And yet, we are sure He has made it clear that we are to move now. We have learned so much through this. None of us knew the challenges of doing ministry in Turks and Caicos until we moved here. We can now re-think things and hopefully get on board with God’s plans for this country. For our family, we will return to the States placing a much higher priority on REST. We were taught a lesson in humility… the work in Montgomery and St. Kitts are both very successful. This is really the first time we have experienced this level of discouragement and lack of growth. We also believe that we may not have been as willing to move or be open to different ways of developing the ministry here if God hadn’t allowed us to struggle.
Through all of the changes, our vision and our work in the Caribbean have not changed. Turks and Caicos will continue to be our top priority.
We are still faith-supported missionaries. We still seek to work ourselves out of a job by training local people to take over the ministry. Even in Sean’s new role this vision remains… eventually he will be replaced by someone from the Caribbean!
This wasn’t an easy decision and we know transitioning back to the States will have its challenges too. So we appreciate your prayers for us during this time. You all have been so encouraging to us through this and we are more thankful than we could possibly express!