One of our major decisions for this year’s home ministry assignment (HMA) has been whether or not we should make a trip out to the western half of the USA. We don’t have a lot of ministry partners out West, but we do have some, and we very rarely get to visit with them in person. In fact, we’ve only traveled out West on one occasion which was 11 years ago in 2010.
Given our current HMA is the first one in which we’ve committed to coming to the USA for an entire year and not just a couple of months as in all of our prior HMAs, and considering our age is creeping into the mid-50s, it seems that if we’re ever going to make this trip and those visits, there won’t be a better time or opportunity than this HMA. So, with some extra funds still available to us in our work account for some of our travel expenses, we decided to give it a go.
I will share some photos of the trip in one or more future posts, but I will start with this post giving a rundown of the circuitous route we have ended up taking. BTW, we’re still on the trip, but now that we’re in west Texas in El Paso, the big loop out West is completed and we’re in the “final stretch” as we head back east starting this coming Monday.
Here we go!
On July 30 we left Manton, MI and headed south to visit with friends/ministry partners (in Xenia, OH, Pickens, SC, Dayton, TN, and Chattanooga, TN), to take Dayton to an MK Transitions Retreat (helping MKs understand the American culture and way of life since they’ve missed many of even some of the most basic experiences of growing up and living in the USA), and subsequently taking him to Longview, TX to begin his education and experience at LeTourneau University beginning there as a sophomore with 39 online credit hours already applied to his Computer Science degree requirements.
One other important reason for taking this trip has been to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We didn’t really get to celebrate our 25th anniversary due to that being the year I suffered a near fatal heart attack and was still recovering throughout that summer. Come to think of it, over these 17 years of ministry in Mexico, we’ve never really been able to celebrate our anniversary because we were either involved with summer work teams, traveling on a summer home ministry assignment, always had the boys with us, and just didn’t have time for more than maybe a quick meal out somewhere. So, with this being our first major trip without our boys and with some extra time on our side, we decided to be sure to take some days here and there along the route to enjoy the scenery and call it a celebration! Others may take a cruise or trip to Disney or whatever floats their boat, but this seems to fit us even though we aren’t what anyone would call “outdoorsy.”
From the Dallas area we headed north and stayed a couple nights with ministry partners in Kansas City, MO and then headed north to Minnesota where we met up with Kristin and her son Justin who had only been in the USA for about two months after years of efforts to return to the USA from San Juan del Río. Her husband Jason hopes to be able to join them in the next couple of years pending the legal process to make that happen. It was great to see her again and to see Justin adapt to life in the USA as a quiet young teenager.
We made our way to Grand Rapids, MN way up north and enjoyed visiting with ministry partners there who we haven’t seen since our last visit there in 2009. We enjoyed a couple of days with their family on a relatively secluded lake at their rustic cabin. The scenery was beautiful and we appreciated the opportunity to rest, relax, and enjoy conversation and laughter together. We also shared a ministry update in Grace Chapel there which is officially a partnering church with us.
From northern MN we pushed off and headed west, west, west. We enjoyed lunch with ministry partners who have retired to Fargo, ND and then kept pushing westward. Along the route, we were able to take a couple hours off from the road grind and make a quick pass through Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This made first use of our America the Beautiful National Parks Pass that cost us $80 and allows us unlimited free entries into national parks across the USA. So, we recouped $25 and were hoping we’d eventually make the $80 investment pay off before the year is over!
After our 2nd day of driving to the west, we were in Livingston, MT and were ready to dive down into Yellowstone National Park ($35 more recouped from our pass!) for a reminiscent tour of our 2010 visit with the boys. We stayed two nights a couple hours away in a relatively inexpensive Airbnb (if you don’t know this, it’s very expensive to stay near Yellowstone, so we ended up in Victor, ID on the back side of the Grand Tetons). We drove up and back out of the park and from Livingston, we headed west once again stopping for a couple nights with MK friends who grew up in our mission and knows Beth’s family very well. In fact, the husband was in 9th grade when he joined his parents and older brother by playing an instrument in our wedding! He is now the music pastor of a Bible church in Spokane Valley, WA.
From this musical interlude, we continued on to Goldendale, WA where we spent a night with a ministry partner who is one of Beth’s aunt. Sadly, her husband (a brother of Beth’s dad) had recently passed away from Covid (the second of her dad’s brothers to pass from Covid in the past few months). We shared a ministry update with her and her two sons and daughter and their families.
After our brief time in Goldendale, we passed by Multnomah Falls and enjoyed a brief visit with one of our former PCS students who just graduated this past May and is now attending a Bible college in Portland. It was great to see him and leave him with a little pizza money as we said goodbye. We remember what it’s like to be a poor college student, so we’re sure that was an appreciated gift.
We took a slight detour from Portland and traveled up to historic and scenic Astoria for night overlooking the Columbia River before heading south down US 101 and taking in the Oregon coastline. We added a couple of nights to our anniversary celebration near Newport and enjoyed the ocean air and the lighthouse and tidal pools at what is now a national recreation area (instead of a state park; this saved us $7 more toward our America the Beautiful pass price…we’re up to $67 saved so far!).
From Newport, we headed south to visit with ministry partners and co-workers in central California. I had planned on just following the coastal highway so we could drive through the Redwoods and enjoy the beauty of the drive, so we ended up needing two days to make it to Lodi, Tracy, and Delhi, California where we met with them all. In Delhi, we were able to spend two nights and enjoy visiting with all four kids that we had worked with for years as homeschooling MKs in Querétaro. It was so good to see them all again. All adults and three of them now married. You know you’re getting old when your former students have kids who are students!
At that point, the trip was pretty at the midpoint and at the end of all but one of our West-based ministry partners. We drove south around the mountains and east across the desert and stopped in for one more day of anniversary celebration with a quick drive through along the southern rim of the Grand Canyon (another $35 saved…we’re now up to $102 worth of park fees saved…we’re making money now! haha). Driving south from there we passed through a couple of beautiful national forests and arrived at Tucson, AZ where we have a ministry partner we haven’t seen in 20 years! Unfortunately, we had trouble connecting with her and despite our hopes that she would be home, we came up empty on the attempt to stop by on the fly. She lives within a few minutes of Saguaro National Park (another $25 saved!), so we drove through the park and were no worse for the wear as we were heading on to El Paso from there anyway, and we had a “day to burn” before needing to be in El Paso.
That’s the “short version” of the long trip. At this point, since arriving from Mexico to the USA and purchasing a car here in El Paso, we’ve passed through 27 states and racked up 13,000 miles of driving. We’ve seen many of our ministry partners and most of them are ones we rarely get to see, so that has been especially gratifying. We’ve celebrated our 30th anniversary, visited a couple days with our son Cameron and have been able to see Dayton start his university and USA experiences.
From here, we’ll be heading to stop by LeTourneau and check in on Dayton and encourage him with some homecooked meals while staying in a special apartment for missionaries to visit with their students there. We’ll be heading back to Dayton, TN where our alma mater will be having homecoming during the first weekend of October. We missed our 25 year homecomings, but this year is Beth’s 30th which may be nice for catching up with old friends. We’ll be sharing a ministry update with a partnering church there, Westminster PCA. We’ve also been invited to participate in a special meeting with those in missions ministry with the purpose of developing ideas for involving Bryan College students with ministry overseas.
From Dayton, TN, we’ll head north with a couple of visits in Indiana and maybe a chance to see Cameron on a weekend and then finally arriving back to Manton, MI a full 77 days after departing from there. Isn’t it great that we have a full year to rest and relax up here in the USA?! Well, this is the life we signed up for, so we’re content with what it takes to follow Jesus wherever he leads. There is certainly joy in the journey, and we’re grateful we’ve been able to have a safe and enjoyable trip. May the Lord see us safely back to Michigan and eventually back to Puebla, Mexico next year. Until then, there are many miles to go before we sleep…many miles to go.
Pics to come later! (I need a break from the screen for now.)