MDE relies on a thriving volunteer network. Business and ministry mentors come alongside our members and bring their experience, expertise, and hearts—a lifetime of faithfully serving the Lord and making disciples—into every interaction.
Patricia is one of our mentors, and this is her story.
An Early Call to Missions
At twelve years old, Patricia became a Christian, and at 17 rededicated her life to the Lord. She enjoyed reading stories of missionaries and martyrs, people who had given their lives to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. As a teenager, she studied Spanish, preparing for a work in a Latin American country.
“I felt like God was calling me into missions—although that never worked out the way I thought it would,” Patricia said.
Following God’s Leading
Patricia attended Western Carolina University and earned two degrees: A BS in Home Economics with a concentration in Community Services, and a BA in Spanish. The idea was so novel that the university at first wouldn’t allow it. But eventually, they came around. She graduated and then continued a master’s degree in nutrition while working for the Agricultural Extension Service through N. C. State University, supporting local farmers’ wives by teaching them topics in Home Economics.
She hadn’t yet gone to the mission field to use her language training. But God was about to bring the mission field to her.
It became known that Patricia knew Spanish, and soon, she was called upon to translate for migrant workers. The farmers’ wives shared their concerns for migrant workers who struggled to adapt their diet to American products. Seeing the need, Patricia began teaching migrant workers during their two-hour lunch break. Her classes included survival English and how to shop and prepare food in an unfamiliar place. She found a knack—and a passion—for teaching.
“I loved nutrition … I felt like the Lord was calling me to do all those things,” Patricia said.
She earned a Ph.D. in Nutrition, and began teaching, first at Appalachian State University and then James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Patricia still had yet to leave the country.
Patricia started teaching at Appalachian State University in Boone but the majority of her career was the twenty-seven years she spent as a professor at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
“My sister was in the Peace Corps in Guatemala and I went to see her,” Patricia said. “It confirmed my love for Latin American people.”
It was her first trip out of the country; it would not be her last.
At JMU, Patricia overheard a fellow professor say she would like to take students on a “mission trip.” With interest piqued, Patricia pursued the idea and together they wrote a grant for a new course, International Health and Nutrition Studies in Honduras.
As a professor, Patricia felt like she had a mission field among her students. She intentionally invited students into her home and taught Bible studies. The annual Honduras class provided many “mission trip” opportunities, which exposed students to primitive conditions and the health and spiritual perspectives of another culture in a different country. The trip included visits to Catholic and Protestant churches, and a discussion on how religious beliefs impact a person’s life. When personal or spiritual discussions arose, Patricia and her colleague were careful to conduct them on personal time, avoiding any professional ramifications.
The course thrived for about twelve years. When Patricia’s colleague became a full-time missionary, it opened up other opportunities for her to participate in ministry to AIDS orphans in Africa.
Investing in Others
Patricia met Marcus O’Malley, the director of MDE’s Disciple Making Employee division. He came to her church as a successful young man selling everything to serve in South Africa for a year. Patricia’s family hosted him before his departure and again when he returned. Once Marcus began to work with MDE, he invited Patricia to volunteer as a mentor. He knew her heart for missions, love for God’s Word, and faithful investment in others.
Currently, Patricia mentors two women through MDE. One of them supports her husband who leads an adventure tourism business. Patricia’s nutrition expertise quickly became applicable as she helped her make a few recipes from scratch using foods available in that community. Texts zip back and forth as the women relay prayer requests and answers.
“I see how God is moving in so many ways,” Patricia said. “For the business to be to the point it is, in the present location, the provision of the shop—It just couldn’t have happened unless it had been part of God’s plan.”
The other woman is a young mother of two who is expecting her third child. The family’s field arrival has been delayed—and challenging—but it will allow them to have their third child stateside. With this young mother, Patricia focuses on prayer and giving encouragement. And happily, Patricia is blessed by the relationship, too.
“I have been inspired by the way she is being intentional in finding people to befriend who are able to help her with language skills, and she in turn is being a good witness to them. I always enjoy hearing her updates.”
(By the way, mutual encouragement is a common theme we hear from our volunteers’ stories!)
Life On Mission
Patricia is a great example of someone who lives intentionally—on mission in the marketplace of her developing career. She has grown in wisdom through life experience and obedience to the Word of God. She is equipped to coach women in personal development and ministry planning, because she continues to be an intentional disciple of Christ.
It isn’t the kind of missionary work 17-year-old Patricia had pictured, but it is missions work just the same.
As often as God calls people to the marketplaces of unreached communities, he raises up Patricias who are uniquely equipped to walk alongside them. MDE is privileged to have a part in this good work.