An amazing view
An amazing view Mark Bemenderfer

We're Moving...

O me of little faith! I thought our days on the field were over.

I was worn out. Rachel's bouts of depression. Our little Weihai foreign fellowship was fading so we were losing our on-site support and encouragement. Except for a few notable exceptions, the Chinese I'd been working with were at a standstill, unwilling to grow anymore because of what it would cost. And every open door of ministry there was being shut in our faces.

What was left? God intended for the Levites to carry out their temple duties only till they were 50, then allow others to take over, stepping in just to fill in here and there, perhaps to oversee or train. Was God ready for me to step back and allow others to do the work?

How could I prepare others to go? Pastoring seemed like an option; I had grown to enjoy preaching while in Weihai. We could disciple families with what we had learned over the years, and perhaps produce a new crop of missionaries. Was that where God was leading us? Or maybe directly into missionary training, to use our experience to prepare others for the field? I started looking for mission pastor jobs, preaching positions, or university mission training positions.

I received several "thanks but we're pursuing someone else" letters, when out of the blue came an email from a "theraputic boarding school" in the Dominican Republic, the Carribean Mountain Academy. "Yeah, right! What do we know about working with troubled kids?" I thought.

Except, we had just spent our last six months in Weihai serving an international boarding school, where our hearts broke over the destruction wrought in the lives of kids raised by modern Chinese families. One 12-year-old bully was going to be expelled for a month and sent home. In hope that we could disciple and change him, we pleaded with the school to release him to us instead. Surprisingly, they and his family agreed! When we left, James was in a much better place, having trusted in Christ and grown much. We were able to leave him in Lily's care when we left.

What do you know? Sarah, at the school in the Domincan Republic, pursued us hard, convinced we'd be perfect for what they needed. But what about Rachel's depressions? "We regularly have students who struggle with depression, some are even on medication," she said. "That's what we do!" Hmm, maybe that would be a safe place for us, if we really went back to the field....

So they urged us to come and see. For the price of one ticket to China, Rachel and I could both fly from Cedar Rapids to the Dominican Republic--and back! If nothing else, we could call it our 25th anniversary getaway! Yeah, sure!

Rachel was sold before we ever took off. In all of our conversations with leadership, there seemed to be no roadblocks. So I went with an eye to find red flags or at least yellow warning lights. The location was gorgeous. Less developed than what we were used to in China. Well, maybe not the early years. It was a "going back to the beginning" of sorts, to those early years when life in China was still an adventure.

And what would you know, but they were operating by the same principles we were "guessing" at when we took James into our home. What we had "stumbled on," they took as "best practices." They have professional counselors, but they also provide mentors to coach and build close relationships with the kids, to help them process real life.

Discipleship! Life on life, not just meeting for coffee (or coke?), but actually doing as much life together as possible. That's a core lesson and principle of all our ministry in China!

Some of the teens are not believers, so there's even room for evanglism. And as part of their "curriculum" the students go out into the community together on various service projects, helping local evangelical churches with construction projects, building houses for needy families (directed by local churches), fixing up local school properties, improving roads for the benefit of local communities. The school has a great reputation in the region! One buiding on campus is dedicated to mission teams from US churches, which (before COVID) come and go all summer long and several times throughout the rest of the year.

I went down there looking for reasons why we couldn't or shouldn't go, but the more we talked with the leadership, the more impressed we were. And we began to see the needs and how we could fit in, and better yet, join a community of fellow laborers.

The role they've asked me to consider is officially Staff Support Coordinator. Casually, it's staff shepherd. It's member care. One of my main functions would be to care for the staff who are caring for needy, troubled teens. I'd even get to preach, and keep doing discipleship. The other main duty would be to mentor new staff through the transition to missionary life in the Dominican Republic. All US staff at Caribbean Mountain Academy raise their own support. Unlike us, most have never done that. So we would be coaching new staff through the support-raising process on through to arrival and adjustment to life in a foreign country. Missionary training...!

We saw no "red flags." Only opportunity. When we left China, I thought we were done with the mission field, except perhaps from a distance. But God saw someplace where all our tried-and-true ministry skills and experiences could be used to help new and younger missionaries, and budding skills in shepherding and preaching could be further developed.

We can still grow, and we can also bring our experience to serve other missionaries. And we can be part of a team, rather than "go it alone," as has been the case so much of our missionary career.

Our hearts are drawn. We want to join them. And we have already begun the process.

We are inexpressibly grateful for the 27+ years that you have stood with us, prayed for us, given to us, partnered with us in the ministry God set before us. God has closed one door, and we are convinced He is now opening this new door for us to walk through. It may seem like a radical departure from what we've been doing all these years, but to us, it is more like a braiding together of so many different strands of ministry He's had us do. And the next level in our own growth.

We'd like to invite you to continue your journey with us in this new adventure. In the weeks to come, we'll send out another letter under the Crosswinds/Caribbean Mountain Academy banner. In that letter, we'll detail how you can move your giving from TEL to Crosswinds/CMA (Caribbean Mountain Academy), if you are willing to continue supporting us. This is a big new chapter of our lives. We understand that it is likewise a new chapter for you, and the Lord may not lead you to "transition" with us. We trust that no matter what, you will continue praying for us.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us by email or phone. We can still be reached at 469-362-9709 or 940-300-3536, and our current cell phone numbers are 253-317-8506 (me) and 319-423-5225 (Rachel).

We love you and are so grateful for your steadfast care!