Add some warmth to this chilly VA day by making a cup of java or your favorite tea and join Janelle and I as we talk about her life as a missionary in Guatemala, their move back to the States and the things she’s passionate about.
Janelle, one of our speakers for Refresh 2020, is married to Brian Yoder and a mother to 6. Assuredly, life is full as she assists Brian with his ministry duties and cares for the specific needs of each of her children. Her relationship with Jesus is priority and key. Some of her simple delights are tackling a work project with family, opening her home to those who drop by, watering her flowers, and having coffee with a friend.
Joanne Hershberger: Hi Janelle. Welcome to the Refresh blog.
Janelle Yoder: Hello!
JH: You and your husband spent a number of years as missionaries in Guatemala. How long had you been married when you made this move? How long did you serve in Guatemala?
JY: We moved to Guatemala a day after our first anniversary. We lived there for nearly 12 years as a married couple.
JH: Prior to getting married, you and Brian had both spent time in Central America. As a matter of fact, I think that’s where you two met. How did this time prepare you for missionary life?
JY: Yes, we did meet in Guatemala. Brian served in Guatemala under Mennonite Air Missions for four years as a single. I came to Guatemala in his last year of teaching school and serving as commissioned pastor. I still remember his commissioning service. At that point I didn’t realize that serving and working alongside the Guatemalan people would be our life for the next decade and more. Brian taught school and helped Levi Martin pastor the church in La Hierba Buena. I helped Levi’s wife, Judy with their growing family which included a set of newborn twins. Brian and I had the blessing of getting a close up view of a missionary family in action. All the way from buying groceries in a foreign country to how to work through cultural things and working well with the natives in church life. It was very valuable to us and prepared us for the years of mission life that God had in mind for us.
JH: Your heart was for the Guatemalan people. You poured out sacrificially, blessing the natives and many who came to visit. I had the privilege of being in your tropical home; it was a really special experience. What were some of the greatest joys of serving in this capacity?
JY: The greatest joy was watching broken lives of sin becoming whole again because of Jesus. Also, there was so much to learn from these humble Guatemalans and to share life with them was a rich experience. We also enjoyed watching our children grow up in a different culture and have some really unique experiences.
JH: I am sure there was a lot of reality in your daily missionary life! What were some of the challenges you faced?
JY: One of the challenges for me was feeling like there were so many needs around me; I felt stretched. I had small children and wanted to make my home a safe, comfortable place for my husband to return to after a day of being in the trenches. House work and food prep in Guatemala took extra time because everything is more basic and the comfortable conveniences enjoyed in America were not typically there. Often the mornings were spent doing housework and taking care of children. Sometimes in the afternoon Brian and I would take the children and visit the natives. That gave me an outlet to get out and do what I enjoyed so much, interacting with the natives, and yet still spending time with my family.
JH: Brian was going often with ministerial responsibilities. How did you face the loneliness and isolation you must have felt at times being so far from family and friends, especially during the toddler years?
JY: Looking back I wonder how I managed to get through some of those long days while Brian needed to be in meetings or travel to the mission outreach the Guatemalan churches were doing in the mountains of Honduras. God was so faithful and provided grace and strength for each moment even though some of the moments were hard. From the time I was 13 years old I sensed that God was calling me to be a missionary. I was with Brian in this from the beginning. It was not just his idea to be in Guatemala; I shared in that passion. God worked that in me; it is nothing I take credit for. From the beginning of our courtship I longed to never keep Brian from serving God as he should because of my selfishness or lack of trust. I know I failed many times, but that was my desire to allow God’s work to go forward and for us to be used as instruments in any way He wanted. One thing that really helped our children was when Brian was home, he was home. Mission duties and decisions were always pressing, but he managed to put them aside and devote time to our family. There were times when he was gone that I had no way to reach him so it took a lot of trust for me to have him out there in the wild Guatemalan jungle and not know how he was doing.
JH: What brought you back to the States?
JY: We went to Guatemala with a two-year commitment. As the years went by the mission board finally told us to just give them a year’s notice before we would leave Guatemala. We settled into a long-term life there. Sometimes we wondered how will we know if God is calling us away from Guatemala? We sometimes thought it would have to be a big answer like: triplets, a sickness, or something down that line. It ended up being a small thing here and another there until it seemed very obvious to us that God had other things in mind for us. As we sought counsel, we realized our children were at good ages to make a transition like this. We also faced the question of whether it was time for a sabbatical or if this was to be a permanent move. We were to give the mission board an answer at a certain point in our stay in the States. God also worked that out in His own timing and gave us the obvious answer when the church here in Floyd,VA was getting ready for an ordination. Although Brian had been previously ordained in Guatemala, we desired to just be among the church in that first year in Virginia, soak up some teaching and learn to know the church better. Brian was the only one in the lot and this was a confirmation to us that this was the next step that God wanted us to take.
JH: How was this transition for your family?
JY: After we moved here we realized how much we had become Guatemalan. In a lot of ways it wasn’t an easy transition and yet in other ways it went smoother than we thought. Our oldest child was almost 11 and our youngest was 3. The first few months were difficult for them with having lived in the city and now living in the country. Some of their fears included bears popping out of the woods right behind our house. It just took patience and time to work through these things. Brian’s and my adjustments were definitely more complex but in time we were able to feel at home. We came back to Brian’s family area. So for me it was an adjustment of getting to know Brian’s family AND a whole church full of people AND the community better. As we adjusted, we tried to put into practice some of the very things that were helpful to us in adjusting to life in Guatemala- You can learn so much from the people you are serving with and living among and ask lots questions.
JH: You continue to enjoy hospitality by willingly opening your home. What are some practical tips you have to share with our readers on how to host without getting bogged down with the details?
JY: My husband often told me in Guatemala that people who enter our home will remember more about the smile on our face and the way we value them as a person and make them feel like a special part of God’s creation rather than if everything is immaculate. I try to remember that here as well. Although to a certain degree I do feel like having a clean, organized home is all part of the package of opening our home in hospitality. When I know guests are coming for a meal or an overnight stay, I like to make a list starting with the most important. Often times some of the nitty gritty things that seem important don’t get finished. The time spent with our guests was just fine. As I’m going through my day I try to order it in a way that if someone dropped by things wouldn’t be in total chaos. However, we live life in our home so sometimes you will see real life happening! I love to open my home providing a safe place to talk about real life happenings and to know how to better pray for my friends.
JH: You compiled some of your favorite recipes to create a cookbook! What inspired you to dedicate hours to this project?
JY: My grandma and I were quite close. When she was 91 we started working on a cookbook together. I was in Guatemala and she was in PA. The children were small so Brian and I often worked at this in the evenings. It was a really good thing for us. While we typed and set pages we could talk and share about the ups and downs of mission life. Looking back I realize it was a really good way to bring us together amid all the responsibilities and things we carried with the heavy load Brian had with church and mission administration. I hope to have some copies of my cookbook available at Refresh.
JH: You mentioned that you enjoy spending time with friends over coffee. What have you found grows and deepens friendship with other women? What can hinder meaningful connection?
JY: I love when people are just real with me: admitting weaknesses and yet being hopeful and bringing life. My desire is to be this kind of person as I interact with others. I think it’s important to value each person as an important part of the body of Christ – even with their weaknesses and flaws and encouraging them in those things, and loving them. Also, recognize their strong points. Never feel jealous or intimidated by what a person does well in; instead thank God for that gift He has given them. I think what can hinder meaningful relationships is when we set up this perfect appearance instead of being real.
JH: Currently Brian is a minister at Wills Ridge. What has your role as a minister’s wife looked like? What would be your encouragement to other ladies who share this role? How can we as sisters make it easier for our pastor’s wives?
JY: The most important thing I can do for Brian is to be a faithful prayer support for him. Sharing life with him gives me a unique vantage point in praying for him. I have to remind myself of this reality often because it’s so easy to slack in praying. I try to be available to help him with any church work that needs to be attended to. What I would share with other ladies in this role is the importance of loving the church that our husbands are ministering to. Truly love and care for the people. Live out what our husbands preach. Sisters can make it easier for pastors wives by remembering that we are very human to. We are not perfect. Love us as we are yet challenge us to live life well. Sometimes there are sensitive issues that can create feelings of isolation or loneliness. Be our friend. Sometimes we give and give quietly. Let us know you pray for us even if you have no clue what all we might be attending to. Simply knowing you care goes a long way.
JH: We look forward to hearing what the Holy Spirit directs you to share at Refresh 2020! How can we pray for you?
JY: Please pray that God would continue the work of emptying me of self and that as I prepare I can be fully in tune with Him and what He wants for these topics. Also, you can pray that I could easily find quiet moments in the early morning to prepare and that if it’s the Lord’s will, the interruptions would be minimal when I do sit down to study.