By Jessi Holland
With a daughter off at college and a son in the Navy, a mother with an empty nest started on an unexpected journey. Ruth Anne Shattuck offered to teach eighth-grade boys with her husband, Dan, at Chapel Rock Christian Church in Indianapolis. Soon after, they were asked to serve as sponsors on the church’s first youth mission trip to Portugal. The year was 1989.
“I was so ready to do this,” Ruth Anne said. “I’d been on a plane. I felt so prepared. I felt like the Lord wanted me to go on this particular trip.”
But the minute she stepped off the bus in Portugal, something unexpected happened. “I got out, looked around, and started to smell it . . . not exactly what anyone would want to smell. My body and mind just froze. Youth were shouting for me to keep moving. I didn’t know what in the world I was doing. Am I ready for this? Do I want to be ready? What is God going to do in this place and why am I here?” These and many other questions raced through Ruth Anne’s mind as she stood there feeling sorry for herself. “It wasn’t fear . . . it was different. Suddenly, I felt the size-12 shoe of my youth pastor on my bottom and he said, ‘Ruth Anne, get going.’”
We’ve all been there . . . locked inside of a moment that changes everything. Moments like that started a movement of short-term mission trips within the independent Christian churches. People in the church had newfound opportunities to go and serve on the other side of the world. Ruth Anne not only got to experience it herself, she also played a major role in its development.
Chapel Rock partnered with Lifeline Christian Mission and began to send youth teams to Grand Goâve, Haiti. Once again, Ruth Anne was the first to step up and lead. The purpose of these trips was twofold: (1) help leaders of the Christian church in Grand Goâve start a youth group and (2) dig footings for a new clinic. This new model was a concept that would be the foundation for future service trips.
On that first trip to Haiti, Ruth Anne met a shy, 12-year-old boy named Luke who was a bit of a rebel. He was “skinny as a toothpick,” she said, “[and] he didn’t like himself one bit.” His father was a voodoo priest and his mother tried to provide for them any way she could. Men had been in and out of Luke’s life so he was distrustful of them, but he leaned in to Ruth Anne and it didn’t take long for a precious attachment to form.
Dan and Ruth Anne tried to help provide stability for Luke during their many trips to Haiti. The strength of the relationship empowered that skinny, shy boy to go to accounting school, then seminary, and eventually to become pastor of the church where they first met. Today, more than 1,000 Haitians attend that church, and Luke has a beautiful and self-sustaining family, including a son named Daniel and a daughter named Ruthie. It all sprouted from a relationship with an empty-nested mama and her desire to do something that would make a difference.
Ruth Anne has left an almost 30-year legacy in Haiti, but this unnoticed hero didn’t stop there. In 2001, Ruth Anne was offered a staff position directing missions at the church that sent her on her first trip. Ruth Anne’s influence expanded into relationships with 32 global and local ministries. “Missionaries sleep when I’m awake and I found myself having conversations during the night [with folks] all around the globe.”
Every hero has a sidekick, and for Ruth Anne it was no different. Husband Dan supported Ruth Anne on every trip, through every phone call, and in every meeting. The mission trip to Ukraine was his favorite. It was next-level. Team Expansion invited them to join the work of encouragement and relationship that the Christian church was doing in Kiev. Together, they fell in love with the Ukrainian people, learned to eat borscht together, and experienced a different kind of poverty as they ministered to church members. “God orchestrates things when your team goes—when you pay attention to his plan,” Ruth Anne said.
This also happened on a trip to Austria with TCM. A rotten, broken bridge needed to be fixed, and Dan made it his mission to completely repair it.
Dan and Ruth Anne found direction and calling in a new season of their lives. Some people in their 70s, might consider their lives as empty or complete; they may not realize how much more the Lord can use them. God spoke of this when he said, “But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16).
“In all of my mission travels, I always admired those who brought their skills and talents to the mission field,” Ruth Anne said. “It wasn’t only that they were using their God-given talents, but that they cared enough to get specialized training in a chosen field and give something tangible back to the people they were serving to enrich their lives.”
Ruth Anne began studies at Lincoln (Illinois) Christian University in 2002. She participated in Distance Learning Online. “The experience was one I wouldn’t trade for any on-campus class,” she said. “Many times, I would post a lesson assignment and accidentally hit the delete button. There were days I literally did all my classwork in my pajamas. But . . . God gave me the energy, the drive, and the purpose, and all I had to do was follow. Lincoln helped me get that specialized training I was searching for, and I have used this training all over the world.” Ruth Anne doesn’t run away from challenges, she runs to them.
Ruth Anne would admit it hasn’t been easy, but she will always add that God has been good. Challenges abound in international missions. Learning to balance all the needs, financial support, and partnership with the local church hasn’t always gone smoothly. The biggest challenge Ruth Anne ever faced was in 2010—and it could have ended her ministry.
“It is amazing how much you can learn about life, what really is important, and why missions have strict guidelines when a 6.7 [magnitude] earthquake happens right under your feet,” Ruth Anne said. “Yes, all those mindless steps missionaries take when buying tickets, filling out immigration forms and passport checks, they all have meaning.”
During the Haiti earthquake of 2010, 50-plus women she was leading helped injured people who were streaming into the safety of their compound.
“God had a purpose for us: making soup, comforting those who had just watched their family members die, birthing babies, praying, singing, and doing everything a mission could do for her people,” she said.
“Back home, Lifeline Mission was immediately in touch with our government telling them exactly where we were, how many were injured, and our ‘coordinates.’ [That] night, the U.S. Navy appeared to take our injured to a ship located in the port.
“Days later, when we were evacuated, our families had been notified as to our safety and condition.
“The clinic where we laid the foundation on that very first trip served hurting people, doing surgery at all hours of the day. We were on the ground for a purpose. We were there to serve God through Lifeline and their resources.
“Seven years later, I still feel the earth shake. At times like this I remember those beautiful Haitian people who served us, slept beside us, held our hands during the aftershocks, and joined us in singing almost every hymn we could think of. We were safe, God kept us safe for future kingdom work.”
Leaving a Legacy
The earthquake didn’t end Haiti and it didn’t end Ruth Anne’s ministry there. Though she recently retired from the Chapel Rock staff, she continues to return to that poor Caribbean nation. The post-traumatic stress doesn’t shake her enough to stop her.
At 76, Ruth Anne is actively leaving a legacy. She’s a Christian, a kingdom-worker, a wife of 55 years, mother, grandmother, and now a great-grandmother . . . and a missionary.
“Grandmothers always think their grandchildren are the best, most beautiful, the smartest, and have the brightest future. This grandmother is no exception,” Ruth Anne said. “When my granddaughter was 12 years old, I could already see Jesus in her eyes. It was time to introduce her to a world outside of Indiana.”
That young girl’s first trip to Haiti was a joy not only for her, but also her grandma, who smiled as she watched the youngster interact with the Haitian people.
“It is never too early or late to introduce our children to the mission field,” Ruth Anne said. “They hear about it at church, they see the pictures, so why not invite them on a trip? The seeds planted by a loved one take root quickly and last forever.
“As a result of that trip, [my granddaughter] is now in full-time mission work with 410 Bridge. What a legacy! Disney World can wait . . . take those children and grandchildren on the ride of their life. Show them the world God created just for them, and at the same time, fulfill the Great Commission.”
I am that granddaughter of Ruth Anne Shattuck. I’m following in her footsteps, just hoping and praying to be the kind of unnoticed hero that she continues to be.
Jessi Holland serves in partner development with 410 Bridge (www.410bridge.org), a ministry based in Alpharetta, Georgia.