It occurred to me during the seemingly interminable drive home from North Carolina, that some of my valued readers may not be sure what The Master’s Mission is, or why we went there. Maybe it’s a good time for a reminder.
The story of our relationship with The Master’s Mission actually starts, in a way, in 1975, because that’s the year I started going to Rift Valley Academy in Kenya. There was girl named Bobbi Teasdale there, in the class below mine. I never got to know her well, which was a big pity, because as it turns out I think we would have been good friends. Her older brother Jim had just graduated, and stayed on to help coach the rugby team. I never so much as spoke to him, but I heard he was tough as nails and made the team run five miles every day—before practice!
Fast forward to 1982. I was a newlywed, in my senior year of college. I went to see the school nurse about my allergies. The school nurse was also the wife of the missionary in residence, and had spent over 20 years serving in West Africa. By that time we were already becoming friends. As we chatted about this and that, and about my husband’s and my hope to become full-time missionaries, she brightened up and rummaged around through some papers before producing a little brochure.
“You and Walter would love this place,” she said. “It’s just starting up, but it sounds like the kind of thing that would be perfect for you. You should check it out.”
She handed me the brochure and I saw it was about Mission Ready, a new training program being developed for remote-area missionaries. The couple heading it up were Paul and Betty Lou Teasdale. I wondered if they were related to Bobbi, or to her cousin Bill, who had also been at school with me and currently attended the same college as me.
The training center was in North Carolina, though, and we were penniless, so I just saved the brochure after showing it to my husband.
Later that year we moved to Atlanta, Georgia, at my in-laws’ insistence, and after a very tough year there we took our first real vacation as a couple in late summer 1983. As we planned our frugal camping trip in North Carolina, I thought about Mission Ready. It wasn’t too far from where we’d be camping, and I thought maybe we could stop by for a visit.
I dug out the brochure, took a deep breath, and called the phone number. Betty Lou Teasdale answered. I asked her if she was related to Bobbi, and it turns out that she and Paul were Bobbi’s parents. Soon we had arranged to visit for a couple of days at the end of our camping trip.
What an amazing visit that was. Paul and Betty Lou’s vision really captured our interest. We slept under the stairs in their cabin and the next day we helped Paul clear and burn brush in what would someday be the lake bed. Paul was still recovering from a horrific sawmill accident but he still put us to shame with his hard work.
The next year, we went back again, camping at the same place and then visiting Mission Ready. By then, they had the “shop” built, with storage and workspace on the ground floor, a big kitchen/dining area and classrooms on the second floor, and a couple of motel-type guest rooms with a separate entrance too. We stayed in one of the new guest rooms and again helped with whatever needed doing.
Shortly after that, we moved back to Texas and Walter went back to work for the university. We thought about Mission Ready often, and about all they still needed to do to get the place up and functioning. Roads needed to be built and improved, the dam needed to be finished, cabins had to be built for the trainees, and so forth.
Walter came up with a brilliant idea: what if he got a bunch of college students together and took them up to Mission Ready for spring break? They could get a lot of work done! We had already got Paul and Betty Lou invited to the college’s annual missions conference in January, so there was at least some exposure to the mission here.
Walter started trying to generate interest in the idea during the fall of 1986. By spring break he had a good group of students together. The mission said they’d feed and house the kids for free in exchange for work, so the only expense was gas money. They took the college bus and I think only had to pay about $50 each for gas. They got a lot of work done, and the kids ate it up. There was even enough money left over to reimburse the mission for food.
I didn’t get to go that year, because Lina was just a baby, but I did go the next year when Lina was a toddler. We had a bus full of enthusiastic college kids, a faculty couple, and a woman from church. The faculty couple were none other than Dan and Nonie Larsen, who were so captivated by the work the mission was doing that they left the university and became full time staff at the mission. One of the students who went in those first couple of years later went through the program and became a missionary. He and his wife are now on staff.
Over the years, as Walter continued to lead groups to the mission for spring break, a couple of things happened. Mission Ready became The Master’s Mission and we had to learn to use the new name! They also became a sending organization as well as a training center. Eventually, Paul and Betty Lou sort of retired and passed leadership on to their sons Jim and Dan.
When we were preparing to head to Africa as missionaries ourselves in the early 90s, we had a difficult choice to make. The Master’s Mission really wanted us to go Kenya with them. We had already begun the process of applying to another mission, the one my parents had been with. After our service on the field ended so traumatically, it was hard not to wonder if we had made the wrong choice. We love The Master’s Mission so much. Even during our brief 18 months in Zambia, we could see how valuable their practical training would be for so many missionaries, especially the ones who don’t have a mission field background.
Another thing that happened was that Walter’s idea of using spring break for something useful caught on. The university began organizing spring break mission trips to Mexico and other places. Eventually, to our great dismay, the university took control of all the trips, including the ones to The Master’s Mission, which meant that it was no longer the ultimate budget option. Everyone, regardless of destination, had to raise hundreds of dollars if they wanted to go. Suddenly it was no longer possible for us to go as a family.
The only “good” thing about this change was that Walter was sometimes able to go as a staff sponsor, which meant he got paid time off without taking vacation days.
One year, we even had a family reunion at the mission during the summer. I think it’s the only time we’ve been there when it was warm enough to swim in the lake!
Eight years ago, we went as a family at the same time as the university group, but not as part of it. Although we worked alongside them every day, we found that we were shunned because we had circumvented the system. That’s one reason why we didn’t attempt it again until this year, although Walter continued to go with the students when he was able.
This year things went a little better in that the students seemed more willing to accept our presence and we enjoyed getting to know some of them. It was the biggest trip in years–16 students! The Mission has grown and there are many more buildings than in the old days. The program is still world class. In addition to practical skills, the trainees get an hour and a half of Bible classes every day. I’m envious of everyone who gets to go through that program!
As I started to think about writing this history of our relationship with The Master’s Mission, I was hit by an overwhelming realization. I mentioned that our time on the field ended traumatically after only eighteen months. Our dream of being missionaries was crushed. Our hope of raising our kids on the mission field in Africa was dashed to pieces. It is a hard, hard thing to have your life’s dream taken away from you.
At the time, everyone told us, “God has a purpose for this. One day it will be obvious to you why He let this happen.” “God allowed this because He had something better for you.”
We could not see it. Year after year, we looked back on the suffering we had endured, and we saw no purpose in it, no beneficial outcome. We were stuck here in Texas, doing what had to be done to raise our family, but it was not the life we wanted. Our only outlet for “ministry,” we thought, was our monthly chai parties for MKs and international students. It has been especially hard on my husband.
As I began to organize my thoughts for this essay, though, I found myself brought to tears as I saw the hand of God has been at work after all. If we had not visited the mission in 1983 and been captivated by the work they planned to do, the students at this university would never have heard of The Master’s Mission, let alone established a tradition of sending a team there to work every year. The Larsens would never have spent so many fulfilling years on staff there. Hundreds of students would never have been exposed to missions and been challenged to be involved either directly or indirectly. So many lives have been changed!
In fact, in reality it is thousands of students who have been impacted over the decades, because it was Walter’s enthusiastic promotion of The Master’s Mission spring break trips that led to the university’s decision to embrace the idea and send large numbers of students out to various ministries for spring break every year.
True—we still would rather be in Africa. But I am astounded when I think that one man’s loyalty to an organization he really believed in could lead to so many changed lives over the years. I don’t know if that’s why God blocked our path back to the mission field, but it at least makes it easier to accept!