When we first hit the stage in 2008, we dubbed ourselves Great Adventure Gospel Band. Some people loved it. Others scratched their heads. After years of being mistaken for “The Great American Gospel Bank of America,” we switched to our family name in 2012. (Life’s been easier ever since.) But as odd as the name was, there is an amazing story behind it. In fact, two stories. They began right after September 11th, 2001, and those experiences shaped our lives like none other…
The Great AdventureA FAMILY'S JOURNEY OF FOLLOWING GOD WHEREVER HE LED
“…any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”
We talked about what that meant for us as individuals and a family, imagining what it meant 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. It was a very lively conversation, as the kids were 16, 11, 10, 7, 2, and 4-months old.
We tried to look at these trials as opportunities, with the Lord working in and around us.
For the fun of it, we 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 began to feel God’s leading in this direction. Our prayers and those of faithful friends and our pastors continued. We sought out much counsel as we looked to the future.
We said goodbye to Minnesota, eager for the adventure ahead.
Around this same time, we became aware of an organization, Laborers for Christ, that provided labor to build churches, various additions, and remodeling projects around the country. This ministry typically catered to the retired age group, but Dave didn’t see it as a hindrance. Although it was not a guaranteed full time ministry/work situation, we felt that Laborers for Christ was an answer to our prayers.Dave called the recruiter and discussed our family ministry opportunity.
As plans fell in place with vigor and purpose, we started calling it “The Great Adventure”. Our home sold in September. We bought a 33-foot travel trailer and 15-passenger van and made necessary adjustments to encompass our new life of ministry on the road.
We said goodbye to Minnesota on November 22nd, 2002, sad to leave family and friends behind, but eager for the life ahead.
With six children, ranging from 16 to almost a year old, this posed quite a problem! Earlier in the fall, the recruiter said the inclusion of our children wasn’t a problem. But Dave didn’t specifically tell the project manager in California that our children were with us when we accepted the call to go there.
David 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 not 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.
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)
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. That is why we chose the name “Great Adventure” for our family’s ministry. It has been a great adventure walking with the Lord and trusting in Him. The years of 2002-2004 changed our lives. We learned so much and grew in our faith while learning to trust in the Lord for every day. The “Great Adventure” continues on today. God bless you with joy in the journey!
God Sets the Lonely
THE INCREDIBLE STORY OF A MERCHANT MARINE—AND THE FAMILY WHO LOVED HIM
As long as there is a Garms family,
the story of Mal will be told.
During our Great Adventure, we stayed at a campground in Parker, Arizona. We settled our rig and planned to take a drive around the area the next day. We sat down for lunch on our first day and 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…
In the mysterious letter, Mal said he was coming to “visit us” for “two weeks.”
That “two week visit” turned into 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.
“God settles the lonely into families…”
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 it 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.”