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Getting to know Phil and Maretta

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Phil and Maretta* are newly appointed RMM workers who arrived in Malaga Spain to begin their assignment on February 27. We invite your prayers for them as they begin new work and adjust to a new setting. Continue reading for a personal introduction to Phil and Maretta as well as a little more about their work and their prayer requests as they go.

By Bethany Geib (First printed in the newsletter of Shiloh Mennonite Church)

As the oldest of ten children (eight girls and two boys), Maretta’s responsibilities included sewing for her siblings and getting up early to milk the family herd. Their family didn't travel much, but they lived by a creek where they enjoyed playing, wading, and fishing. Munching on molasses chunks in the cow feed prepared Maretta well for eating strange things on the mission field! After a stroke, her grandmother came to live with Maretta's family, and Maretta was very involved with her care. Maretta accepted Christ at the age of 10 and knew she wanted to be a missionary nurse from a very young age. As the first family member to attend college, she had to convince her parents of why she wanted to go.

Meanwhile, in the village of Euxton in Lancashire, England, Phil was the second of four siblings. Their father was the village policeman, but their police were not quite like ours – they carried trudgeons (sticks) instead of guns. Phil’s family traveled throughout Great Britain and particularly enjoyed visiting the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, known for Manx cats and road races around the island.

While at Leeds University, Phil earned a Bachelor's degree in math and a Master's degree in teacher's qualification. He had regularly attended the Anglican church next to their home while growing up but never understood the gospel. The scientific worldview seemed more feasible than the church which seemed irrelevant to the modern world. While experiencing increasing secularism at the university, Phil wondered whether life held a deeper purpose. A book by John Stott and interactions with evangelical Christians at a Bible study led to the realization that he needed to trust Christ. Through Phil's testimony, Phil's sisters eventually became Christians, and attending an evangelical church led his parents to become clearer in their Christian commitment too.

"After his conversion, Phil felt he needed to do something to help the poor and accepted a teaching job in southern Sudan. Meanwhile, Maretta had finished her nursing degree at EMU and began working for MCC in a Sudanese"

After his conversion, Phil felt he needed to do something to help the poor and accepted a teaching job in southern Sudan. Meanwhile, Maretta had finished her nursing degree at EMU and began working for MCC in a Sudanese town 200 miles north of where Phil was serving. She helped a missionary doctor at a very primitive hospital where they treated tuberculosis, deformed spines and bones, leprosy, seasonal typhoid, measles outbreaks, malaria, hepatitis, river blindness, tape worms, hyena attack victims, tetanus babies, and stabbing wounds from elephants or spears. Tribal factions within the medical staff and patients added to the difficult environment.

Over Christmas, Phil decided to visit a friend doing renovations at the hospital where Maretta worked. He rode a lorry to within ten miles of the hospital and walked the rest of the way, listening to animals in the bush along the road. Soon after arriving at the missionary guest house, Phil and Maretta met for the first time. Their first date included a motorbike ride into the African bush, accompanied by gorilla, gazelle, and giraffe sightings. After Christmas, communication continued through short-wave radio. Five months later, Phil transferred to Maretta's town, and he proposed with a ring he had carved from ivory.

After two years in Sudan, Phil and Maretta married in 1978 and returned to Sudan for another year. The futility of relief work without a Christian basis and a desire to work within the church resulted in a return to England to attend All Nations Christian College. During those two years of study, their son John was born.

Phil had planned to teach religion in the Sudanese public schools after their years at ANCC, but God led them to serve under Eastern Board (now EMM) with the Kekchi Indians in Guatemala. Guerrilla warfare was at its height, and the situation was very tense. Phil helped to plant churches, train leaders, and provide encouragement for the pastors of the new churches. Entire families came to Christ at once, rather than through one-on-one evangelism. Phil and Maretta said the changes that Jesus brought were outwardly visible. Prior to Christ, the Kekchi were afraid of various gods, and the spiritual atmosphere was very dark. Afterward, their entire faces would light up, and their eyes had life. Twin daughters Rachel and Rebecca and daughter Mary were born in Guatemala. Phil and Maretta feel that God gave them twins for the specific purpose of combating Kekchi superstitions about twins. During visits to their home, people would even point out which twin they thought was going to die! They faced numerous other trials in Guatemala – Phil’s bout with hepatitis, the usual affliction from amoebas and worms, and John’s tonsillectomy. They concluded with the statement that people “have to be called if you’re going to survive” in situations like theirs.

After 10 years, the family moved to the US for Phil to attend Fuller Theological Seminary in California for his Doctor of Ministry (he earlier completed a Master's of Divinity at Eastern Mennonite Seminary). Phil next accepted the pastorate at Allensville Mennonite Church in Pennsylvania where they served for 12 years. In 2004, Phil became the interim academic dean at Rosedale Bible College for a year prior to becoming a full-time faculty member in 2005. As part of an initiative to stress learning through relevant experience, Phil developed a cross-cultural study term in Spain designed to acquaint students with the language and culture of the new mission field RMM was opening in that country. This also enabled students to study about secularism and how to engage modernity in a situation where these were very real factors. A church in La Cala del Moral, near Malaga, which has a multiuse center for a church building, graciously hosted the RBC study term for the three times it was offered in Spain. Work teams from Allensville Mennonite Church have twice been at the church to help it develop its facilities in line with its goal of reaching out to the surrounding community through its multiuse center. Having been laid off from RBC due to low enrollment, Phil and Maretta saw the opportunity to continue to develop this relationship with the church in La Cala under RMM with the hope of reaching the secular Spaniards with the gospel.

Together, Phil and Maretta enjoy hiking, biking, and traveling. Maretta is an amazing seamstress and also enjoys painting watercolor and knitting, skills she learned from Phil’s mom. Since Phil’s mother is now in her upper 80’s, they visit England at least once a year. Phil and Maretta have seven grandchildren, ranging in age from two months to seven years. John, Rachel, and Mary’s families live in the Arlington/Washington, D.C. area, and Rebecca’s family lives in Pennsylvania.

We asked Phil and Maretta a few questions about how they chose Spain and what their work will look like.

How did you come to the decision to go to Spain?
We worked in Africa and Guatemala in the past. When we left, Guatemala was 25% evangelical Christian. When you look at the situation in Europe and the fact that only 1% of Spain is Christian, you realize the need is dire. I felt like I would like to do something in my own neck of the woods—try to see a restoration to God. Europe was a huge factor in missions in the past and now there is a need for a revival of evangelical Christianity and a new understanding of the Gospel. Christianity has become a ritual, historical. It gives a sense of culture and heritage but is meaningless to people personally.

When I was at Fuller Theological Seminary I studied about evangelizing nominal Christians. Europe is full of people who are Christians in name only. My studies were with a view to go to Europe after I finished my degree. However, I ended up at Rosedale Bible College. One of the courses I taught was about engaging contemporary culture. What is happening in Christendom? How do we reach nominal Christians? I taught that course in Spain three times.

Basically, we decided to go to Spain because we have experience there. We have a start with the language because of our time in Guatemala. We have a relationship with the church in Spain and Allensville Mennonite Church has a desire to support and help us. We want to figure out how to engage the modern world with the gospel.

What will your work in Malaga look like?
Our vision is for the church there to be blessed and be a blessing. We want to see the church overflow and have an impact on the surrounding culture. We will be working in support of an existing church community, attempting to be helpful in the outreach of the church. The church is a multi-use center. The idea is to be at the heart of a community and reach that community for Christ.

What does your support back here in the States look like?
Allensville Mennonite Church is our sending church and Shiloh Mennonite is a supporting congregation. Other churches that are supporting us are: Croghan, Locust Grove, Canton, and Oakdale. We are very grateful for the support. It’s been so good to get to know people in those churches as we have made church visits over the past few months.

What are some prayer requests as you go?
• Pray for us as we settle into our new life in Malaga.
• Pray for us as we reconnect with the church.
• Pray for vision as we find our way in ministry there.
• Pray for the family and relationships we leave behind.

*Last name omitted for security reasons.