I have been a ‘free thinker’ all of my life and have consistently been on the search for more Truth. My #vanlife began in 1979 when I left my home state of Michigan in a Ford 150 cargo van with a friend and our two German Shepherds. I ran out of money in Austin and fell in love with the Texas Hill Country. I was 25 years old when I began my Texas life.
I married a 4th generation Texan and we became deeply involved in a Texas charismatic Baptist church (which was quite the change for this Lutheran girl from the Detroit area). Beginning in 1983 we ‘knew’ we were supposed to go to Nicaragua to help the people, but we kept having babies…by 1993 we had seven children, ranging from 1 ½ to 12 years, all but one born at home. The dream to be missionaries never dimmed as I served in different capacities, especially in the prison ministry. Even though I was part of an organized church, I never changed from the Free Thinker that I was.
Becoming a missionary in our church meant to place ourselves under the authority of a missions committee and to raise the planned budget before we could leave. I deeply struggled with this. If we were going to a foreign land to serve God, would He not take care of us? Would He not provide all our needs, as the Bible says? Why did we need to treat this as a business with well-laid plans to execute? I believed we were to trust the Divine to meet our needs. We wanted to Live by Faith, not by man’s direction. This caused consternation with the leaders of our church. I would answer them, “If it is God who sends, it will be God who provides.”
This mindset got me in lots of trouble, as my stories will show…Please read on.
In 1993 we began to practice Living by Faith right there in our Texas hometown, asking only God to provide our needs as we mentally and spiritually prepared to move to Nicaragua with our seven children. We experienced amazing answers come to pass, over and over. Then I prayed this question: ‘it is not hard to live by faith when we belong to a large church and live right down the street from it, but can we do it in a foreign country?’ The answer I received? ‘Go to Oklahoma and find out.’
My husband had an exploratory trip to Nicaragua already planned so it was to be me, my 7 children and Buster, our black Labrador. I did not even hesitate, even though I truly only had $20 total and a very undependable van. Why hesitate? Did God not say?
One of the first hurdles was that I needed to get the approval of the Mission Committee. I felt very strongly that this was vital although I was not sure why but I would be glad later that I did this (when I was called back and greatly chastised). I met with each leader individually and every single one enthusiastically gave their blessing.
The next hurdle was a vehicle. No way could I in good conscience drive the van we owned. Praying, praying. A week before my husband left for Nicaragua, he surprised me with a different van, a1979 Dodge Maxi Van with only 30,000 miles on it (the dealer had mentioned that it had ‘set up’ for a lengthy amount of time). It even had front and rear A/C, which was great being it was summer in Texas.
Last hurdle was money. I had sensed that I would be leaving with $500, but I told no one, hoping I was totally wrong! But, yup, my husband was able to give me $500.
On June 25th, I and my children departed on our adventure. We had not gone but 100 miles and the van began to overheat. We were in heavy big city freeway traffic, passing through Dallas. I turned the a/c off and we opened all our windows. It was hot outside! Then it began to rain very hard. At that point, I noticed the car top carrier was loose! I pulled off under an overpass and climbed up and fastened it down. My thoughts? ‘This is going to be a very interesting trip.’
We made it to Oklahoma City but it was then that I realized big cities do not have many campgrounds and we did not have many dollars! There was a bright flashing billboard (it was getting dark) and the kids all began yelling, ‘McDonald’s, McDonald’s!’ And there we went, to the inside playground and shared cokes. I finally located a motel (by phone, no internet back then) that would rent us a room with three beds for $32. I really did not even think that it might not be in the best part of town. It was so late when we arrived that we all spread out and quickly fell asleep, planning on figuring out what we were supposed to do next in the morning.
When I woke and looked out the window, it was raining so hard that the streets were flooded, and cars stranded. I guess we were not going anywhere today! We brought in the camp stove and ice chest and turned on the cartoons. When the rain let up, I went for a walk and realized why the room was so cheap. We met some interesting characters those few days we were there! The management was so nice – they rented us the room for a week for 23$ a night. We were safe for now.
One morning I went for an early morning walk, trying to figure out what the heck I was doing. When I came back to the room our dog had disappeared. The kids had let him sit outside the room on the leash. He was gone. We split up and started looking, asking everyone if they had seen Buster. There were people who rented there by the week and had already met my kids so they were concerned and pretty soon, you could hear calls all over – Buster, Buster!. Finally, I sent the kids back to the room. They decided to pray while I kept hunting. A gentleman asked to speak to me. Turns out he was a private investigator (bounty hunter) who was also staying there, and he wanted to help. He suggested I go be with my upset children and let him see what he could do. It was not 20 minutes later and there was a knock on the door. Buster!!!! Turns out a drunk had taken our dog into his room but our new friend discovered it and brought him back!
It is interesting that when I remember back to that day, I most remember sitting on the steps with that PI after Buster was returned. I was able to encourage him, which was one reason we were on this trip. He was searching for Truth, for purpose, for peace, as most of us are. I shared how Freedom to do what I needed to do in my life had helped me find peace. He agreed that he also needed to follow his heart.
This story has many more adventures to share and I tell you, I do not exaggerate, every word is true. Post 2 is coming soon!!