Rearview Reflections: Nancy Marshall
Posted on March 1, 2022 by Jon Trotter
Beginning as a teacher among the Deaf and later becoming a church planter, Nancy Marshall sees how God guided her in both roles as she served in Belize.
By Nancy Marshall
I went to Orange Walk, Belize, in 2005 with a clear call from God to start a church among the Deaf. The only problem was that I had no idea how to do that. Yes, I was a seminary graduate and probably should have known! So when I hit the ground I just expected God to tell me what to do. I wasn’t worried about failing or disappointing anyone because I knew God was telling me to trust him. Somehow this would work out. I was sure.
The same day that my plane touched down in Belize, a deaf child and her brother from Orange Walk were killed in a car accident. Their mother had been teaching the only deaf class in the area. As I was unpacking my suitcase I got a call from the school principal. “Nancy, we need you to teach the deaf class, 11 children, ages 6-21. We start school in a week.”
Quite honestly I did not seek God’s advice in that moment. I just thought, “Maybe this is a God coincidence: a certified teacher arrives the same day another teacher leaves.” I told the principal that I would do it. It was actually a relief to me: I knew how to teach. I did not know how to plant a new church. Somewhere in the back of my mind was the question, “Is this from God? Is this part of the plan?”
So how did it turn out with the teaching job? It clearly demonstrated that God is a genius. Teaching school gave me a role in the community. When the pastor of the Mennonite Church in town picked me up at the airport that first day he said, “We don’t need more missionaries in Belize. There are already too many.” I found out later that this was a common understanding. But teaching gave me an immediate “in” with the deaf community. Everywhere I went in town I was greeted with, “Hello Teacher!” Missionaries were not greeted so warmly.
Yet throughout those early times, I kept hearing a persistent word from God, “Don’t forget your call.” Three weeks into the school year I was leading devotions on the Ten Commandments. The day we focused on the fourth commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, the 18-year-olds spoke out. “But how do we do that? There is no deaf church here. We can’t understand the priest in the Catholic church.“ I swallowed hard and asked God, “Is this it? Is this how we start a church…with children?”
The next day I went on to the fifth commandment and reviewed the first four. This time the whole class was chanting: “How? How do we worship God?” I finally said, “OK, I will drive around and pick you all up. We will have church at my house at 9 a.m. on Sunday.” And that’s how Jesus’ Deaf Church started. So my first lesson was to let God lead; God knows what he is doing.
My second lesson was harder. As a teacher, I lead the class, I decide the lessons and I assign the work. As a pastor it took me a long time to learn that letting go of the lead is the best way to mentor the flock. When they are leading, they are learning how to disciple. When they are leading, they are learning to trust God to walk with them. To new missionaries I would say, let go of the basket of “knowledge” as soon as you can and instead become an encourager. Let those you are working with make mistakes and figure out how to grow from those errors.
I bring these lessons to my post missionary life—sometimes successfully and sometimes not so. I recently was on the planning team for a Christmas program for our Deaf church and our sister hearing church. But when we started, I failed to encourage the leader. I couldn’t see where he was going; I sowed seeds of doubt in the others. This is exactly the opposite of what God had taught me in Belize. God said, “Trust me. Walk with them, encourage them, and let them have the reins.”
Many of the lessons learned in Belize are still lessons I am trying to re-learn in my stateside mission field. It’s all for the glory of God.
Nancy Marshall is a former VMMissions worker in Belize from 2005 to 2017, serving as a Deaf educator and church planter.