Missions Possible: Taking Service on the Road
By Judith Costello
They are a large family—dressed alike, always together, always smiling. And they like to sing. Sound familiar? No, it’s not the vonTrapp family—it’s the Nickerson family of Idaho.
The seven Nickersons don’t sing professionally but they do get noticed wherever they go. At Wal-Mart, at campgrounds, or while serving meals at the Salvation Army, people want to know--Who is this strikingly cohesive, handsome family?
“We call ourselves ‘encouragers.’ And we call our work Mount N Ministry,” says Donna, aka Mom. Donna and Nick Nickerson have both been to seminary but they won’t tell you where because, “We are inter-denominational ministers. We would not, however, call ourselves ‘non-denominational’ because we are inclusive, but not wishy-washy. We help people lift up their arms in prayer.”
The family travels around the country caring for ministers, priests, missionaries, counselors, and strangers on the street—all free of charge. When Donna and Nick married twenty years ago they decided to focus on caring for spiritual caretakers in order to have an impact on the largest number of people. And they have.
What exactly do they do? They do dishes, and construction. They pray with people and laugh with them. The children read Scripture, open doors, carry heavy loads. They are eager to offer service wherever they go. And they are on the go a lot, traveling in a bus for three months at a time.
The Nickersons may sound unreal, and they are certainly unusual. But Donna says, “I came from a broken home. My husband and I both feel fired up about the state of family life today. We just know we are called to make a difference.”
They say, “God loves us so much and gives us everything. We can never love or give enough in return.”
To support this work, Nick takes short-term contracts as a telecommunications specialist. The family also owns a ranch where they raise sheep, horses, and llamas. Each of the children has a strong work ethic and a healthy constitution. But the work that seems most real to all of them is “ministering to others.”
If they can’t help someone everyday the kids say they’d feel sad. But that never seems to be the case. They don’t advertise this ministry but there are always people calling.
Nicole, age 11, laughs as she remembers the last time they went to buy shoes. “Mom talked to the salesman and learned his whole life story.” Before they left the store, the family prayed with the man and encouraged him to re-consider an early dream of becoming a youth minister.
The oldest boy, Chad, is now preaching to groups. Caleb, wants to be a counselor. The children, whose ages range from 11-18, have a vision of a much larger ministry. They hope to host a leadership-training program for young people and expand their retreat center.
The ranch in Idaho is a gathering place for those who are hurting. At one point the family decided to build cabins for additional visitors. They prayed for God’s help in finding the money for supplies. The next day their Great Dane had puppies. But not the usual litter of 6-8. Instead, the dog had 17 puppies, and the family knew it was an answer to prayer. The sale of the pups generated enough money to do the entire project.
“We teach the kids that God provides, and they know that firmly,” Donna says.
When ministers come for advice, Nick has often been known to say, “If you think you’re going to change the world but you lose your family in the process, you haven’t done anything.”
He says, “Your children are your truest disciples. Attend to them.”
Nick and Donna think of their style of parenting as “greenhouse child-rearing.” The children are home schooled through college. Their training began with listening to the Bible on cassettes as babies. The family goes through a study of the entire Bible every year.
The children don’t watch TV or play video games. They believe in practicing “good stewardship” which, for them, means resisting consumerism. According to this “greenhouse” theory, the children are insulated but not isolated.
“We have other families we spend time with,” says Chad. “And we see what’s happening in the world. People say we look like the Von Trapps. But if that telegram boy came sneaking around here after one of my sisters he’d get the daylights beat out of him!”
For these young people, courtship will be supervised. The youngest daughter says, “Read Proverbs to know about avoiding evil and staying pure.”
The advice from the Nickerson children about helping other young people understand sexuality, immorality and adultery is: “Try a bit of fear of God—it’s sinful to be unchaste. And fear of the world—sexual promiscuity leads to disease.”
“That might help,” laughs one of the young people.
When their children were younger, Donna and Nick dealt with many discipline issues while traveling. Being in cramped quarters on a bus for months at a time the children learned quickly how to be responsible and respectful. And when there was resistance to going to bed, these parents encouraged singing.
And yes, they sang the vonTrapp family song. “So long, farewell, it’s time for me to go…”
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Judith Costello, MA, ATR-BC writes about family life for numerous publications. Her Web site is www.thedailychristian.com and she blogs at www.write4God.blogsource.com. Judith and her family live in rural New Mexico.
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