John Bradshaw - Conversation with Mary Nell Ellingsen
She left the security of a successful career to train missionaries and Bible workers and start a school. This is a lady who knows what it means to take a step of faith. She's Mary Nell Ellingsen, and I'm John Bradshaw. And this is our conversation.
John Bradshaw: Mary Nell, thanks so much for being here. I'm glad you've joined me today.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Thanks for having me. I'm glad to be here.
John Bradshaw: So you've taken a step of faith. I mean, that step, that was way back. Since then it's been many steps of faith.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: In brief, we'll examine this in greater detail. What are you doing today?
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Today, I am the principal and the director of Mission Creek Outreach Services. And at Mission Creek we have several ministries. One is a school for students that are local students that come to us for four-day programming. And then we also are doing a program in lifestyle ministry. We have a lifestyle retreat center, and we do tools for overcoming depression there. And we also do lifestyle ministry. In addition to that, we have just begun a really new exciting ministry called Immersed. And this is a Bible worker training program that we're really excited about. We started with our first two Bible workers, and we are really excited to work with people that can share the love of Jesus.
John Bradshaw: Hey, I find this interesting 'cause here's what I know about you. You did not begin your career as an expert medical missionary.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: No.
John Bradshaw: But you're training them today. You did not begin as an expert Bible worker.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: No.
John Bradshaw: But you're training Bible workers today. You didn't start running schools, but you're running one today. So between then and now God has done some amazing things. So let's go back. You're currently located in southwest Washington State.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Yes.
John Bradshaw: Near the Washington coast. But anyone who hears you speak is gonna say, "You don't sound like you're from around here".
Mary Nell Ellingsen: That's right.
John Bradshaw: So where'd you get started?
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Well, I got started in North Carolina.
John Bradshaw: All right.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: And actually I got started in Dobson, North Carolina.
John Bradshaw: Where is that?
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Dobson, North Carolina, is close to Mount Airy.
John Bradshaw: Okay.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: North Carolina.
John Bradshaw: Andy Griffith.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Exactly.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, right there.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: And so in that area, when I was born into a family that didn't end up quite on the right track...
John Bradshaw: Okay.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: My parents were divorced when I was 5, 6 years old and had a lot of trauma in the family with my mother being a registered pharmacist and got into drug addiction and which probably created the mental illness. And then my dad ended up raising the four children and remarrying someone with three children.
John Bradshaw: Oh wow.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: And, you know, back in the day they had "The Brady Bunch" on TV.
John Bradshaw: Yes, sure.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: It wasn't a Brady Bunch. It was a wild, crazy thing going on there in our home. And it really started, the Mission Creek story, I think, John, started when my dad stepped out to teach us in a devotional worship experience every night about, really about service and about desiring truth.
John Bradshaw: So, for those years it was your dad raising the kids?
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Yes.
John Bradshaw: He was a strong practicing Christian. You had a real church connection or what?
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Well, he wasn't really a strong practicing Christian. We went to the Methodist church on Sundays, and he...and when we say... we weren't really raised in a Christian home, even though we had worship every night.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, that's an interesting thing, isn't it?
Mary Nell Ellingsen: I don't know if I know a family quite like that. Somehow the Lord led him to understand the importance of the Word, 'cause we had Bible stories, of the Lord's prayer, we said that every night, and of hearing a welfare story because he was a social worker. And so he did these experiences with us.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, hang on a second. You'd do a Bible story...
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Yes.
John Bradshaw: ...and a welfare story?
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Yes.
John Bradshaw: Really quickly, what might that have been, for example?
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Well, he was a social worker, so he would tell us about what he did during the day, went out to see Barbara Blalock, and they didn't have water or food, and this was the condition of the situation. And then we would always say, "Daddy, what would you do"? And I learned so much wisdom at the foot of my father, because I believed that he would choose to do the true thing, the right thing.
John Bradshaw: Hey, isn't this interesting? So he was instilling Christian principles, biblical principles, and even though he wasn't the strongest Christian in the world.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: But he was clearly intentional about a couple of things. One was gathering the family together.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Yes.
John Bradshaw: One was the Bible teaching, but that other, that third thing he was intentional about was sharing with your life lessons of service. I find that really interesting, particularly as now you stepped out of a successful career to serve.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Sure.
John Bradshaw: To run a little institution that is serving people.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Sure.
John Bradshaw: That goes all the way back to your dad telling you those welfare stories, doesn't it?
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Definitely does. Family is critical in situations like this. And now, three of the children chose not to join, and three chose to join, one passed away, and so the three that chose to join are strong Seventh-day Adventist Christians today, myself and my two biological sisters. The three stepchildren did not, nor did my stepmother, and all three of the stepchildren died early, had lifestyle practice challenges with, you know, liver cancer, lung cancer, and heart disease. And so they didn't get the benefit. And I find this a tremendous contrast when you look at the opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus. And we didn't really know principles, Christian principles, per se, about standards or anything like that, we, you know, raised kind of on the streets at the YMCA, you know, that kinda thing...
John Bradshaw: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: And had boyfriends and got into, you know, drinking and drugs and things like that as teenagers. And, you know, we kind of raised ourselves a little bit, even though my dad was a strong principled man. It's a very different situation.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, fascinating. Hey, somewhere along the line, you guys somehow straightened up and found Jesus. How'd that happen?
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Yes. Well...
John Bradshaw: Or should I say found Jesus and straightened up? What happened?
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Well, you know, even though I didn't have Jesus, I was really into progressing forward career-wise, economically, those kinds of things. And I went to an Amway Rally.
John Bradshaw: Okay.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Now, you can find the Lord anywhere. Okay?
John Bradshaw: You're about to prove that, aren't you?
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Yes. I was way up in the top balcony at an Amway Rally because I wanted to do this thing right. You know, I went direct, and I had some people in the business. And so they said, "Well, you need to go to a Sunday morning service". And I thought, well, I haven't been to church or a Sunday morning service in, you know, 12 years, 15 years, whatever, it'd been a while, you know? And so I thought, but if this is what you do to grow this businesses, and this is what the leadership says do, I'll go to a Sunday morning service. So there was a guy named Paul Miller, and he was a triple diamond, you know.
John Bradshaw: The high achiever.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Oh, definitely, and he was having the Sunday morning service. And he said something that impressed me that I never forgot and changed the total course of my life. And I never went back.
John Bradshaw: What was that? What did he say?
Mary Nell Ellingsen: What he said is, "It will never matter in your life how much money you make", you know, in the Amway, I'm thinking, he's telling me this?
John Bradshaw: Yeah, that's what matters.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: "...how successful you are, what kind of a future you have, if you do not have Jesus Christ in your life, nothing matters". It cut me to the core. I started from that top seat, way in the corner, down one step at a time, up in the very corner of the balcony, 'cause I wasn't really into this, and I walked all the way down to the very beginning when they did the altar call, the very front of that stadium, and gave my heart to Jesus right there. I never took my heart back. I mean, I haven't lived a perfect life, for sure. And there've been ups and downs in my experience.
John Bradshaw: But you never changed your mind.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Never changed my mind, and I never turned back from a search for the truth and for Jesus. And it went back to my dad having a quest for the truth as I was a child. He wanted to do the right thing. He just didn't really know a lot of the things that he then came to learn, because then I studied with him, and he became a Seventh-day Adventist Christian as well. And then with my younger sister, she became a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, my stepmother and my biological mother became...
John Bradshaw: Wow.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: And none of us were raised.
John Bradshaw: So you were living in North Carolina at the time?
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Yes.
John Bradshaw: Still there in North Carolina?
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Yes, I was still there in North Carolina. I lived in Charlotte and was doing, you know, teacher center projects and that type of thing.
John Bradshaw: Yeah.
— And doing, began to get into administration in education there.
— So let's talk about how you progressed in your career. Today you run an institute, a training center.
— But you were really set up for that by God who...
— I was.
— ...lead you all kind of professional directions.
— He did.
— So where did you, where did you venture forth professionally? So I imagine you went to high school, like everybody else. You said, I gotta go to college now. I'm going to...
— Well, what started out, I wanted to do what I thought would please people. And so I started into nursing school, which really was not my thing.
— That wasn't you?
— No. I enjoyed the boyfriends, and I liked the... I was into the partying life. And so I went to Cabarrus Memorial School in Nursing. You know...
— Man, I know Cabarrus County like the back of my hand. Yeah.
— And, you know, I lasted there about 10 weeks.
— Oh yeah?
— And so then my father, he had set me up for all of this for the whole year. paying for lab coats and the whole thing, all the books. And I was, it was Sunday night, time for me to go back to school. I went over to the wall phone, you know, the cord's about like this, you get up there, and I called the director of nursing. I said, "I won't be coming back to school". My father didn't know this. And he was eating his ice cream at the table, and he dropped his bowl. And he said to me, after I hung up the phone, he said, "Well, you will be going to work tomorrow". And so I got a job at Eckerd's drug store.
— Did you?
— Yes. And then I... and my cash register wouldn't check up right, because I would visit with my friends in line, and so after two times of being called in the office... I think they believed I was stealing money...
— I decided I need to be in something where I can be trusted. You know, I don't like this. And so from there I had babysat for a Down syndrome child as a child. I had a heart, my dad kind of had that heart for, what he said, "the least of these," you know? And so I decided to go to Appalachian State University and major in special education. And so I got my bachelor's from there, started teaching and careers in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
— And worked as a special education teacher and then began doing consulting work, consulting teacher within special education, and then went into a teacher center project that created an opportunity for me to go around the United States to learn the best teaching techniques and opportunity, what would create the greatest learning opportunities for children. And I did that for a few years, which then began to really change things up for me because...
— And how was that?
— Well, in the course of that, I was sent to... San Francisco, this was in, like, '79, to do a teacher training. And my sister wanted to go with me. And so Livvy went with me to California, and we were partying, and we were living the wild life. This was before my conversion. And so during the course of that, in a bar in South Lake, California, we met Hal Gates. Hal Gates was a wild, crazy man.
— At that time?
— At that time. And my sister owned the plane coming back from California. She said, "I'm gonna quit my job, sell my Pinto Station Wagon". She was a special ed teacher too.
John Bradshaw: Oh yeah?
— "And I'm gonna move to Washington State," because he happened to be in California to visit his daughter. Now, he's a lot older than my sister and, you know, not a person that I would just say, "What a great idea". I said, "You are crazy. This is not a good idea". So she came home, decided that was the thing she was gonna do. My dad was just up the roof. So he had to...when she did this, she followed through in January; she moved out to Washington State to be with Hal Gates, who at that time was dropped outta society. He was living the bum life in Yellow Island in the San Juans. And so...
— What a crazy story.
— Crazy thing.
— And so to make a long story short, they just had the rockiest relationship ever. And one day my sister said, "We have got to do something. We need to go to church. We need to go to church".
— Just like that?
— Yeah, just like that. And Hal said, "I'm not going to any church, unless it's a peanut-eaters church". She said, "What in the world's that"? He said, "Oh, they go on the funny day, they go on Saturday, and a lot of 'em don't eat meat". And she said, "I don't care about any of that". See, we were raised to have other principles embedded in there. And so she said, "Well, we just need to go somewhere". He said, "Well, if you have to go, then we'll go here". And it was little Friday Harbor Seventh-day Adventist Church. They went there, they were gone to camp meeting. And so Hal was off the hook. He said, "We don't have to go back. This is it. I met my commitment". She said, "It didn't count. We're going next week". And so they went in the next week. He went in... shorts, high, out of... you know, not in good shape, and sitting on the back pew getting his time in, right?
— And so they loved him all the way to the front of that church. He never missed another Sabbath. And you know the rest of the story. Hal Gates has been in 35 countries winning souls for the Lord, you know, thousands of souls for the Lord. And that's how I came into this whole situation with being in Washington, moving from North Carolina because they encouraged me, and they thought, I'm sure they thought, they prayed for me all the time because I was still really worldly. And after the career and after the financial thing, and... I studied with a lady named Lorraine Hanson that lives in Hendersonville, that I hoped to be able to see on my way back. And she did Bible studies with me. I came into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And at that time I was studying also with a person that I had been engaged to for five years. And the Lord just... impressed me in a dream one night, it was a nightmare, "You have the wrong man".
— "You have the wrong man". And so I had became a Christian, an Adventist Christian. And so I wanted to follow the Lord. If this isn't the right man, who is? And so Livvy and Hal were calling me. You know, he was becoming, he was a lay pastor by then at the Raymond church, Willapa Harbor.
— I know it well.
— Yes, you do.
— And he, so he said, "You need to meet this man that is a head elder in our church. His name is Galen Ellingsen". And I was just coming off of this relationship with this guy that wasn't the one. And I was kind of curious, but I thought, well, they've been out here for five years, and I've never been to Washington. I need to go. And you know what, John? I went out there. I met Galen. No...didn't have any... connection there. I thought, no, that's not the one for me.
— And you know what happened?
— I'd love to know.
— It's the Holy Spirit.
— This is power. Everybody has the option for accessing this Holy Spirit.
— We're gonna take a break.
— Okay, sounds good.
— And you'll tell the story on the other side, and then we're gonna talk all about Mission Creek.
— But what I'll say is this: What a wild story. Isn't God amazing? How he reaches into all this crazy stuff going on. He says, "I got a plan for you guys. I got a plan for you". And He'll take the least likely people and say, "I'm gonna put you in ministry, out on the front lines".
— He does! He does it.
— And that's what he did with you. We'll find out more in just a moment. She's Mary Nell Ellingsen. I'm John Bradshaw. This is our conversation, brought to you by It Is Written.
— Welcome back to "Conversations," brought to you by It Is Written. My guest is Mary Nell Ellingsen, who directs Mission Creek Outreach Services. We're gonna find out a whole lot more about what they're doing in just a moment. But first, you met the man who's now your husband.
— And you walked away from that saying, "He's not the guy for me".
— What were you thinking?
— Well, I just thought that it just didn't look like what I had in mind for a partner. But the Lord had impressed on me that I should not get married unless I could find someone that would be a partner in doing his work, that I needed to be able to do more work with a person...
— ...than without. If it couldn't meet that criteria, marriage wasn't for me. And so when I saw Galen, I just didn't get that sense. But that very day that I didn't get the sense, here's Livvy and Hal, they've got the Bible studies going in the communities. So they got this big group of maybe 15 people that they're studying with in the community. And so we're kneeling together in prayer. And the Holy Spirit... came upon me when Galen was praying. And the most amazing thing happened, John. When I opened my eyes, I saw a different man. It was just an amazing thing. And God impressed upon me when Galen prayed, "This man knows me".
— "This man is like minded".
— "This man you can partner with in ministry". I opened my eyes, and I saw the man that I wanted to be with, period.
— And that was the end of the story. From that point, then the Lord developed the relationship between us, and that began our ministry together.
— Fantastic. So there you were, living in North Carolina.
Mary Nell Ellingsen: Yes.
— Next minute you're living in the state of Washington. Mission Creek begins to develop. Let's talk about that.
— Okay. Well, the reason that we ended up on the property that we are currently on, called Mission Creek, is because when I moved to Washington, I continued my career as a school district administrator. And that took us to Shelton, Washington. And so I was hired to be the director of special services for Shelton School District in Mason County Cooperative. And so, at that time there was a little boy that was, I find it really interesting, because there were three different districts that I was thinking about joining. I had an offer in Olympia, which would have been an offer that you would think, well, maybe preferable to Shelton. And then there was one in Bremerton. And God just said, "They need you in Shelton". I could tell by the interview that there was stuff going on that I felt like, through God's power, could be reconciled. And so the Lord kept pushing me toward Shelton. Well, the reason was a little blonde-haired, blue-eyed 8-year-old boy named Gary. And so I got a call as a special ed director that said, "There's this child in our program. And he doesn't have anywhere to go home tonight". And it was Thanksgiving, Wednesday before Thanksgiving. And I'm thinking at the time, well, I'm not social services. I'm not real sure why you're calling me, but yet I felt like I should be part of the solution. She said, "I'll take him tonight, but I really can't have him for Thanksgiving". I said, "Well, we're going back to South Bend, to Raymond tomorrow morning. So you keep him tonight. We'll pick him up on Thanksgiving morning. Then we'll take him back to school on Monday morning". Well, to make a very long story short, that child became ours. And Galen said, "Let's take him". And he was in a situation that was abandonment. And so he became our child, and he had lots of challenges.
— You know? He was... defiant conduct disorder and had all of these things. And I knew professionally what I was in for, but I didn't. God covered all of that. And in my heart, I thought love will cure everything. Well, what happened was he had a lot of challenges. I knew that we needed to raise him in the country. So one day Galen saw a, he saw a advertisement in our local paper and we were really looking for a place that had property. And so, 'cause he was a runner, and he'd go get into the neighbors' stuff. And he had problems with honesty and all kinds of things. And so Galen saw that piece of property and said, "That was a boy scout camp that I used to go to as a child".
— Oh, how about that?
— "I know that place". It said, "Secluded cabin on creek". So it was a 40-acre piece. It was absolutely gorgeous. We went out there and we said, "This is where we need to be". We moved into a little cabin, probably 300... probably 300 square feet. And all of that happened because I chose to resign my position in Shelton as a special ed director, with maybe 400 children I was responsible for the administration of and a staff of 80, because God called me to homeschool my son. He wasn't successful in public school. He wasn't successful in church school. And the Lord put on my heart, "You need to leave this, and you need to go for the one". And I knew nobody else was applying for that job, John. But they would apply for the job in Shelton. They'd stand in line for the administrative work, but they weren't gonna stand in line to be the mother and the homeschooler of a child in the backwoods of South Bend on a 40-acre plot in a little 300-square-foot trailer... I mean, not trailer, but cabin.
— That was an amazing step of faith. You had a successful career.
— You had a lot of responsibility.
— The only direction you were going in your career was up.
— That's right.
— Who knows where the ceiling was?
— You walked away from all of that?
— God calls.
— Yeah, but let me push back. You don't have to follow.
— Exactly, but you know what I've learned? And sometimes I follow, not because I want to, but because I know it's the right thing to do...
— That's right, yeah.
— And that's what you have to do. I knew that when I had adopted Gary, I knew that it probably wasn't something I really wanted to do, but I knew God had called me to it. And I knew that, ultimately, that he was gonna work it together for good.
— And this is a thing, too; people wrestle with that. "I feel God calling, but it doesn't work for me right now". Or, "It doesn't meet my circumstance," or it...
— Yeah, exactly.
— Or, "It might cost me something". Those are real-world issues.
— But hey, when God calls you.
— Oh yes.
— I mean, I said a moment ago, you don't have to, but, I mean, what option do you have if you love God and you want his will to be done, right?
— You have to follow him because you know if you don't follow him, your life is not gonna work. And there is no... he takes away the excuses. We had financial, neither of us were employed when we went to the backwoods at South Bend. We had, I mean, all of our security, our home, everything, and we were not in financial, we didn't have any of those challenges before.
— And so, though God put it, made it so clear for us that this was our responsibility, he used that child to open up this ministry. And that child did not choose to follow the Lord. He was an alcoholic. He was a drug addict. He spent time in jail. He was really...he really had a ton of baggage and trouble. And, you know, he didn't respond to everything that we did in order to try to move him in a different direction. And I would, I understand how, more about how it is with God when he sees us go astray. But you know what? He would not change us for anybody else that was walking the right way. Because when people ask me, "Well, if you knew what you know now, would you still have chosen that child? Or would you have gotten a child that would've followed the way, been part of the ministry"? I would have never...God gave me a love. I prayed for that love because I couldn't deal with it, without that love. God, you give me this kid. He's making my life miserable; he's miserable. Galen's hanging in there better than any us. And he kept saying, "The boy stays," you know, when I had a tough time with it, but you know what? I found out that if I prayed, I said, "God, you got me into this mess. And you're gonna have to be the one that gives me the love, because I cannot create it in my human sinful heart. You've gotta give me something I do not have. So it's your job to do that". And you know what he did, John? He gave me a miraculous love, beyond any biological kid I could have ever had, for that child, that created a desire to put him at the front. That was our ministry.
— Yeah, you're right, too, about the lesson about the love that God has for children, that He wouldn't switch you out for anybody, would He?
— Exactly. And I would never have taken the most perfect kid and had that be the child for me. And he had an early death at 37 years old, which was just critical in my life. It really...this has just been five years ago. And yet the lessons I learned from that child will take me through eternity. Incredible, incredible lessons. So that's how we ended up at Mission Creek.
— Yeah, so, so far you're on a property. You have one student.
— Not today. You've got a thriving ministry, and it's multifaceted.
— So how did this grow? How did it grow?
— Well, actually Gary was the first. The next student before we were officially a ministry was my mother.
— Oh, tell me about that.
— I told you how the family split and so forth. Well, my stepfather died, and my mother was in pretty, pretty poor, critical shape, health-wise, otherwise. And so between my sister, Ellen and I, we were working to have a home for my mother with us. And so she was with Ellen, and then she came out to stay with me at the property there. And she's not one that likes change. So she wanted to stay. She didn't want to go back and forth, which is the plan we had. And you know what, that was the best years of her life. She was there for 17 years.
— Oh, really?
— She got off of the drugs that she was on. Her life in Christ became vibrant and real. She learned to bake bread, make soup, harvest the garden, do all of those things. And she became the granny of Mission Creek.
— So Gary, my mother, and then the next step in our ministry was my sister decided that she wanted to go to nursing school. So she had two teenage daughters, Janine and Janelle. And she wanted me to homeschool 'em while she was in nursing school. And so I thought, well, that might be interesting. They came out there, and I was enjoying the wood-powered hot tub, kind of laying back. And they were these 14-year-olds that said, "I don't wanna be out here". I said, "Fine. I'm doing just great. I don't need that". And before the tub was over, and before our walk up the hill was over, they were all in. And so they became actually the first unofficial students at Mission Creek in their ninth grade year or eighth grade year. And so that was the beginning. What happened is my sister... nursing school was not for her.
— Oh yeah?
— That was just a diversion for the Lord to get this thing going. And so she ended up being our teacher for the first 15 years...
— Oh, amen.
— ...of the Mission Creek ministry.
— Yeah, fantastic.
— And so what happened after that, John, is I went to camp meeting, and at the Washington camp meeting, I heard a verse in the message that was given. And that verse was 1 Thessalonians 5:24. "Faithful is He who has called you"...
— "Who also will do it".
— "...will do it". And so I came back with the impression, because I had had in the back of my mind, because Janine and Janelle planted that seed: "Why don't we have a school out here"? And in the back of my mind, I had known that that's probably the direction God was leading. Well, when I heard that verse, it's just like, when I heard the call to take Gary, to marry Galen, and so forth, I heard the call through that verse. No excuse. I'm not faithful. I can't do anything, but I know someone who is, and so I thought, I have to do this. I don't do it. God does it. God has to do this. He's going to use me to do this. I need to do it. So I went back, and we had a couple of children in the church, the Coonses, and also the Dans, you know these families. And so they came to our little school. I started out at the kitchen table with Janine and Janelle, the next year we went to the cabin, and we had a little guest cabin there, and we had a small group. And then the next year, we had to get a yurt.
— Oh really?
— Large glorified tent.
— And the community children started coming in, so it got up to maybe 15 kids. We started serving students in the community. And so I thought, well, this is really interesting. And we continued to do this for 10 years. Then that yurt got moldy. The equipment started going bad, because we didn't think this was gonna continue. My sister and I would just say every year, "We're gonna keep doing this". And then she would say, "Well, where else are we gonna get a group of, you know, 10, 12, 15 teenagers to do a Bible study with them"...
— Yeah, that's right, amen.
— ..."and a Bible class"? And we'd say, "Well, we'd better keep doing it". And so then I thought, God, if you can't do better than this, and I don't think, this isn't, I don't recommend threatening the Lord. But I said, "I quit. If you can't help us get out of this yurt and do something else, I just can't continue to do it this way, because this isn't the best thing". And then the miracles started really pouring in. You know, we've already seen a lot of miracles in this story, but they became a whole lot more intense and began happening regularly.
— I can only imagine when you decide you're gonna start a school, you've got authorities to speak to, you've got hoops to jump through, which means you can lean on that faithful God, who also will do it.
— And expect to see him do great things. Back with more from Mary Nell Ellingsen of Mission Creek Outreach Services. Our conversation continues in just a moment.
— Welcome back to "Conversations," brought to you by It Is Written. My guest is Mary Nell Ellingsen from Mission Creek Outreach Services, a discipleship Bible medical missionary training school in southwest Washington State. Hey, a moment ago, this thing is starting to take off.
— You've got kids. You've been studying for years, 15 students serving the community, which makes this an amazing outreach. But things were gonna expand and grow. Tell me about the challenges and how God met them.
— Well, what happened next was we were in the quest for a facility. And so God provided some money for us to get started. And then we thought, well, we just need to spend this money because God's put it there. And it wasn't a lot of money, like $40,000. And it isn't much money to get started on a project like this. But we thought, hey, let's do what we can. Let's go ahead, put down a concrete foundation. We started with a pole structure. And so then we didn't have any more money. And we weren't sure where it was going from there. And so my husband started parking the backhoe and the dump truck and all this stuff under there. And I just had a fit. I said, "Get this stuff out! This isn't school". He said, "We might as well use it for something because it isn't really anything else". And so I kept praying about... I knew God was gonna do something. So he started bringing in the money. He started bringing in the money to put this building up. We had a lot of trouble. We were out off the grid, and we were not zoned for a school. We could not get, you know, it's like $50,000 for a mound system for septic. And the water, we didn't have a deep-enough well. Everything was a problem with this facility. And so we knew if we were gonna do anything, John, and I don't necessarily recommend this, but in this case, we knew the Lord was leading us. If we were gonna do anything to have this school, we just needed to go ahead and do it. And so after we got the Sheetrock on the walls, you can imagine what happened. The county called and said, "I understand you have an unpermitted school going up back there".
— Oh, man.
— And Dale was the building inspector. And I said, "Dale, we do". And you know what? I'd been laying awake in bed at night worrying and praying about this because I didn't know what to do. I said, "The Lord has led us to this point and I know we can't solve these problems. Please come and help us". Well, he came out, and he's not a Christian. So he parks his car in front of the school. And I said, "Dale, before we go in this school, we need to pray, because if God has raised this work up, no man is gonna get in the way of it. But if he hasn't, we need to be done". And so he walked in the building, and it was Sheetrock on the walls. He stopped the work. He said, "No. This is not going to continue". And so there was a big deal with the county, and they had eight different directors call us in and let us know that all of this stuff wasn't permitted. And so it was time for school on our foreign mission to Iquitos, Peru. So, and we do this each year. You know, we go on some kind of a mission, take, you know, 15, 20 people. And so it was time to go. We just left it behind. When I got back, there was a certified letter in the box, in my mailbox that said, "If you're gonna continue this project, these are the hoops you need to drop through". And they were all impossible things to do. And so we had a board meeting coming up that, I just got back on Friday. The board meeting was on Sunday. I prayed. And I said, "God, what are we gonna do? We don't even," I said, "I can't even do an agenda for this meeting". And you know what? He led me to the Ellen White index "Under the Cause of God". I studied that thing. I had seven pages before the board meeting of confirmation that God wanted the work to go forward. And so I took that to the board meeting. I said, "This is what the county says. This is what the Lord says. This is impossible. We can't overcome these feats in our setting. And yet God has said this". And so at that time, we had a person walk to the board meeting who had been on our board but was kind of like a snowbird person. He usually is in Arizona. He showed up at the board meeting, Jim Allen, and he does an engineer for hospital systems to be able to do codes. And the violation, he understood all the violations, all these codes. He said, "Let me work through this process".
— A year and a half of victories in the Lord it took in order to get all of that mess straightened out. But the bottom line on it all: 37 recorded miracles in this mess. I mean, it would take us many sequels to go into all of the details, but what God did is he did everything from grant a perpetual covenant by the logging company that was right bordering us saying that they would never interfere with our water system, never do any logging around our area that would interfere with the functioning of Mission Creek. We don't know these people. Everything from that to my mother had passed away... in the Lord, praise God.
— And there was this piece of jewelry in the safety deposit box that looked like it was custom jewelry. I mean, it was just this big old thing, and it's like a bubble gum machine or something.
— And I thought, I'll throw that out. And Galen said, "Well, we should probably just look into it". So she does funny things sometimes, but I thought, this is really strange. So anyway, I took it to Macy's in Aberdeen, and they looked at that thing, and they just, mouth dropped and said, "We've never seen anything come through here like this in years". They said, "That would be valued at $50,000".
— Oh, really?
— And that's not what we got for it, because it wasn't a marquise stone, and they liked the round stones, but anyway, it was a substantial amount. Yeah.
— That was created for the ministry. And then, I mean, there are untold stories about the finances and what I have learned about the whole financial scene, whether you've given up your job to go to the backwoods or looking for money to support a ministry, God provides, John. God makes these things happen, and they're not human devising things. And so He carried everything from the financial backing and support. And I can't go into all of those 37 miracles, but, I mean, things that you couldn't change, it was too close to the property line, it was too close to the creek, it was too close to the generator, power source, nothing was right about the whole thing, and God made it all right.
— And the people from the county, we were told when we had the open house, they all came and celebrated, said, "Boy, we live in Olympia, but if we were here, I'd have my kids come to this school". They celebrated in the lounge. Every time we overcame... another victory.
— Because we had educated the children that were the county commissioner's children and grandchildren, God had set that up, and they said, "Mission Creek is going to happen". So it was a good thing that we had developed those relationships ahead of time. And the fact that God had, He always has, He has all the foresight.
— Yeah, He does. Yeah, He sees it before it's gonna happen. Hey, tell me, some of the things that Mission Creek's doing today.
— You mentioned mission trips. You've talked about that.
— That's right.
— But I know you're involved in training medical missionaries.
— And treating, helping people overcome depression and so forth.
— So walk through some of that.
— We wanna know what you're doing there.
— Okay, so we have a... medical missionary training center that is for helping people with lifestyle practices. And there are...it's a small work. There's always a small work with intensity, the way that we do things; it's not big numbers. It's small numbers of people that come into our setting, and they go through, we do a 14-day program for tools for overcoming depression, and we treat that with the... simple things, claiming Bible promises and believing that those Bible promises are actually going to become real, and they do for those people, and using the techniques that we understand about overcoming depression, with diet and exercise and massage and hydrotherapy, a lot of the same things we use in the lifestyle practice.
— But we also do, like, cognitive behavior therapy with our people, with the depression, giving them another look at life with how do you see things in a negative light and then begin to see the truth is it is in Jesus through a positive circumstance. And so we do these practices, and they're set up on the schedule from 6:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. with everything from, you know, cognitive coaching around the... issues of depression, to help with coaching with lifestyle practices. And so we run two different sessions. One is for lifestyle practices. One is for overcoming depression. There's a lot of similarity, but...
— Sure there is.
— There's some more focus on the anxiety, depression piece for the latter part. And then the other piece that we're doing is a Bible worker training program. And we have... Chris Donovan is our pastor that works with that program. And his wife is a nurse, and she works with our lifestyle retreat center, Heidi. And then Judy Dan is an ARNP. She works with our lifestyle retreat center piece. The program that we're doing with our Bible workers is centered on showing people Jesus. Then when they can see Jesus, serving Jesus, and then teaching them to then serve and disciple people by multiplying the opportunities for people to create disciples in Jesus. And so we're excited about, we just got a new student just brand new outta high school, brand new Adventist, just went with our team to GYC Northwest and is very excited to be a part of our work. So we do the full intensive five-month program. Full day, we do it in the evening. We have a person that's fairly new to our church that now is working with the jail ministry, that is a part of our community and is working in the evenings with the program. And then we're gonna do an intensive summer program. So we're trying to hit it in three different phases so that we can get the people where they are and work with them one on one.
— One of the things I love about what you're telling me is that what you did was respond to God's call.
— You, you didn't plan to build Taj Mahal and become the biggest...
— No, no.
— You thought, we need to be what God has called us to be where we are.
— And small doesn't mean insignificant.
— What you're doing is playing to your strength and ministering to the people right where you are.
— And one other thing I like too is what you're talking about is replicable. This is the sort of thing that someone can do, if God is calling him...
— ...to do in any other part of the world, any other part of the country.
— But the miracles you've seen and the steps of faith, what would you say to somebody, God has been telling him forever about going overseas and becoming a foreign missionary, or he's encouraging that person to be a literature evangelist, which is often a real step of faith, or he is encouraging that person to go and train for the ministry and go to college for four years. But, oh, what about my job? What about my family? What about my this or that? You've gone through all of those considerations. And today at Mission Creek you're doing something fantastic and successful. How would you coach or advise or talk someone through this idea of how do I take this step of faith?
— Well, I think it comes in claiming God's promises and surrender. I think the first thing that we have to do is we have to say, "God, your will be done, not my will," that we believe that his will is better for us than our will is for ourself. And then the next step is to ask him to affirm that in his Word. And so we know that those "exceedingly great and precious promises," we take part "of the divine nature" and escape "the corruption...in the world through lust". I mean, we have to believe that stuff at face value and believe that in our weakness, he is strong. So we got all these problems. That's weakness. Praise God! We need Him. He's strong. So why would we back off from being, back off because of our weaknesses? We can't back off because of our weaknesses. We move forward because of those, because that is the rejuvenating power. The weaker we are, the more challenges that we have, the more power God has. But the key is that we recognize that weakness, not in despair, but that we recognize that weakness in power and strength, because then we realize that we "can do all things through Christ who strengths us," if verses 11 and 12 are true of Philippians, which tells us that we must be content in whatever situation God puts us in.
— So that we can't use the circumstances of life and the lack of contentment to be a problem. It's a stepping stone, not a stumbling block. And it moves us and propels us forward in faith. God does amazing and miraculous things this way. And we have to test him. And if we don't put our feet in the faith water, we can't test that. But he always comes through when we do it. And if we're doing things in our own power, we don't need faith for that. Right?
— That's right. That's 100% right. We've got about two minutes. I want you to talk about where you see God taking Mission Creek next. And what would you like to see happen if you were to go to God with not just your plans, but your dreams?
— Okay. So where I see Mission Creek going is we're gonna start up our boarding school, which we've been running since we got the new school back next year. We didn't do boarding this year. We did homeschool extension and then worked with our kids in full time. We're working with our community kids full time now. We're gonna restart our boarding next year. And we're going to continue to move forward in our Immerse program with our Bible worker and with our health ministry. If I were to have my dreams, what I would like to see is for other people to get a vision. I'm not thinking that Mission Creek is ever gonna just have 500 people out there. We were started with an individual ministry, and we are intent and intense on helping people holistically. That was our call in education. It's our call in all of our missionary work.
— And so as we help these people holistically, I really would like to see the small duplicated across the country, because people have to believe that with small beginnings, that God has big dreams. And big dreams don't necessarily come in big numbers. But the other thing I would like to happen is I would like for people to know that there is a place that you can come to without excuse. If you don't have money, you can still come to Mission Creek and get into our ministry for health. Get into our Bible worker program. We always can have people sponsor. We go to churches, ask people to help. They're always willing to do that. That's not a reason not to come to Mission Creek. We want people there that God sends there. That's our only need, is to serve the people that God calls us to serve and to be able to do that for as many, as much people as we possibly can.
— And real quickly, the kind of training people can get, just let's go. Bible worker training.
— Keep going.
— Okay, Bible worker, medical missionary.
— Medical missionary training.
— And health evangelism.
— Health evangelism.
— That's right.
— You're doing an awful lot, and God placed it on your heart. He's doing it through you. He's worked miracles, and we are expecting many more miracles to come. Mary Nell, thank you. I appreciate your time.
— Thank you, John.
— And God bless you and Mission Creek Outreach Services.
— Thank you.
— And thank you. What a blessing that you've been part of this. I look forward to seeing you again. She is Mary Nell Ellingsen from Mission Creek Outreach Services, I'm John Bradshaw, and this has been our conversation.