|The Ethridge family - ignore Bella's eyes, she was being a goofball.|
But you need some background.
My husband, Scottie, and I live in Pennsylvania with our 3 daughters. Ashley is 11, Bella is 9 and Lexie is 7. A lot has happened in the last few months. Scottie had a great job with a local company and I was blessed to be a stay-at-home mom. Actually, I didn't stay home much. I volunteered at plenty of PTA events, led a Girl Scout troop, helped at church, etc. And I started working part-time at church last year. We owned a beautiful house in South Fayette - one of the top rated districts in the state. We had 2 dogs and a minivan and life was good. Life is still good, but its changing.
Last year, our friend, Dale, gave us the book "Draw the Circle" by Mark Batterson. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. But don't read it if you don't want something to be different in your prayer life. Mark challenges you to change the way you pray - to truly seek God's desires for your life. As we worked through a 40-day prayer challenge together, we both turned our lives over to God's purpose. We challenged God to take us where He would have us go. To be the leader in our marriage and family. To use us as His instruments. And He has spoken volumes to us since we opened our hearts and ears.
During the prayer challenge, Scottie heard God telling him that we should go to the Dominican Republic. Specifically, that we were to serve the people 40 miles west of Punta Cana. I like adventure and could always see myself in the mission field so I said, "sure!" We didn't know anyone in the DR and had never been there so we started looking into short-term mission trips. We found one that was set to go in March and signed up. But it got cancelled. And we questioned God, "Is this what you want us to do?" We felt Him tug on us again to go to the DR. So we found another trip and this one left in February. We registered and paid and quickly got our vaccinations. About 3 weeks before the trip, we had a conference call to finalize plans and go over some details of the trip. And Annie (the team leader) told us that we would be heading to Batey 106, just north of La Romana. Wanna find a map of the DR? You don't have to. It's 40 miles west of Punta Cana. Oh, God is so faithful! We were blessed with this confirmation and pushed ahead, not sure of exactly what God had in store for us. Scottie had a vision of us living there, but we weren't sure of when or how.
Our trip in February was life-changing. But I think most short-term trips are. Then you go back home and get back into the routine of life, holding onto that little piece of your heart that was changed. We didn't want that. We stayed a few extra days to see what it would be like to be there on our own - explore the culture, wander the streets, eat the food, listen to the people. And we felt such peace there. We felt God's presence the entire week we were there. I got to see people that lived a faith-filled life because there was no other option. The people in the bateys don't have many of their basic needs met on a daily basis. They're hungry. They're isolated. They're abandoned. But they're not. They're close to God and you see His face in their faces. You see His joy and peace and love. And you feel it, too. It radiates around them. And we both cried on the plane ride home. God was on that island and we wanted more of Him.
So we came home and started researching mission organizations, schools, cities, visas...how and when did God want us to go? Google became our best friend. Especially Google Translate. We read ex-pat blogs, looked at real estate, and tried to familiarize ourselves with the history of the country. And we booked another short-term trip for the beginning of June. And that wasn't an easy trip to make!
After filling out a number of applications with mission organizations, we found that our timeline didn't really match up with everyone else's. Most organizations have 2-3 year plans, meaning that you don't move until you've been trained and fully funded. We felt like God was saying we needed to be there in the fall of 2015. So we asked ourselves, "are we rushing this? are we getting ahead of God? are we really equipped for this?" and then we waited. Waiting for God isn't the most fun thing I've ever done. But He's never failed me. His timing is perfect and through the waiting, my faith has been built stronger.
You see, Scottie and I aren't patient people. We are doers. We are goers. We go on vacation. We don't sit on a beach or by a pool. We adventure, we explore, we learn. We go! And we go fast. After we got back from our trip in February, we took our girls on a mini adventure. Thursday afternoon we decided to take a trip to Chicago to pack food at a Feed My Starving Children site. So we packed our bags on Friday and left after the girls got out of school. 8 hour drive, quick stop at a hotel then onto packing food for starving kids. And we drove home Saturday afternoon. We've been known to make a day trip to Washington D.C. (about 4 hours from us) for Memorial Day. We just move fast. And I prayed that God was using that as a gift in us to get us to the Dominican Republic faster than others were saying was feasible.
Our trip in June was, again, fantastic. Back at home in the DR, we prayed for answers as we planned to meet with people and visit schools that we had researched. Our short-term trip ended on Thursday and God walked us through Friday. Through our research, we got connected to a couple of missionary families that live in San Pedro de Macoris and found an English-speaking private school where our girls might attend school, but they didn't have any available spots for our younger two girls. We still wanted to see the school so we arranged to meet with the principal on Friday morning.
After a tour of the school, we stood in the courtyard discussing our move to the DR and the principal asked if either of us were teachers. You see, she was trusting God to provide her a 6th grade English/Science/Math teacher. I qualified and if I taught, my girls would all be guaranteed spots at the school. Tuition-free. I prayed about it that night and God said that was my job. Every person we had spoken with about moving to the DR had told us to slow down. We thought we were supposed to be there at the end of August/beginning of September. If I was going to teach, I would need to be there by August 10th. Woah! It really felt like God was saying, "speed up! you're going and I'm going to make it possible!"
That same day, we met with some awesome missionaries that live in San Pedro. Jodi has the spiritual gift of hospitality and was ready to answer all of my mundane questions. And she put my mind at ease about the kids. She even showed me how she does her laundry. I feel so good knowing that someone has gone before me and survived. Mike loves baseball. In fact, that's what he does in the DR. His ministry is baseball. Have you met my husband? He loves baseball, too! What a huge blessing to have godly people set before us, happy to help us, and possibly for us to serve with. I'm praying for our future friendship. I'm praying that I can be a blessing to her in some way.
But we were "going rogue" as my friend, Annette, would say. No training. No language skills. No mission-centered organization to help us with support raising and relocating. We were flying blind. Until dinner. As we sat at dinner and marveled at the way God had provided for us that day, Scottie got an email from Praying Pelican Missions. They were interested in partnering with us to be their missionaries on the ground in the DR. And they have the training. They have a website and are a non-profit to help us with support raising. They'll even be able to partner us with other missionaries in the area.
I'm not surprised at God's faithfulness or His timing. I sometimes wish I knew what was coming but then, trusting Him is where the good part is. Stepping out in faith and believing that He is gonna be there to catch us. Not just saying it but doing it. That's hard. And all His promises are true.
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