Today I want to encourage you with a look into the life of Abbie Oehrig Sawyer, wife of Luke Sawyer. Their family has been working in the Dominican Republic via the Fellowship of Christian Athletes well before the terrible hurricanes this season.
Due to the hurricanes, this interview is slightly incomplete, as some clarifying questions were left unanswered. I felt there was urgency in completing this article though, as Abbie and Luke are working with others right now to bring hope and supplies to people in Nagua, on the northern side of the DR. Scroll to the bottom for more information in how to support them.
Ministry in the Mundane
What you have to learn from Abbie is that no one is born a leader, a servant, or a cross-cultural worker. No one is perfect either. No matter how “glamorous” the full time work, everyone struggles with sin and adjustments. And sometimes, it’s in the mundane of the every day where God prepares us for work that is coming.
Abbie is what you would call an MK or a TCK (third culture kid), as she was oldest of five children to parents who served on the field cross-culturally in Latin America for twenty-one years. She was born in Guatemala and raised in Ecuador, later moving to the US when she was 15. High school would be a dark time for her and she doesn’t believe she was truly a Christian before then. She said the “sinner’s prayer” when she was young, but due to fear and anxiety she would re-pray just to be sure. At 18 while attending a Bible college in Colorado, she fully committed her life to what the Lord desired of her.
When she met her husband Luke in college at Anderson University, they set their sights on overseas work.
“Our love for people coming to know the Gospel, working alongside the poor, baseball, our love of culture and Latin America, all make up to what led us to pursue overseas ministry,” Abbie explained.
“The DR has been a wonderful place for Luke to use his gifts in discipleship, leadership development, and community development. We have always said that we aren’t called to one specific place; we are called to make Jesus famous wherever we are.”
Though Luke’s role is obviously hands-on, Abbie is a full-time stay at home mom. She serves by hosting and gathering people around her table for food and conversation.
Perhaps you might believe because she grew up on the field that it’s easy for her to slip back into life in a similar context. She thought that too. But she soon discovered it was harder than she expected.
“The last two years have been full of growing pains and growth for sure. I came to the mission field, feeling like I had a grasp on this life and language having lived it for much of my childhood. I assumed my children would adapt quickly and I would find my place in ministry easily and move mountains!”
Instead, she was taken aback to find that she felt and feels like a “fish out of water.”
What’s been hardest for her is witnessing her oldest son struggle with the changes, from the heat to the culture. Even though he is so little, he even remembers many details about his friends and home in the US.
“It broke my heart,” Abbie stated sadly.
“Luke and I still struggle with how to help him adapt and feel at home and safe. This brought me to my knees in a way I never would have experience living stateside.”
Full time moms everywhere can relate to her struggles.
“I’ve wrestled with feelings of inadequacy and anger, I’ve looked to heaven and ask the Lord what I am doing here?! I am not working with the locals like I expected!”
With her expectations literally thrown to the side, she had to step out of her own views on life overseas and reconsider what the Lord had for her to do in the DR.
“Moving overseas has made me really sit and contemplate the purpose of motherhood, teaching and discipleship. I’m learning that at least in this season, my ministry is more inward, homeschooling my boys, inviting families, friends and strangers to share meals in my home, opening my door to house anyone who needs a place to sleep,” she explained.
“Instead of moving mountains I am learning so much about daily scooping dirt, planting little seeds and daily sharing the gospel with two little boys who don’t know Jesus. I am learning that bringing a friend, family or a stranger in for dinner and coffee, offering clean sheets and a place to rest is my act of worship. No, I don’t have Joanna Gaines eye for design, sometimes it rains for days and I can hardly offer a dry towel, and sometimes dinner is simple because the power goes out half way through. But I trust the Lord is using me in these little, sometimes mundane ways to bring glory to His name and share His heart with others,” she explained.
Even in this she’s stretched though.
“Sometimes I’m tired or feel peopled out. Sometimes I get concerned about the bank account and how we will afford the food. But I really desire to love others in this way and be a restful place for all to come!”
Luke will come in and tell her he has invited someone over to dinner. Instead of throwing a fit or making a rule that there must be advance notice, she serves, even when she thinks they have nothing to eat.
“It adds more excitement and planning in our grocery budget and sometimes, when an unexpected group of six come, I have to run out and we go over the budget! I remind myself, ‘Ok, Lord you brought them to us you will provide!'” She explained.
“People come with different stories, sometimes good, sometimes hard, sometimes with the gift of encouragement; the visits leave me feeling refreshed and thankful as I wash dishes once they’ve left.”
Hurricanes, Parenting, and the Church
And her heart of worship in hospitality has definitely prepared their family for this time of crisis after both Irma and Maria, as she is ministering to her boys while also helping buy supplies. As they deliver supplies, Luke has said the Word is being preached. Praise his name!
No doubt their home will experience several waves of visitors as the DR heals from the destruction, as one team is there right now helping work on a house for one of the FCA staff.
This morning she wrote to me, “I fed 25 people yesterday and will do it again today! So thankful for help from a friend and a sweet woman who works for us acouple days a week!”
Concerning the hurricane, this is such great news for them to have this opportunity to be the physical hands of Jesus because Abbie explained, “The saying, ‘the church is the answer for a broken and dying world”, has become so much more of a reality to me over my two years here.”
“Here in the Dominican, churches lack theological education and doctrinally sound teaching. It infiltrates every part of the culture. The skewed ideas and lack of intentionality are wreaking havoc on the family. Without a solid base these “churches” just become platforms for leaders to control their congregations by taking the word of God out of context,” she said.
One area she sees this poignantly is in parenting, as it is full of abuse and thoughtlessness in the DR.
“I find it crucial that my actions and words are grace-filled, patient and kind. I am more aware of people watching how I handle different situations.”
She was quick to say that she isn’t perfect all of the time in this, and so she practices forgiveness and acknowledging her own sin, as she points to the one who is so much bigger than her own representation of the high-calling of parenting.
“As I look around and see this cycle of fatherlessness and broken hurting men trying to raise these little boys, it pushes me to walk around with urgency! God has given me two sons and with that the responsibility to raise real men who can impact the next generation,” Abbie added.
“We are in desperate needs of strong godly leaders worldwide! Who can step in and speak truth in love, who can lead families, who can love their wives and children, and who can stay committed to that one family!”
Praying against Anxiety
Along with praying that Abbie and Luke and those working alongside of them can get the needed supplies and preach the word, one special area of prayer for Abbie is in anxiety.
In our interview she mentioned that this is a current struggle for her, and with the destruction of the hurricanes and the uncertainty the future might hold, this is a very practical prayer for her specifically.
She has been working on really casting her fears and thoughts to the Lord. “It’s so easy for me to start diving into an anxiety cycle and before I know it, I’ve been up for nights on end. I’m exhausted stressing more, complaining about everything, yelling at my husband and kids, trying to control everything and everyone… Yikes… It opens a huge can of worms.”
She has been practicing to stop and pray in the moment, asking him to take whatever worry and have him care for it because she can’t. At times she has to go back to that prayer many, many times throughout a few hours, but she recognizes her need to experience freedom.
“I’m learning to differentiate between things inside my control, and things outside of my control. So many times I find myself worried and up at 3 AM over something that I can’t do ANYTHING about, especially at 3 AM right? And other times I am worrying or weepy over something I CAN change but I instead of working towards a resolution or action plan to change things I just stress and complain about it.”
Please keep Abbie and her family in your prayers as they minister and love. If you would like to help this imperfect lady love other imperfect people in the DR, please contact her husband Luke at firstname.lastname@example.org. or go to their ministry donation page.
You can keep up to date about what they’re doing in the DR by checking out their blog here.
If you’d like to let them know you’re praying for them, feel free to scroll down past related posts to comment below.
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Photos: All rights remain with Abbie and Luke Sawyer.