To say that Gina is ordinary is certainly an understatement. She is most certainly not. Gina is an extraordinary woman who has a passion for God. And orphans.
I recently sat down with Gina to talk through a recent Good Goer mission trip that she had been on.
John: Gina, what led you to the point of wanting to go on a mission trip in the first place?
Gina: I guess, I am trying to think, I guess in general, I feel that I try to make the big decisions in my life based on Jesus saying, “To whom much is given, much is expected,” and I feel that I have been given much by … I have two wonderful parents and I also have come to know the Lord, and He has given me amazing peace and joy, and so for me, I am specifically interested in missions that focused on orphans.
I feel that I was really, really fortunate to grow up in a home with loving parents, and for many kids in our world, they don’t have any parents, much less loving parents, so I have always just been passionate, I guess, towards ministering to orphans. The reason I chose to do something, like you said, mission-based rather than Peace Corps-based, is because as I have come to know the Lord, I just realized the peace and the joy He has given me. I feel that truly, truly the best gift I can give anyone, would be how to have a relationship with Jesus and experience that peace and joy for themselves.
John: That’s awesome. Was there something in your life that drew you specifically to orphan care? What all of a sudden made your head, or your heart rather, move into this orphan care?
Gina: Through loving parents, I guess. I am just trying to think, I should have asked in advance what the questions were going to be. I honestly can’t really pinpoint a time as far as when I became interested in taking care of orphans. I feel that, most of my life I’ve always been for the underdog. I worked in adolescent group homes for a number of years in Wisconsin, and I worked with, some of the kids there were court-ordered to the group homes because of delinquencies and some of them were wards of the state. For whatever reason, foster care wasn’t working for them. Sometimes they were so damaged they couldn’t form a bond with the foster families; sometimes it was their own behaviors that drove some away, and I remember, in particular, one young lady.
She was having a real hard time. It was right around the holidays. Her behavior was outlandish, and I remember looking her in the eyes and saying, “What can I do to help you?” and she looked me back in the eyes and said, “You can’t do anything, all I want is a family,” and that broke my heart, and that led me in the road of foster care. Like I said, I just have always been driven, I am sorry, I can’t tell you specifically why I became interested in orphans. I read a lot of books, my heart beats for Africa, just through reading, I guess.
John: Gina, how long have you been doing foster care, or at least participated in it?
Gina: Since 2008.
John: 2008 and how many children have you had?
Gina: I have had two full-time foster daughters live with me and I've had 17 kids stay with me. The county I live in has what is called a Rough Bits program, where some of the kids need a place to stay for short-term, like usually a weekend. Sometimes it's like a Rough Bits for the foster home. The foster parents are going out of town or they are burned out, they need a break, and I’m a licensed foster home that children can come to, and other times, there's definite issues going on at home and the kids and the parents need a break from each other, and they come by me for Rough Bits. Some of the kids have just come one time or a couple of times just ... they live in a foster home and the foster parents needed a break.
Other kids will come every other weekend during a month or every other weekend for nine months due to strain at home. Another girl just started out living at home, then she moved into a foster home, and she came every once a month for three years. It's for a variety of needs and lengths of time. Like I said, two girls actually lived with me long-term.
John: Yes, and then you somehow discovered either Guatemala, or you discovered Good Goers.
Gina: Yes, I discovered Good Goers. I had gone just on an independent service trip to Kenya about a year ago, and my cousin had contacted me to see, she was going to have some time off from work this winter, and wondered if I wanted to go back to Kenya. As much as I would love to go back to Kenya, it wasn’t an option at the time. For me, it was time off from work and what not, with travel back and forth to Africa, and ... but I asked if she'd be interested in going somewhere else and she said she would, and I had remembered getting some information ... I'm an avid shopper of Family Christian in the stores…
John: [Laugh] We thank you for that!
Gina: No problem, and this summer they had asked me if I wanted to give one of the bears for the James Fund, and at that time, I just ... sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t, and I did it, and the associate was putting away papers and I was like, “Wait a minute, do I have to pay for the papers, too, or can I still get the papers?” and she said, “No, you can get the papers,” and I took the papers and it had information about Good Goers on it, and I just put them away.
When my cousin and I were looking for a destination for a trip, a mission/service trip, I pulled out the papers and looked up the destinations and Guatemala just seemed to fit. One of the priests at the parish where I grew up, he had done missions in Nicaragua, and it was always on my heart to go to Central America and my cousin felt the same way, so we signed up. I think there were three spots available when we signed up and we were thrilled to be selected right away and we went together to Guatemala and it was just fantastic. We loved it.
John: Did you say that you have been to Central America before or you had a heart for Central America?
Gina: I had a heart for Central America since I was in elementary school.
John: This is your first time in Guatemala; this is your first time in Central America. Your first thought getting off the plane, how did you feel?
Gina: Oh boy, I am trying to remember. It was neat. We found out, I overheard a conversation when we were waiting to deboard the plane, and it turned out that two of the people in the row in front of us were on our team, so that was fun. My cousin and I met, it was a mother and daughter, we met them right away and walked through the airport following the rest of the team.
For me, it was just exciting to be part of a team. The first trip that I went on was more of an independent trip that I went with--an organization that I had found online. I had to send my picture in that one and I got picked up at the airport independently, and so this was really neat. I liked the feeling of being part of a team. There were other people with the same mission as me.
John: Through the week, were you able to continue that bonding?
John: What was the best experience that you participated in while you were in Guatemala?
Gina: That’s a great question. I would say when we went in to do the home visits with the families. When we did home visits and improvements in people’s homes. To me, generally speaking, that was the best experience, because I love culture. I like seeing, upfront, how people live and so I really liked that. And then specifically, we ministered to this one family where, I had asked in advance if is ok to bring some craft supplies and we were told by Marilyn that yes, I could bring craft supplies, and so I brought all this … had them in my backpack for when we got to families' houses, and this one family, they had a couple of little girls who were really interested in the crafts. They were interested in attention, I should back up, and I noticed the women in the family were kneeling on the porch, kneeling, with weaving looms attached to their backs, just making beautiful, beautiful needlework.
I was pretty humbled by that, and I was half-guilty and half-furious. I silently said “I am not taking the crafts I brought out of my backpack. This will be embarrassing. These women are doing beautiful work,” but the little girls had plenty of attention so I was like, “Okay.”
I reluctantly took the yarn projects out of my backpack and the girls absolutely loved them, and then the adult women came over and were looking at them, too, and one of them asked me, “Cuanto cuesto?” so I figured out in quetzals how much a skein of yarn would have cost, and I told her 40 quetzals, and she walked away, and … first when she said “Cuanto cuesto?”, I said “They from United States,” and then, “Si, cuanto cuesto?” and that's when I figured it out in quetzal and told her, “40 quetzal,” and then she walks away and then I thought, “Oh no, she must have wanted to buy some.”
I walked over to her, took some extra yarn out of my backpack and handed it to her and told her it’s for her, and she had the biggest smile across her face, it was just amazing. When I had told my team leader about that experience, he was like, “Wow, you probably just provided her with material to feed her family for a month.” That really hit me, being I like doing a lot of crafts and it’s just something that I enjoy, but it really hit home for me, I guess, that it’s something that I do for fun and it’s something that they do out of necessity. That was really eye-opening for me and also a neat way to connect.
John: Just to paraphrase, then, do you think on some level, because of those crafts that you took along with you, Gina, there was … the language barrier, in a sense, went away?
John: You felt a connection with these ladies.
John: Did you have an opportunity, and I don’t mean to put you on the spot here with this question, but did you have an opportunity to communicate the Gospel specifically to anybody while you were down there?
Gina: No I didn’t, and in a sense, part of me would say that was disappointing, but the other part of me would say that I understood that it wasn’t going to necessarily be part of the trip. I feel that what we did indirectly allows the Gospel to be shared. Because I feel that what we did supported Manos de Jesus, which is the partner ministry we were with. And I can say, from being on the back end when I worked at group homes, from the service thing that different groups would come in and do things for us, it allowed us more opportunity to focus on the meat and potatoes of the program, if you will. I feel that even though I did not get the chance to share the Gospel, I am hopeful that some of the service that our team did, hopefully set the ground work for a full-time ministry.
John: That’s awesome. Looking at the future, Gina, without trying to pin you down to anything, do you think you would ever go on another Good Goers trip?
John: Is there a particular country that you would go to or do you think you would actually end up going back to Guatemala?
Gina: I would either go to Kenya because that is ... honestly, my long-term goal to do more missions in Africa and I know Good Goers has a trip to Kenya.
John: We do.
Gina: Possibly … I've scanned through the website. I am also interested in the Haiti trip, specifically because you stay right in the orphanage and that’s something, to me, that’s really attractive. I would like to feel what it’s like to actually stay there.
John: Gina, you are an inspiring person. I hope that when folks hear of you they will be inspired. Inspired to go on a mission trip.
Just to hear you talk about the ease of sharing those crafts with those families down there is basically, to some extent, a talent. How qualified do you need to be to go to Guatemala to share crafts with somebody?
Gina: Yes, not real talented.
John: I'm sure you are, but you know what I'm saying, that you just need to love on people.
Gina: Absolutely. That's where we're at.
John: Yes, absolutely. Gina, it is great to talk with you. I am so glad that I had this time and you had the time for me to chat with you today. God bless you, sister. I am so glad to have met you finally.
Gina: You're welcome, John; thank you so much, and I just have to put in one more plug for the Good Goers trip, two more plugs just from my experience.
One is I really, really liked how, as a team, we gathered, we ate dinner together, and we gathered for the picture of the week, and it was just really nice bonding and feeling like I got to know my team. And then the other thing I had alluded to earlier, there was a mother and daughter on our team, and to me, that was just really, really impressive. To see, obviously, them as individuals, but it was just neat that Good Goers makes accommodations for that and allowing it to be a family trip.
John: Wonderful, Gina, thank you so much.
For more information on how you can be a part of a Good Goer mission trip, click here.