When Ron and Jennifer Belcher leave Plentywood, Montana, for Papua New Guinea in January, it will be the culmination of nearly nine years of work toward becoming full-time missionaries.
The couple worked with JAARS, a non-profit that provides support for organizations translating the Bible, and Wycliffe Bible Translators to see if there was a place they could serve together. It ended up that their skills, Ron has experience in mechanical logistics and Jennifer in health education, matched with what was needed in Papua New Guinea.
The idea thrilled them.
“Where we’re needed most is where we want to go,” Ron said.
They have both participated in missionary trips before, but it wasn’t just a matter of deciding and getting on a plane. Not only did they have to help raise money for the trip, but they also had to train to eliminate debt, so they could be focused entirely on the mission.
Ron served as a pastor for a church in Plentywood for several years during that time, but they’ve been other places, as well.
They spent time in Alaska, and when they came back in fall 2016, they prayed about what to do next.
“We prayed and we felt like God said, ‘See your stuff and buy a camper,’” Ron said.
They did just that and went to North Carolina, then spent the winter in Florida. They’re now back in Plentywood, and working with Wycliffe on preparations for their trip.
Wycliffe Is more than 70 years old and has the goal of translating the Bible into every language on earth. It also runs literacy programs and helps with physical and spiritual needs.
If things continue to go according to plan, they’ll leave in January for a 14-week trial in Papua New Guinea.
Preparations include raising money for the trip, but also spiritual development.
“They want missionaries who are spiritually hardy,” Jennifer said.
One of the threads running through the last few years has been making themselves more and more available, Ron said. They’ve sold or given away possessions and cut down on the things tying themselves to their current lives.
They don’t want to worry about having to carry the weight of possessions while they go through the final stages of preparation.
Another thing they’re doing is learning about the culture where they’ll be serving. That’s extremely important, Ron said, because they need to understand the people they’ll be serving.
As they’ve gone through the process, they’ve come up with advice for others who might be interested in missionary work.
“The first thing is to read your Bible and pray,” Ron said.
It’s also important for the couple to share what they’re doing with others, he said.
There are a lot of sacrifices to be made, but Jennifer said the couple have found inspiration in the biographies of other missionaries. One, Jim Elliot, died in Ecuador in the mid 1950s and wrote in his diary about his philosophy. One of his quotations has been a guiding principle for the Belchers.
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose,” Elliot wrote.
That has reminded the couple what the focus of all their effort and planning needs to be.
“It’s just all got to be for God,” Jennifer said.