Batesville couple coordinate mission work

By Sam Pierce Published April 20, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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Eric Richardson, left, speaks in front of a group of pastors and youth leaders during a trip to Haiti last April. Richardson said they spend a few days there to better understand how their groups could partner with the pastors in Haiti to help meet the needs of the communities and churches.

Eric and Bethany Richardson of Batesville never pictured themselves working in the missionary field.

It wasn’t until their longtime friend and pastor Nathan Rogers won a trip through Praying Pelican Missions did the call of being missionaries come to a head.

“It’s all Nathan’s fault,” Eric said.

Rogers went to Belize by himself in 2007 and enjoyed it and had a good experience.

“I spent a week over there,” Rogers said. “It was a great mission trip. I was blown away with the ministry.”

The next summer, Rogers took a group from First Baptist Church in Cave City that included Eric and Bethany.

“That was our first experience with it,” Eric said. “We were on a mission trip to Belize, and we just went as participants.”

Bethany was a senior and preparing to attend Arkansas State University, while Eric was teaching at Tuckerman High School and had been accepted to graduate school to pursue a master’s degree.

“I wasn’t planning on pursuing any kind of job with them,” Eric said, “but they asked me to be an assistant trip leader and help with the logistics of the week.

“It meant being on staff and helping out the team that was working.”

Eric said he went back later that summer to help out with some trips, and it became a thing that the two did during the summer.

“We would go to camps like Bogg Springs or wherever, but then we would go to Belize.”

The two married in 2010, and the summer after they got married was one of their most pivotal summers, Bethany said.

While on their trip to Belize, Bethany received an email from the president of Praying Pelican Missions, looking for people to pray and help create programs, as well as to take over the operation of an orphanage in Haiti.

“I just felt a call in my heart, like I have never had before,” Bethany said. “I didn’t even know where it was on a map. I didn’t know anything about Haiti.

“Something about that email was drawing me — and we prayed about it and looked into it.”

After much debate, Bethany accepted the position and moved to Haiti in January 2012.

“I moved down and lived there for about four months,” Bethany said. “People thought we were nuts because we were newlyweds, and Eric did not go.

“It was just a huge leap of faith.”

Bethany said that looking back, “God shielded me from the crazy of it all.”

Eric traveled to Haiti in March to serve alongside Bethany for about three weeks.

“My boss at the time asked me to come on staff and do this full time, and I was unsure,” Bethany said. “But when we came home for the summer, I got a call from him, and he said, ‘What would it look like if both of you came on staff?’”

Eric and Bethany were hired on full time in August 2012 and have been with the nonprofit for five years now.

“It is funny, because looking back, I tell people all the time, never did I picture us being in ministry full time,” said Eric, who received his undergraduate degree from Lyon College in Batesville. “It was never anything I pursued, really.”

At the time, Eric was teaching at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville and loved his work there, he said.

“I didn’t have problems with what I was doing,” Eric said. “Probably at that time, I had no plans to do anything else.

“I could have stayed in that position and really enjoyed it.”

Eric said when the couple started with PPM part time, it wasn’t anything he was looking to do.

“God opened these doors, and here is this opportunity, and it feels right,” Eric said. “So you just go for it.

“When they offered us both the positions, this was the direction God was pointing us toward.”

“They are selfless,” Rogers said. “They are willing to sacrifice career and life for the betterment of other people, and it is all rooted in selflessness.”

Rogers, who has known the Richardsons for about 15 years, said he is still in constant contact with them.

“We have a constant conversation,” Rogers said. “I can’t say that there is one catalyst or one moment that truly inspired them, but to have the opportunity to encourage them, I know they have what it takes to do exactly what God wants them to do.”

Rogers was the youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Cave City but has been the lead pastor at Longview Missionary Baptist Church in Longview, Texas, for seven years.

According to the organization’s website, Praying Pelican Missions is a “short-term international missions organization serving the needs of indigenous local churches, pastors and communities around the world.” For more information on PPM, visit www.prayingpelicanmissions.org.

The actual work that Bethany and Eric do varies from trip to trip. Bethany said the first thing they do is ask the local pastor what their needs are and what they want to see happen in their communities.

“For some pastors, they might need construction on a school or a building,” Bethany said. “Other pastors might need help with community outreach or with providing [Vacation Bible School] for the kids.

“There are so many children, and the children are much more free-range than they are here, so normally, all the trips have those main things.”

Eric said PPM mainly handles the behind-the-scenes work for the church groups to ease their minds and let them focus on the mission work.

“We usually arrive at least a few days ahead of our first team,” Eric said. “We have some staff in the country who handle a lot of the setup for the trip with the host pastor.

“We make sure the pastor knows what the plans are, that the cooks have enough to make the meals for the week and the bus drivers and lodging have been set up.

“Basically, we confirm all those details and make sure everything is ready, making sure all those last-minute details are pulled together.”

Eric said they also pick a local interpreter to help bridge the language barrier.

“We try to make it so the group doesn’t have to think about that stuff,” Eric said. “They are there to do their ministry, and we are there to handle all the behind-the-scenes stuff.”

Eric and Bethany currently attend Compass Church in Batesville. They have two boys: Edison, 2 1/2, and Atticus, 4 months.

“God does amazing things when his people come together,” Bethany said. “It blows your mind every single week.”

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Sam Pierce can be reached at spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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