HESSTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) – When it came time to discern what mattered more to their family life — having worldly security or forging global relationships — Mark and DeeDee Landes agreed on one thing: They had a window of opportunity to make a move while their kids were young.
With each new risk-taking discussion and prayer about quitting their jobs at Hesston (Kansas) College and moving with their three elementary-age children to serve as Mennonite mission workers in another country, the window opened wider. And wider. And wider.
Until finally, by mid-summer 2018, they decided to let go of their secure life in small-town Kansas and accepted a year-long service assignment with Mennonite Mission Network — to begin June 21 — in La Mesa, Colombia. It's where they will support the English-language, sports, youth ministries, and other programs in the local school, Colegio Americano Menno. And they will join the Mennonite church in outreach ministries, building relationships, and supporting ministries.
"We have always planned to be intentional about exposing our children to cultures outside of what they would experience in small-town USA," said 42-year-old Mark during a chapel held May 29 with Newton staff members. They gave them a send-off with orientation, prayers and blessings.
"We knew we couldn't wait too long, or the window of opportunity would close," he said. "Our oldest child [Kason] will be in fifth grade. In five to 10 years, he and our other children [Taylor and Kellen] will begin upper-grade involvements, and it would become much more challenging to pull this off."
By summer of last year, they began discussing this decision with their children and prepping them for the journey that lay ahead. By October, they announced their resignations — he as vice president of finance, and she as volleyball coach. "We resigned without pursuing the possibility of our jobs being held for us," he said. "We didn't want to have one foot here in the States and another foot in Colombia. We wanted to be all in."
And as a trial run during spring break this March, they took a mission trip with their congregation, Whitestone Mennonite Church, to help build a church in Brownsville, Texas.
"In one minute after we got there, the kids were gone — off exploring and relating to other people they had not known before and making friends," said 37-year-old DeeDee. "It was at that moment we knew we were taking the right risk at the right time."
Linda Shelly, director of Latin America for Mission Network, said the placement is a good one for a family in a first assignment in Latin America since there are many ways to serve while learning the local language and culture. Their children are welcome in the school where teachers value students hearing English spoken by children for whom it is their first language. The whole family will become part of the school, church, and broader community in a way that is mutually beneficial.
"In this era, the Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia (IMCOL – Colombia Mennonite Church) recognizes it has a lot to give as well as a lot to receive," Shelly said in an interview following chapel. "What makes this kind of placement work so well is that Mark and DeeDee are excited about the ways they can serve and also recognize the ways they will receive."
The couple heartily agrees with Shelly and believe the relationships they will gain will far outweigh the risks they will take.
"I love how my heart has opened up for another whole place in the world," DeeDee said. "I know we will fall in love with the people, whose hearts I believe will open up to us, as well. And I don't think our hearts will ever close again."
The spirit of change and adventure is something that fits them, Mark and DeeDee said, because their personalities have always been geared that way. Mission and service were also part of their upbringing. For example, DeeDee's parents, Dave and Peggy Martin, were both raised by mission worker parents, he in Uruguay and she in Puerto Rico. Mark's parents, Barb and Jerry Landes, participated in voluntary service in the United States.
Both sets of parents also chose service-oriented careers — their dads were teachers and their mothers were nurses. Mark grew up in West Liberty, Ohio, where his family belonged to Bethel Mennonite Church. DeeDee grew up in Cheraw, Colorado, where her family belonged to East Holbrook Mennonite Church.
At Goshen (Indiana) College, where she earned her nursing degree, DeeDee's experience with SST (study-service term) in Dominican Republic instilled in her the value of remaining open to God's leading. "We used a phrase all the time in SST — 'we are to be like water and to flow where the stream takes us.'"
DeeDee said she would have been open to mission work soon after they were married in 2006. But she didn't push the idea onto Mark, whose vision for their joint journey wasn't the same then. "Ten years ago, I started praying that either my desire for mission would be taken away, or that our hearts would line up," she said.
In January 2018, God answered that prayer by lining up their hearts. Mark said he knew that if he even as much as broached the topic, commitment would follow.
"She told me, 'Mark, if you are not really serious about this, then let's just agree to stop talking about this right now,'" he said. "We kept talking, the window has opened, and we're ready to go."