Columbia | It was on a mission trip to Haiti that Sara Harriss saw and heard things that would change her family forever.
Harriss, then a high schooler, went to Haiti with an IBSA student mission team two years after a massive earthquake devastated the country. The team stayed at an orphanage in Port-au-Prince.
The plight of orphans wasn’t really on the family’s radar before the trip, said Sara’s mom, Marti. But Sara’s dad, Brian, went with her to Haiti that summer, and came back totally changed. A year later, the family participated in an orphan-hosting program through which they met two children from the Philippines. Nine months after that, they welcomed Lyza and Ezra into their family through adoption.
The Harriss family’s experience echoes that of many who engage in missions together: Getting serious about sharing the gospel often changes a family from the inside out, giving parents and their kids a fresh view of God’s work in the world—and their role in it.
Several years later, Marti’s family of nine is still involved in helping children in Haiti. She goes twice a year to help out at an orphan home they helped establish. Last summer, they went with a team from their church, First Baptist in Columbia, to hold a sports camp for the kids.
God has orchestrated her family’s journey to a mission they couldn’t have imagined, beginning with Sara’s first trip to Haiti, Marti said.
“It’s not a story we ever could have written on our own.”
Planting a legacy
Darian Rottmann’s family is also engaged in missions in Haiti, but their work is different from the Harriss family’s work with orphans. Last fall, the Metropolis-based salesman and his three children planted vanilla vines in the mountains of southern Haiti, working toward a dream of seeing vanilla production become a valuable industry in the impoverished country.
The Rottmans’ oldest daughter, Elizabeth, just graduated from high school. She went on her first mission trip to Haiti at age 11, and now, her dad said, “her heart is knit to that country.” As Darian Rottmann speaks, it’s apparent the same is true for him and the rest of his family. But it didn’t start out that way.
One year after the 2010 earthquake, Darian went to Haiti with a construction team from Union Baptist Association. It was a tough trip, he said, and he didn’t fall in love with the country that week. But his wife went that fall with a mission team from their church, First Baptist Metropolis, and the next year, returned with seventh grader Elizabeth.
“I really almost view it as God just building a love in the heart of our people for that country and those people,” Darian said.
FBC Metropolis sends teams to Haiti every year to help meet a variety of needs, including developing agricultural strategies to help families support themselves. After his family had been involved in Haiti for a while, Darian began to sense God connecting their work there with his vocation back in the U.S. He wasn’t sure how, but he sensed the work in Haiti would someday have something to do with vanilla.
After a lot of research and prayer, Darian eventually connected with a company growing cacao and vanilla in Haiti’s northern mountains. Last October, the Rottmanns played a part in planting the first vanilla vines in southern Haiti.
“To get to go as a dad with your kids and do something you know God has been leading for five years… it was a dream come true,” Darian said. “This was from the beginning what God was doing, and he’s just allowed us to be a part of it.”
The air they breathe
Cliff Easter acknowledges that being in involved at church and in missions is normal when you grow up in a pastor’s household. But the student minister at FBC Metropolis has tried to instill in his three daughters a true love for serving other people, and a natural drive to engage in God’s mission.
“I’ve tried to let them see me serving Jesus because it’s my joy, and not because it’s my job,” Easter said. “I’ve tried to make serving in our church family and serving Jesus be the water they were swimming in.”
Still, it was surprising when fellow staff members at the church recommended that his oldest daughter, Mackenzie, run the mid-week children’s program. “Wait a minute, she’s a kid,” Easter remembered thinking. Mackenzie has now been leading the children’s program for two years.
“My little girl is not a little girl anymore,” Easter said. “She’s an adult running one of our ministries.”
She’s not the only young person leading the way as the church engages its community and the world with the gospel. Easter has several examples of kids and teens who caught the vision for missions and led their families in that direction. In other cases, it was the parents who went first and then taught their kids.
“Over time, it has absolutely changed the culture in our church. Missions are a routine part of what we do.”
The risk in creating an environment where missions is as natural as breathing is that kids one day will run with it—and they could run far. Marti Harriss’ oldest daughter, Sara, went to Bible college in Spokane, Wash. That’s almost 2,000 miles from home, but the Harrisses are happy she’s there,
living the life God wants her to live.
Getting to that place as parents has taken time, Marti acknowledged. As they’ve grown in their own faith, they’ve learned to hold loosely to their children.
“When we’ve been able to give God the reins ourselves, he’s taken them and done so much more than we could have ever done in our own strength,” Marti said. “Seeing that has made us pray that and want that for our kids. We have every confidence now that even though it’s not the easy road, God’s road is the only one we desire to be on with our lives.”
Darian Rottman’s daughter, Elizabeth, wants to use her pharmacy education one day to serve other people. As his children grow up and continue to explore God’s call on their lives, there are two mindsets he hopes to pass on to them: First, ultimately, this is not our home. And second, wherever God calls them to be is the safest place on earth for them.
“If God has called them to go, then we can absolutely trust him,” he said. “Even when there are trials that come, the one thing we know is that in all that, God is still sovereign, and even in the trials and tribulations, he is still working.”