By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, MN “We realize it may look crazy to some. It did to us!” admitted Michelle Mattson, who, along with her husband and four children, recently moved from their cozy home in Dassel to live in one of the poorest countries in Central America.
“We were enjoying our lives in Minnesota,” Michelle commented. “We were happy, comfortable, and in control.”
Michelle and husband Spencer had grown up in the church and it was a big part of their lives.
They were already “living Christian.” They attended church, listened to Christian radio, did good deeds, and donated to worthy causes. As Michelle said, they were “fitting the Lord into the areas where it worked and was convenient.”
Then, she said “the Lord began asking for our whole hearts, our whole lives.”
The couple had been on short-term mission trips in the past Spencer to Mexico, Kenya, and most recently Nicaragua, which is also where Michelle went for the first time in 2012.
Before then, she never had a desire to go on a mission trip. “I was happy to stay home with our family when Spencer would go,” she said.
This time was different, however, in that she felt called to go. “The Lord made it clear he wanted me on this trip. I wasn’t sure why, but I knew I was supposed to go,” Michelle commented of her first trip to Nicaragua.
It ended up being an “amazing” experience for her, so much so that the following year, when their church was once again sending a team, the couple considered going together.
“This was a tough decision, because that meant leaving five children at home for two weeks,” Michelle said.
As the couple prayed to make the right decision, she said “something was happening in our hearts, but we did not know what it was.”
It was then that they began to feel a greater calling, much stronger than a few short-term mission trips could suffice.
“Honestly, I was scared,” Michelle admitted. “I knew deep in my heart the Lord had me on those two trips to open my eyes to what everyday, real missionaries serving with Students International looked like,” she said.
What they looked like were average individuals like themselves. They were moms, dads, families, and singles, all of whom “loved the Lord and were serving him wherever he called them,” she added.
Though they loved their Minnesota lifestyle, they felt greater things were calling them beyond the borders.
Spencer applied to Students International, a nondenominational, Christian ministry organization, in the fall of 2013, and from there they began the process of “wrapping our heads around what this (full-time mission) might look like.”
It would require them to quit their jobs, raise financial support, rent out their home, and leave their friends and family all of which was quite overwhelming, Michelle noted.
All the while, however, they had a sense of peace that they were going in the direction God was leading them.
Though the children were already being home-schooled, Spencer and Michelle needed to allow them to “process this huge change.” Their 18-year-old daughter, Emalie decided to stay back to continue her college classes.
The family proceeded with the plan and went on a “vision trip” in February 2014 to Nicaragua.
The following January, the family spent a month at Mission Training International in Colorado, where they learned about language acquisition, adapting to a new culture, how to interact with people in that new culture, and also how to care for themselves in a Third-World country.
The Mattson children also received special training geared specifically toward their needs.
When the preparation was complete, it was time to execute their plan. April 14, the family boarded a plane with 20 suitcases to what would become their new home for the next two years.
Ministering to the poor
During their time in Nicaragua, the Mattsons will work with Students International helping to improve the lives of the poor by teaching them lifelong skills and sharing their faith.
Specifically, Spencer will take on the role of administrator for Students International Nicaragua, which works with both long-term and short-term missionaries.
He will also be working throughout the seven ministry sites micro-finance, appropriate technology, agriculture, social work, medical, education, and boys club.
“We desire to see people come to a place where they put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and to improve their living conditions,” Spencer commented. “We do this through building relationships with them and by working through our ministry sites in the communities.”
Michelle will continue to home-school the children in addition to visiting and serving in the ministry sites alongside the other staff and mission teams.
Spencer explained that the goal of the agricultural ministry site, for example, is to provide modernized agricultural practices to help Nicaraguans not only become more self-sufficient, but also to produce a product they can sell for income.
Taking a leap of faith
For those who might be interested in taking a similar leap of faith and entering into long-term missions, Michelle recommends checking it out by first going on one or two short-term mission trips.
For the Mattsons, they didn’t realize those short-term mission trips would end up becoming a long-term commitment.
“God will show you,” she said.
When it comes to selecting a mission, Michelle said there are many mission organizations from which to choose. Local churches can also be a great resource, she noted.
As for funding a long-term mission trip, Michelle explained that Students International missionaries raise their own support, which funds the start-up costs and monthly living expenses with guidance from the organization.
Raising financial support, she said, was a very challenging process, “which ultimately builds your trust in the Lord.”
“It is not something we could do on our own,” she said. “Quitting a full-time job with a family of seven was a huge step of faith.”
But as the Mattsons also found out, this was also part of God’s plan.
“We’ve often heard, and now we are seeing, that once we let go of managing and controlling our lives down to every detail and dollar and give God the reins, that’s when He shows up,” Michelle commented.”
Those interested in supporting the Mattson family and joining their prayer and/or financial team, can visit www.stint.com, and look for their name under the Donate tab.
In their journey, the Mattsons have found a great amount of support and encouragement from their church and community, both financially and through prayers.
“We could not do this alone,” Michelle said. “Not all of us are called to go to another country . . . we are just doing what (God) has asked us to do and couldn’t do it without the rest of you.”