Being Between People

As most of you know, during the past six months, Melissa and I sold our stuff, attended orientation for new Presbyterian mission co-workers, and began traveling, visiting churches and other groups, doing our sending interpretive assignment.  We left our home, our church and our old friends, setting out to share our work with individuals, groups and churches.  We’ve been working our tails off, raising support.  And we’ve been making lots of new friends.

One of our stops along the way was in Union Mills, North Carolina, during the last two weeks of January, where we attended a Second Language Acquisition course.


Our new friends and classmates at our Second Language Acquisition course

One topic we read about and discussed, was the assertion that missionaries are between people.  One of the assigned readings for our course was Am I Still Me?  Changing the Core Self to Fit a New Cultural Context, by Lois A. Dodds and Lawrence E. Dodds, who served over 20 years with Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics, before founding Heartstream Ministries, which serves the needs of missionaries and other cross-cultural workers, worldwide.  Looking back to their first day of linguistic training, the authors wrote, On our first day of linguistic training, Dr. Cal Rensch of SIL told us, “Starting today you will never fully belong to the people you are going to work with or belong fully to the people you are leaving.  You will be people between”.  During orientation, we also touched on this subject, although I’m not sure I understood the implications until we began living out of our suitcases for several months, staying in a different place every night at times.


Speaking to new friends at Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Winston Salem, NC


“Road Warrior Lunch” – Sy Hughes, new friend from PCUSA World Mission Fund Development


With longtime (not old) friend, Rev. Debbie Parsons, following our presentation at Leesburg Presbyterian Church


Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, following a meeting with our new friend, Rev. Rebecca Kirkpatrick, Associate Pastor for Mission


Our map of Presbyterian Theological Seminary


With our new friend, Jean Jules, a student at PTS


With PTS students and new friends, during our presentation there.


Nate Stucky, Farminary Director, and wife Janel


Enjoying a potluck dinner with students at PTS


We made new friends at The Valley Forge Presbyterian Church in King of Prussia, PA


With old friends, Rev. Francois and Cyndi Lacroix, and new friend, Margaret McCaughin Kjelgaard at Wallingford Presbyterian Church


With our new friend, Dr. Sally Smith, at First Presbyterian Church of Tyler

grace presbytery

With new friends, Rev. Jan DeVries, and Rev. Princeton Abaraoha, following our presentation at Grace Presbytery

We will rely on our many friendships, both old and new, as we grapple with our new identity and home.  We know it won’t be easy, but we’ve got each other, and we have you.  Please pray for us as we navigate these changes in our lives.

Lunch with a Friend

Yesterday, Melissa and I traveled to visit Renew World Outreach, to see how they are developing technology for use in the mission field, to share the Good News; in particular, I wanted to learn more about a piece of a equipment called LightStream (see the links below). Renew World Outreach is located in Social Circle, Georgia, east of Atlanta, off of IH 20. When I found Social Circle on the map, I realized it wasn’t far from where our good friend, Freddie Davis, lives.

In November, Melissa and I began traveling, visiting churches, individuals and other groups, sharing our call story as we work to gain support for our mission in Zambia. Those of you who have heard our call story will remember my call first began about seven years ago, when I contacted Rivers of the World (ROW) through their website, to inquire about short-term mission. Freddie is the person who replied to my inquiry. But there’s a little more to the story.

When that thought of participating in some sort of short-term international mission crossed my mind, our disabled son, Holden, had been gone for about three years and I was a mess, still grieving his death. Melissa and I had been told that over ninety percent of marriages, which have a severely disabled child end, in divorce, and and ours had suffered, too. The night when I thought about short-term international mission for the first time, I was sitting alone in an apartment, where I’d been living since Melissa and I separated. During that time, it was as if I was living in a monastery; when I wasn’t at work, I was either reading or praying.

When I look back, I know that two-month period, which was the most difficult time of my life, was also the best thing that ever happened to me. God was walking with me every step of the way, in my struggles. That night when I was sitting alone in the apartment, and I asked Melissa by email if she knew any organizations involved in short-term mission, she might have ignored me, or she might not have known of any. But she told me about “hearing a guy, Ben Mathes, on KLOVE” and went on to tell me about ROW. I might have stopped there, and never reached out to ROW, but I followed through, and was contacted by a woman named Freddie Davis, who told me I might like to go to Vietnam with her and a small mission team. And I did, several months after Melissa and I got back together, and after I had come to terms with the anxiety and grief that had been affecting me, and as a result, my family.


Freddie Davis

On the way back from our visit to Renew World Outreach yesterday, Melissa and I met Freddie for lunch at O’Charlies, in Conyers, Georgia, and we shared about our mission in Zambia. And then, with tears in my eyes, I told Freddie how much her friendship meant to me, and how that initial contact with her, asking about going on a short-term mission somewhere, had led us to this point in our lives. I am amazed by the way God puts people in our lives just when we need them. And I’m thankful for friends like Freddie.

All good stories have a happy ending; here are a couple of photos from the following year, when Melissa and I traveled back to Vietnam, together, along with Freddie and some other friends.


From Left to Right:  Drew McIlvrey, Katie McIlvrey, Melissa, Charles, Freddie Davis, Jason Aldridge


Melissa and me at Ha Long Bay, before heading back home.


For more information about LightStream and other technology developed by Renew World Outreach, visit these links:

Our God Allows Mulligans

As Presbyterians, we trace our roots back to Scotland and John Knox. It is also interesting to note the game of golf also originated in Scotland, sometime during the Middle Ages. Now I’m not going to suggest that God is a Presbyterian, nor will I say that God is a golfer. But I can say, without reservations that the Bible is full of stories of God letting us take mulligans. For those of you not familiar with the term:

A mulligan is a second chance to perform an action, usually after the first chance went wrong through bad luck or a blunder. Its best-known meaning is in golf whereby a player is informally allowed to replay a stroke, even though this is against the formal rules of golf.

I know our God of grace and forgiveness has allowed me to take more than my share of mulligans.


It’s early morning on New Year’s Day, as I write this, sitting in a Nashville Starbucks, pondering new beginnings, fresh starts, and mulligans. Throughout my life, I’ve taken a number of them, but there is no doubt that the biggest and most important mulligan in my life occurred several years following our son’s death. Suffice it to say, I’d hit bottom and was at a point the only thing left was to throw myself completely at God, to take the biggest and most important mulligan of my life. And when I did, God was waiting with open arms, no questions asked, no conditions. I don’t play golf anymore, but when I did, after we finished, when we would tally up final scores, we would tend to make a mental note of the mulligans we’d taken, and more importantly, the mulligans the rest of the golfers in our foursome had taken. But I don’t think God keeps those mental notes like we do.

2 Corinthians 5: 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

It’s a new year, a time for new beginnings. Melissa and I celebrate our 35th anniversary tomorrow, what once was a new beginning for us. And we are in the midst of another new beginning as we begin our mission to Zambia. Maybe you’re thinking about taking a mulligan in your life; do it, it’s ok.


A number of years ago, Melissa and I were walking around our neighborhood one evening. I had just returned from my first trip to Vietnam, changed, and as we walked, we talked about my experiences there. As we walked and talked, I told her I could see myself working in full time mission. For me, that was the beginning of a journey that has us about to move to Zambia in March. As we discussed the pros and cons of such a move, and in particular, the sale of my business, so we might be able to take such a big step in our lives, I can remember telling Melissa, “I look forward to a time, when I can look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Some or all of my new supervisors with Presbyterian World Mission may be scratching heads, hearing that their new mission co-worker didn’t look forward to Christmas. Let me explain a little further. From July of 1994, until October 7, 2015, I owned and operated a company, Patty’s Herbs, Inc., which was located in Pearsall, Texas, south of San Antonio. We grew and distributed fresh-cut culinary herbs; our customers included food service companies such as Sysco, local produce distributors, restaurants and a large regional grocery chain, H. E. Butt Grocery Company (HEB). Our relationship with HEB spanned over thirty years, beginning before I joined the company.


As a supplier to such a large grocery chain, we saw a huge increase in sales leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas. While the sales revenue was a blessing, the stress associated with that time of year was extraordinary, and by the time each holiday arrived, I was exhausted. I can remember many a Thanksgiving where I ate lunch, and then went straight to bed to nap.  This year was the first time since 1994 that I didn’t have to deal with this yearly stress. Yes, our new grandson, Max, threw a wrench into Thanksgiving, when he was hospitalized with RSV, but we knew he was in good hands at Emory.

Next week we will celebrate Christmas with our children and grandchildren, and I will be able to focus on the coming of Christ. That day I hoped for during that evening walk with Melissa has finally arrived, and I will cherish it.


Melissa and I would like to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Lucy with the Christmas ornament she made for Mimi and me.  Mimi holds baby Max in the background.

May the peace of Christ be with you this Christmas season!

Charles & Melissa




Kindred Spirits

I grew up around farming in South Texas. My dad was a farmer, my uncles were farmers, and my grandfather was a farmer. If I wasn’t working on my dad’s farm, I was working on someone else’s. I grew up in a house that worried about drought, late frost, hail storms, bad crop prices, insect pest infestations, and bankers. And sadly, if things were good for farmers in our area, if often came at the expense of farmers in other regions, dealing with some or all of the things we worried about.

During mission co-worker orientation, Melissa and I were paid a visit by Reverend Paul McGlassen, Bob Tomey and Jim Exline, from First Presbyterian Church of Sullivan, Indiana. Their church began supporting Chasefu Model Farm in Zambia in the fall of 2014, just about the same time Melissa and I traveled to Louisville for our discernment interview, and they wanted to meet the new mission co-workers to Zambia, who would be working there. During their visit with us, they invited us to come to Sullivan and share about our work in Zambia.


First Presbyterian Church, Sullivan Indiana

This past weekend, we made that trip to Sullivan, a town not unlike Pearsall, where I was raised. First Presbyterian is not a big church; one of the members told us, “We’re small, but mighty!” No one had to convince us, we could see it and feel it. From the time we arrived on Friday, until we left for the airport in Indianapolis on Monday morning, we were shown nothing but hospitality and kindness. We participated in the life of the church and we made new friends.


Our friends, partners and supporters at First Presbyterian Church, Sullivan, Indiana

During our stay, our host, Bob, and I met a group of men (farmers) for breakfast at a local coffee shop. We toured the small Indiana town of Merom, which has a rich history. We climbed to the top of the Merom Conference Center, which was once Union Christian College, where we had a beautiful view, and I held on for dear life. We spoke during worship on Sunday morning and then later that day, we went to the church’s annual Christmas dinner, followed by the hanging of the greens. I felt like the Abominable Snowman, as kid after kid asked me to hang their ornaments up on the sanctuary Christmas tree, higher than they could reach. We were made to feel welcome and a part of their church.


Merom Conference Center, Merom, Indiana

As I reflect on our weekend in Sullivan, my opinion that farmers are kindred spirits was reinforced. Whether in Sullivan, Indiana, Pearsall, Texas, or Chasefu, Zambia, farmers know what it’s like to experience the issues I mentioned above. In talking with my new friends in Sullivan, I believe that’s what first drew them to their decision to support Chasefu Model Farm, and as we recently learned, to provide support for our mission work in Zambia. We are so thankful for that special connection we have now made with them.


Children decorating the Christmas Tree at First Presbyterian Church, Sullivan, Indiana

Melissa and I are on our way back to San Antonio, where we will spend the coming week making more visits, telling others about our work, before heading off to Atlanta next week. Please keep us in your prayers as we continue to share how God is at work in Zambia.

May the peace of Christ be with you.

Charles & Melissa