The Great Adventure Story
In early April 2002, one morning’s devotion was based on the Scripture from Luke 14:25-35. The devotion was on discipleship, and the cost. “Being a follower of Jesus was not something one did because others were doing it. It was not something you took lightly, nor did halfheartedly. There was a personal cost and commitment involved. Being a follower of Jesus might mean giving up earthly things, but the blessings gained far outweigh them,” stated the author.
We talked over what that meant for us as individuals and a family, pondering what it would mean to give up everything to follow Jesus. The discussion revolved around living outside our comfort zones and “normal” life routines, giving up our possessions, our friends and family to follow Jesus and live for Him. You might guess that it was a very lively conversation, with the kids being 16, 11, 10, 7, 2, and 4-months old.
On April 22, 2002, Dave came home early from work. He had been laid off from his job as a small aircraft mechanic. We had known that the aircraft business had taken a bad turn since the 9-11 terrorist attacks; we were hopeful that it wouldn’t trickle down to his level, but it did. This sent us to our knees, searching for guidance and wisdom for the future.
Dave’s dad was also in the depths of fighting for his life with melanoma cancer. He was in the hospital now more than at home. He left us for his eternal home on June 2nd, 2002.
We tried to look at these trials as opportunities, with the Lord working in and around us. We wanted to join Him at this work in our lives and constantly prayed for His leading. Dave was receiving unemployment benefits and had gotten a few side jobs, but nothing permanent in the aircraft field. The economy and industry needed to recover.
For the fun of it, we had spent some time looking at travel trailers and motor homes. We dreamed, researched, and explored the possibilities of an on the road ministry for our family. We didn’t have all the answers to our many questions, but still felt God’s leading in this direction. Our prayers and those of our faithful friends and pastors continued. We sought out many counselors as we looked to the future.
In August, we decided to test the home market and put out a “For Sale” sign. Our whole family started going through belongings; sorting through boxes, cupboards, drawers, and closets. We had a few garage sales, and donated a lot of things to other homeschooling families and friends, churches, and charities.
Around this same time, we became aware of an organization (Laborers for Christ) that provided laborers to help build churches and various additions and remodeling projects around the country. This ministry has typically catered to the retired age group, but Dave didn’t see that as a hindrance to finding out more information. Dave called the recruiter and discussed this ministry opportunity with him. Although this was not a guaranteed full time ministry/work situation, we felt that it was an answer to our prayers. Dave explained that we were a homeschooling family that desired to serve the Lord through missions and service first-hand. The recruiter stated that shouldn’t be a problem. After filling out applications, both Dave and Kris were accepted to be on their roster in September of 2002. Thus, we started calling this “The Great Adventure”.
Now with vigor and purpose, the plans started falling in place. Our home sold in September. We bought a 33-foot travel trailer and fifteen-passenger van and made all the necessary plans to encompass our new life of ministry on the road.
We left Minnesota on November 22nd, heading out to California for our first building project. We were saddened to leave family and friends behind, but eager with anticipation for the life ahead. Arriving in Brentwood, on a rainy December 15th, we parked the trailer. Little did we know that this particular building project had some unique circumstances. The building committee had worked for several years getting the necessary building permits and fulfilling needed requirements for the city’s strict codes. One of the exceptional requirements was no children under the age of 18 years were allowed on this particular construction site.
Now, with six children ranging from 16 to almost a year old, this posed quite a problem! Earlier in the fall when talking with the recruiter, the inclusion of our children wasn’t a problem, but Dave didn’t specifically communicate that our children were with us to the project manager in California when we accepted the call to go there.
There was an option available, but it didn’t meet the mission-oriented goal for the family. Dave and Kris went to the Lord in prayer. While praying and discussing the options, a rainbow appeared: the sign of the promises of God. We saw this as a merciful sign from the Lord of His presence and promise, and moved forward with leaving the project. As we tearfully drove off the building site, we knew nothing of the future or what the Lord had in store, but we were willing to trust and not despair. Our best-laid plans sometimes don’t come to fruition, but God’s plans always do.The plan was to have the whole family actively involved in witness and ministry.
Our family crossed the California-Arizona border early January 2003. There were no available building projects to work at through Laborers for Christ. We had found a building site in Utah through Workamper.com that used mobile laborers, but we weren’t needed until March. They, too, were having troubles with building permits and the slowed process because of rain. A fuel stop in Blythe, AZ found us looking at the map; where should we go? While sitting on the over-pass for I-10 and trying to decide whether to go north or east, the family saw another rainbow in the sky. This was a comforting reassurance that God was with us and His promises still stand. We decided to trust the sign of the promise and head toward the rainbow in the northerly direction.
We found an affordable campground near Parker, AZ, and made that our home for the next four months, as we waited for the project in Utah to start. That building project never materialized for our family. Because of medical issues with our oldest daughter and the newest blessing of our seventh pregnancy, we felt it best to head back to Minnesota. We had made some friends in the campground, but none so special as that with an elderly man, named Mal. (Read our Mal story below!)
The end of April 2003 found us back in Minnesota. David was searching for employment and our daughter was getting necessary medical help, as we lived in our travel trailer at a campground in Ham Lake, MN. We did get a call from Laborers of Christ while at the campground in Ham Lake. They needed laborers to work at a building project up in Hermantown, MN. It was very comforting for us to know that there were building projects available that accepted a family desiring to do mission work. With the nearing birth of our baby, and the continuing medical needs for our oldest, we couldn’t accept the call.
Our seventh child was born the last day of August, and we welcomed him to our family and camper home. Dave eventually procured a job at Seaplane Services in Lino Lakes, MN, in October 2003, working on small aircraft once again. We found a house with acreage on the outskirts of Braham, MN, in February 2004, to call home.
That is why we have chosen the name “Great Adventure” for our family’s ministry. Because it has been a great adventure walking with the Lord, trusting in Him. The years of 2002-2004 have changed our lives. We have learned so much and have grown in our faith while learning to trust in the Lord for every day. This story just scratches the surface of our family of eight, then nine, living in a 33-foot travel trailer for almost a year and a half, including a Minnesota winter! Maybe someday we’ll get that down in writing, but until then the “Great Adventure” continues on today. God bless you with joy in the journey!
The Story of Our Friend Mal
This is the amazing story of our friend Malvin Chandler. You will see God’s hand clearly as He settled a lonely man in family. (Psalm 68:6) Mal passed away on November 16th, 2014, but as long as there is a Garms Family, the story of Mal will be told.
DURING OUR GREAT ADVENTURE, God led our family to an elderly man who was staying at a campground in Arizona. Arriving in Parker, AZ, we had gotten our rig settled and were planning to take a drive around the area. Sitting down for lunch on our first day, we noticed an elderly man sitting all alone outside of his travel trailer, staring at us. Kris suddenly had the urge to invite him to lunch. He declined lunch but came over and joined our family at the picnic table. As we ate tuna sandwiches, the man ate a cookie and told us many stories. Malvin, Mal for short (“not Mel…Mal,” he informed us), instantly became our friend during our four-month stay in Parker. The kids fished with him, visited him, and when they, with their short attention spans, got tried of hearing Mal’s stories, Dad would sit for hours, patiently listening. When Mal chose to return to Nevada for the summer, we said goodbye, sadly knowing it would probably be the last time we would see him, as we had to return to Minnesota. He was 78 years old.
Mal and our family kept in touch through letters over the next two years, and we often wondered how we could make it happen to see him again. We had even invited him to come and visit us. Of course, being in his late 70’s, and eventually early 80’s, Mal declined.
But one day…
David and Kris received a letter from Mal and didn’t show it to any of the children. Mal expressed interest in coming to Minnesota.
Then life changed…
After church one April Sunday in 2005, our family had been enjoying a good lunch of tuna sandwiches (not that we live on tuna, it just looks like it!) and were making plans of going to a park later. We have a large sliding glass door in our kitchen, where Kris happened to be looking outside at the beautiful sunny, spring day. An old blue GMC pickup pulled up alongside our driveway. The truck and its trailer looked familiar. Suddenly, Kris erupted in squeals and tears of delight, “It’s him! He made it! He came!” Then the rest of the family realized: it was Mal from Arizona!
In the mysterious letter, Mal said he was coming to “visit us” for “two weeks.” He had asked David and Kris to not tell the children about his trip from Nevada to Minnesota, just in case something happened to him along the way. It was a complete surprise, and the family knew their lives would never be the same.
That “two week visit” turned into a stay for the rest of Mal’s life. He lived in his travel trailer on our land with just electricity — no water or sewer — until it became clear that he couldn’t live out in the trailer any more. He lived his entire life as a bachelor and, for various reasons, had no connection with his extended family, so we became his family. In 2007, we built a 26′ x 26′ addition onto the front of our house which we call “Mal’s Room”. He lived in our home with us. We took care of washing his clothes and bedding, daily cleaning, helping him shop, taking him to the doctor, etc.
In winter of 2012, Mal had several falls and because of increasing health issues and the need for 24-hour care, we moved him to an assisted-living home a few miles from our home. We visited him often and missed his daily presence in our home, but were thankful for the opportunity to have him so close to us.
Doctors discovered a football-sized tumor on his left kidney in May of 2013, and removed both the tumor and kidney in an intensive procedure. They told us that they got all the cancer, but they did not tell us that was Stage III or schedule any follow-up appointments. Little did we know that over a year later Mal would be diagnosed with a reoccurrence of the cancer.
On September 23rd, 2014, he decided to go on hospice, as the cancer was well advanced, invading his lungs, abdomen, bones, and brain. Our family was thrust into the valley of the shadow of death, and we walked a sad journey with our dear friend.
Mal died the morning of November 16th, 2014 as our family slept restlessly in our RV, hours away on a concert tour. We had been stranded in Nebraska that week, hoping we could get home to see him again, but not realizing he was so close to his final departure. We had carried on with our concerts, knowing Mal had told us emphatically to “keep doing what you’re doing; I don’t want you standing around my bedside.”
We were able to view Mal’s body on November 17th, and what a peaceful opportunity it was to cry, laugh, share memories, pray, sing, and say goodbye. (You may read his obituary here.)
We greatly desired to be with Mal as he died, to continue ministering to him. Yet we know what God ordains is always good. And, we have come to believe that Mal wanted to be alone when he died. He told the staff as the end was drawing near, “I don’t want the kids to see me like this.” We never received a firm confirmation of where Mal stood with the Lord, but we do know he is in God’s hands, like he has always been. Mal smiled a lot, we were told, during his last hours alive on earth, looking off somewhere beyond his room. We know God knew our friend’s heart, and that He is both merciful and just.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. We would do it over again in a heartbeat. Was it difficult at times to put up with an independent, crusty Merchant Marine? For sure. But the joy of knowing him as a friend, seeing his face beam with love at the sight of the children and cats, and the softening that occurred in his life over the years far outweighs the fractious times. What an honor to be part of an incredible story in which God brought to life Psalm 68:6: “God sets the lonely in families”. We miss him a lot, but say often when we think of him, “Thank You, Lord, for Mal.”