Missionary to Cairns, Australia
My husband and I knew even while we were dating that we were headed to the mission field. Both of us had opportunities to travel to Australia while in college with the Bob Jones University mission team and certainly felt a tug to go back there one day. In 2002, we had opportunity to once again travel on the team as a married couple. We had just finished our Masters degrees and Steven was planning on returning for another three years of school for his MDIV and then we would start deputation. So I was excited about going to Australia in a few years time. When we came to Australia that summer of 2002, the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Steve Gibb, asked us to pray about and consider coming back to help at the church. And we replied that we would love to after Steven finishes some more schooling and we go on deputation. Steve replied by saying that he meant he wanted us to come now and not in a few years. I got panicky at that point – yes, it was exciting but all of a sudden this was looming much closer on the horizon. We said we would pray about it and pursue it until the doors closed. We went back to the States and literally every door flew wide open and we were back in Cairns, Australia within one year.
I remember before we moved asking a lot of missionary wives if they struggled with homesickness and it seemed as though none of them did. I was already struggling with thinking of leaving family and thought there must be something wrong with me. It was during that time through some missions conferences that I heard some missionary wives be very transparent and tell of some of the struggles and hardships that they faced. I was so encouraged to finally meet some ladies who were willing to be honest and share some of the trials that were specific to them as missionary wives. I realized that my struggles were not uncommon and that God would give the grace and strength for me to follow His will.
It was certainly a difficult time leaving the security and comforts of life in the States but even more so I struggled with leaving my family. Both of our parents were very supportive of our decision and knew this was what God had for us, but it didn’t make saying goodbye any easier. And I certainly did struggle for a long time with homesickness. But I finally came to the realization that it was okay for me to miss my family and friends as long as I was content with where God had me right then and not wishing for something different. I was certainly thankful when I thought of missionaries years ago who left home with no thought of ever seeing their friends and family again. Now we have all the modern conveniences of cheap phone calls, Skype, internet, being only 30 hours away by plane.
Thankfully we did not have the added pressure of learning a new language in Australia. However, there were many cultural adjustments we did have to make. I remember the first time I went to the grocery store just wanting to sit down and cry because everything seemed to have a different name and I couldn’t find all the things I was familiar with. Around Thanksgiving time I went in search of canned pumpkin and it was nowhere to be found. I asked a clerk and she looked at me as though I came from a different planet. Another time I went in search of Cool Whip which again was nowhere to be found. America is an extremely affluent society and although Australia is by no means a third world country, it can still be a struggle to find the things you need without searching a million stores. After being used to going to Wal-Mart and getting everything I needed it was quite a change. Those all seem like seemingly insignificant inconveniences but when piled on top of each other it was a struggle I had to face to learn how to cook in a different way.
We also quickly realized that Americans do not always have the highest reputation when you’re in another country. Most Australians think of Americans as loud, obnoxious, pushy, arrogant people. So that was a hurdle we had to overcome even within the church. It took time to break down barriers and make new relationships with people. Even after living here for five years as soon as we open our mouths to a new person the first question is, “Where are you from?” I also struggled with people thinking everything I did was because I was American and not just because of who I was as an individual. From the way I baked cookies to decorating my Christmas tree to holding a baby shower was all very “American”.
As a pastor’s wife there was also the struggle with loneliness. Steven was the one out having the adventures with ministry and I was at home with the kids. It was difficult making new friendships without ladies always looking at me as the pastor’s wife. But the Lord certainly has blessed as I have learned to be open and transparent with the ladies here and have been able to make some wonderful friendships.
We also had some great trials with the birth of our children. We found out three days before leaving the States for Australia that we were expecting our first baby. We were blessed abundantly by being able to get on the public health system here in Australia as soon as we moved here. Gregory arrived seven weeks early and was in the hospital for the first four weeks of his life and had to have major surgery when he was nine months old. Now, all those things would be a struggle for anyone but we faced the added struggle of being away from family during such a difficult time. I continued to learn of God’s faithfulness and grace in my life. But there were more hard times to come. Our second baby, Emily, arrived ten weeks early weighing only 2 pounds 11 ounces, and in the first week of her life we were told that she would probably not survive and if she did she would probably never lead a normal life. She was born without most of her right lung. After nine weeks in the NICU she was able to come home. She was home for a few weeks before she had some very serious instances of stopping breathing. After many hospital visits and consults with doctors, we ended up in the ICU in Brisbane. We stayed in the Ronald McDonald house for two months in a city where we basically knew no one and were far away not just from our family but also from our church family in Cairns. Emily was on a ventilator all this time and was gradually getting worse. There were many times when we thought we would not be bringing her home with us. After six weeks she had heart surgery and was gradually weaned off the ventilator and, all thanks to the Lord, she has been fine ever since. That, of course, is a very condensed and abbreviated version of some of the hardest times we have ever had to face. There were times when the trials and burdens were so heavy that it was a struggle even to pray. How grateful we were to know that there were people all over the world upholding us in prayer. Emily is three years old now and only has to go for a yearly checkup to her doctors. It was during that time that the Lord helped me to learn of His sovereign goodness – He not only is in control but I can trust that He is a very good God. And through that time, the Lord helped us to be drawn closer to our church family – they saw us go through a trial and were able to see how we handled that and we were able to be shown such tremendous love and care by them that it really knit our hearts together. For the first time, I really felt like Cairns was home. The Lord was very gracious in allowing me to carry our third child nearly to full term and what a joy it was to bring Caitlyn home from the hospital two days after her birth. So in the five years we have been year, there has been a combined total of over 22 weeks in the hospital, seven surgeries, numerous special medical flights, and everything that goes along with all of that and have not had to pay anything for all of that because of the social health care system. While the health system certainly has its downsides, we are so thankful for the Lord putting us in a place to provide for us both physically and financially.The Lord has shown me that even in the midst of a storm I can have peace and joy knowing that He is in control of every situation. He is good and gracious and it’s important for me to judge my circumstances by His character and not look at my circumstances and judge God through them.