What if making a difference might be painful?

Ryan and Katie were living in Malawi when Katie got the call. There’d been an accident. A car hit a pothole while speeding and crashed headlong into a small lorry that Ryan was driving.

Katie didn’t know until she reached the hospital that her husband had died at the scene of the accident. She collapsed to the ground, sobbing and screaming.


Photo by O12 on Unsplash

Death of a dream

Katie left Malawi with her three daughters, ages 8, 6, and 3. Not only was she grieving the irreversible loss of husband and father. But there was the death of a life dream she and Ryan shared: 

Our intention was to stay in Africa long-term. It would be our career. It was devastating that my husband was gone, but also our whole plan for our life was over.

The couple fell in love with Africa as newlyweds. Ryan was still in seminary and Katie was a schoolteacher when they accepted a summer internship in Nigeria, teaching and serving the local missionaries. “We knew that someday we wanted to return full-time,” said Katie.

When the Free Methodist World Missions board contacted them about a post in Malawi, Ryan was pastoring a church in Arizona and Katie was expecting their third child. The timing wasn’t good.

Nine months later, the timing was right.

In Malawi, Ryan served as principal of a Bible training school while Katie coordinated the child sponsorship program and worked in women’s ministries. 

Students came to the training school for a month at a time and then returned to their homes. During the in-between periods, Ryan and Katie visited their villages – checking in on the pastors in training, building relationships, helping with the kids, and working with women’s ministries.

And now all that was lost.

To care for orphans and widows

A few months after Ryan died, Katie visited Malawi with her girls. While there, she attended a women’s conference. Several of the women spoke to Katie of their concern for her as a young widow with three children. Despite their own lack, one of the women pulled out a huge wad of cash for Katie:

That was a turning point. What they were doing was my passion—to care for the orphans and the widows.

Back in the States, Katie sought grief recovery counseling, and she and the girls participated in a grief support group. 

And then Katie received an invitation from the missions organization to return to Africa. Again, it wasn’t the right timing.

But as the weeks and months passed and her daughters grew older, Katie made a commitment to serve in Malawi for a year. She and her girls moved to the Bible training school campus where Katie picked up her work with women’s ministries and coordinating the child sponsorship program:

The lesson to my girls was: When God gives you the strength, you can do whatever He asks.

New purpose

Katie met her current husband, Rob, six months before moving back to Africa. They decided to get married and make their home in Sisters, Oregon, after she completed her one-year commitment.

A year after Rob and Katie were married, Paul Rawlins, director of Hope Africa International (HAI), asked if Katie would consider taking over the administration of the program. 

HAI is staffed by nationals in Kapchorwa, Uganda. Through direct contact with students and their parents, HAI has seen to the educational, health, and emotional needs of hundreds of children through a child-sponsorship program. They also support vocational training—in business, nursing, teaching, and agriculture—for their students who complete secondary school. 


Photo: Hope Africa International

The Hope Africa International staff in Uganda also identifies needs of the sponsored children’s families and offers assistance to widows, single moms, families with disabilities, parents suffering from cancer, and guardians of orphaned children. 

Because of her experience living in Africa, her understanding of cross-cultural work, and her knowledge of running an effective child sponsorship program, Katie was the perfect fit to manage the Hope Africa International from its home office in Sisters.


Katie with HAI Ugandan staff (photo: James Christopher Yankey)

Back at the moment of her collapse over Ryan’s death, Katie remembers experiencing the love of God in a powerful and overwhelming way:

… the knowledge that even though it was super painful and devastating I could stand up on my feet and walk through those days and months and years. 

Katie’s girls

Katie started a tradition of taking her daughters back to Africa one at a time. The girls earn the money to cover the cost of their airline ticket and for two weeks during the summer before their high school senior year, they get to experience the continent where they once lived.

Anna, age 19, starts nursing school this month and wants to practice medicine overseas. Lydia, age 17, is playing around with the idea of medical school or physical therapy with the intent to serve children. Ella, at age 14, is looking forward to her turn in Uganda. 

Katie’s daughters are very strong and independent and not afraid of things. “The oldest two love Africa so much and want to help,” said Katie. Anna once said to her mom, “The thing that made me happy was I was able to teach health to middle-school-aged kids in Uganda!”

What if?

What if God sets us on a challenging course until it becomes comfortable? 

And then what if He nudges us out of that comfortable place because there are more things to experience, more lessons to learn, more lives to impact?

In this broken world, there will be car accidents and cancer and broken bones and broken dreams. 

But God has the capacity to pick up the shatters and rearrange them into a new and beautiful purpose. I think repurposing is one of God’s specialties. 

What if difference-making ends up being painful? That’s certainly a possibility. But we’ll never regret living a difference-making life.

Because it’s in the giving of ourselves, especially in times of devastating loss, that helps direct our own lives toward fullness—as in, meaningful, grateful, joyful. 

Just ask Katie.

Save the Date!

Hope Africa International is hosting an event at Fika Sisters Coffeehouse (201 E Sun Ranch Dr; Sisters, OR) at 6:30pm on Friday, January 24 – a gathering over coffee and pastries to inform people about the work of HAI. If you can’t make it to the evening event, plan to stop by sometime during the day: a portion of all proceeds will be donated to HAI on that day.


Is there a dream-defender in your life?


If You Missed “National Compliment Day,” It’s Not Too Late


  1. Allison McCormick


    What a beautiful restoration story! It is so true, God takes our brokenness, unfulfilled dreams, losses and has this amazing way of making wholeness – beauty out of ashes.Thank you for sharing this powerful story, so important for us as women to hear.


  2. I loved reading about Katie and her girls. Sometimes things happen that seem beyond bearable, but clinging to God gets us through and our lives are restored.

    • You’re so right, Pam. I love the word you used: “restored.” It’s right up there with some of my other favorite words, like repurpose, and renew, and rejuvenate, and renovate, and refurbish, and revitalize, and refresh, and replenish and … (I think you get the idea!).

  3. Rachael Juarez

    Marlys, thank you for sharing this women’s journey the way you did! I would love to attend that gathering on Friday. I am going to try my best if the Lord wills it.
    God never ceases to amaze me!

    • Oh, Rachael, that would be awesome if you could make it to the Friday gathering (I’m in Idaho for a couple weeks so won’t be there). If you go, be sure to introduce yourself to Katie as one of my daughter’s and my friends who is making a difference even though it’s been painful. You’re one of my heroes.

  4. Peter

    God moves in mysterious ways, sometimes we don’t get to know the reason why. So, back in ’16 I’d got called in to help with a 1,000 mile (John O Groats to Lands End cycle challenge) raising funds for two missions in Uganda and Kenya through a local Baptist Tabernacle. So, there was the training, then it was put to me, “How about you and Andrew (Senior Pastor of the Tabernacle) doing a music gig in each of the places we stop overnight en-route?”. I couldn’t and didn’t say, “No”, BUT I know now that I should have said, “No”. Why, you may ask. Well, the cycling some 80 mile each day, plus the music gig each evening for perhaps one and a half hours, was to take its toll on me and there was more to come. Before we set out on the 1st leg of the cycle challenge, there were prayers at breakfast time and I knew then that something wasn’t right, I almost broke down in tears and I believe God spoke to me, with words, “You don’t need to do this!”. I set out on that first leg and I knew I wasn’t right, I suddenly experienced cramp pains across my shoulders, something I’d never experienced, I kept on but it got worse and at 50 miles I pulled out and had to let the team know… again God spoke to me and His words were, “Enough is Enough”. BUT, Peter Howe was committed to see this through, The first gig that night raised £2,400 and by the completion of the challenge the gigs alone had generated £16,000. As for my taking my share of the cycling load I did what I could and I realised that God was serious, so I listened hard. By the end of the challenge, some 10 days later, I was exhausted and totally ‘burned out’, but comforted by many pieces of scripture. Then, shortly after on our return home, we did the final gig at the Baptist Tabernacle where I was joined by a friend… we are, ‘The Elderly Brothers’, my Barbara suffered her minuscule strokes and then seizures, so our worlds were turned upside down, my becoming my wife’s carer. I seriously had no energy reserves to call on at a time when I surely needed them in my care of Barbara. These past 3 and a half years have needed God’s hand on our journey and I am so blessed and grateful to be telling ‘our story’, even if I’m still in recovery. The challenge team know what it was we wanted to do in making a difference and we know what changes have been made at the missions in Kenya and Uganda, but in my own case, I pray now and regret not listening to God’s words, though I am thankful for the guidance He sends my way and every day. I have learned to say, ‘No’, but it is hard to turn down help when you know it’s possible to help, may be my time of ‘being there for folks’ has passed… I think not!.

    Katie’s story is so heart wrenching, but knowing she and family have pulled through, is a story for all of us to tell as God moves in His mysterious ways. My Barbara and I felt so much for Katie and family as we read all about what has happened. Our love to her, your readers and to you and yours. God Bless, Bx P & family.

    • Thank you, Peter, for your kind words toward Katie and her family. And for sharing your adventures in fundraising for Kenya and Ugandan causes. (Being an Everly Brothers fan, I chuckled when I read about Barbara referring to you songsters as the “Elderly Brothers”!) Sometimes saying No is the hardest thing, isn’t it? Thank you for your vulnerability in telling this story.

      • Peter

        Thank you, and you are surely right in knowing that I have to share in order to repair the vulnerability caused by not being able to say, ‘No’. It’s a hard road to travel, but I must ‘keep on keepin’ on’ for the sake of our (Barbara and my) togetherness. Love, Bx & P

  5. Having a reason to dream, and allowing restoration to take place and keep the dreaming alive after such a painful devastation has taking place is nothing but courage, strength and love.

    • Well said, Tonya, and good advice for us all during the hard and holy moments: A) a reason to dream, B) allowing restoration, and C) keeping the dream alive.Thank you.

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