By Stephanie Dolan
Michael and Cassi Reach met 13 years ago just as Michael was exiting the military after being deployed to Afghanistan. After moving all over the United States and serving in a ministry in Bangladesh, the Reach family – complete with four children – is now planning on moving to Romania.
“We only knew one another for six months (before we were married), four of which were over the phone,” Cassi said.
The two married in September 2005 and began a joint ministry that relied heavily on their experience as college ministers.
“We began our ministry together shortly after by helping establish an interdenominational study group at a local coffee house in southern Illinois while we served as youth pastors,” Cassi said. “We later moved to Arizona where God opened the door for me to begin teaching full time in 2006 after my graduation from Southern Illinois University (2005). Together, Mike and I served as college ministers while he finished work on his associate degree at the community college there. He has always had a heart for opening our home to disciple Christians.”
Eventually, the couple moved back to Indiana. Michael finished his BA in English from IUPUI after only three years of study while also finishing 10 Christian fiction novels in 13 years. Three of those novels have been published.
“In the summer of 2009, we traveled to Bucharest, Romania for 10 days to work with a missionary there,” Cassi said. “We visited abandoned baby wards in the local hospital where children were left due to cultural, traditional, religious and economic issues. Culturally, women are cast out from families for becoming pregnant outside of wedlock, which leads to months of secrecy and hardship of a lonely pregnancy until they can birth the baby, then return home as if they simply rebelled. This allows them to not be marked or to mark their families with scandal, in accordance with traditional religious practices.”
While in Bucharest, the couple served with a missionary who opened a home for young women looking to have a child safely. They were taught a trade – usually making jewelry or sewing – and furthered their education. The home also partnered with local churches in finding couples to adopt babies that might otherwise have been abandoned.
Already mother to Ethan, Michael and Cassi welcomed Lizzy shortly after returning from Romania.
Yet, even though the couple now had two small children, they never wavered from their focus on international missions.
“We contacted a missionary organization and confirmed an opportunity for us to serve in a small mission school in Dhaka, Bangladesh,” Cassi said. “I worked at the elementary (primary) school as a teacher while Mike did street evangelism with the kids and served at the high school as a soccer coach, substitute teacher, librarian and as an unofficial chaplain of sorts. Together, we planted a small church of international teachers from around the world in our apartment. We met together every Friday night for three years, praying, singing and sharing life.”
Cassi went on to say that, as a mom, the greatest lesson she learned during her time in Bangladesh was to trust God and share needs with authenticity.
“When you are isolated, all you have is one another,” she said. “This was, after all, God’s plan and purpose for the church in the first place: to serve Him and one another, love Him and one another. This began when, after we were in the country only three months, I gave birth to our third child, a sweet encourager named Adam (now six). He quickly became everyone’s baby and united our whole little expatriate community there.”
After having Adam, Cassi said the first year flew by but the second year delivered one hardship after another.
“We faced a lot of adversity at the school,” she said. “Mike battled with some corruption in the leadership, as well as a personal affliction. He was diagnosed with a debilitating ear disease. The doctors said he would die if he did not have immediate emergency surgery. While we are not against medicine whatsoever, we felt as if God was at work through this in a big way. All of his Muslim, Hindu, atheist and Christian students saw him struggle but trust God. At the same time, we found out I was pregnant again.”
As the Reach’s three-year contract with the school ended, the couple weighed everything (Mike’s ear, the birth of their fourth child, etc.) and decided to come home to Indiana for a season. The trip home, though, revealed a few issues that easily fell into the category of “culture shock”.
“We quickly realized the little things our children did not know because they had never experienced them outside of the U.S.,” she said. “For example, children seldom wear shoes and socks in Dhaka. Sandals, flip-flops, yes. Shoes, not so much. As a result, none of our children knew how to tie their shoes. Oops. Talk about a parenting fail. Likewise, as we were enjoying a three-day stop-over in Istanbul, Turkey on the way home, we drove by a patch of grass as a sprinkler system engaged. Our oldest, Ethan, who was seven at the time, burst out laughing. He’d never seen a sprinkler… a stop sign in his language… a mailbox. He thought it was commonplace for four or more people to ride on a ‘motor bike’. Also, his lessons were taught by Aussies, New Zealanders and Brits. He pronounced words with ‘-er’ on the end, bobbed his head like a true cultural Bangladeshi and even carried a bit of an accent. Poor Lizzy, our blonde, fair-skinned princess, no longer felt special. No one stared at her as she rode by on a rickshaw, waving like the princess she is. Adam, who knew more Bangla than English, continued to make everyone smile everywhere he traveled, oblivious to any sort of change.”
Before leaving Bangladesh, Michael had secured a position as a discipleship pastor and missions coordinator with a local church; however, within days of their return, the couple found out the position fell through due to a sudden, drastic shift in funding. Two weeks later, in May 2014, the Reach’s fourth child, a son named Judah, was born.
“Within two weeks, he grew deathly ill, stopped feeding and began having seizures,” Cassi said. “We rushed him to a local hospital where he had more than a dozen seizures. At the suggestion of our dear friend, Dr. Nick Wilson, we transferred him to Riley (Hospital for Children at IU Health), where he was treated after the first seizure. We spent 10 days praying and reflecting in the NICU at Riley, listening to the wonderful doctors there pour their hearts and minds into what could’ve possibly caused this little fella to decline so rapidly for no apparent reason. All the while our friend Dr. Wilson visited us every day to pray with us and adjust Judah to help his little body heal.
“Judah would have died had we stayed in Bangladesh,” Cassi said. “Instead, because of the care of Riley Children’s Hospital and under the counsel and care of Dr. Wilson, Judah is alive today and without even the minutest sign of brain damage.”
To top it all off, the disease in Michael’s ear healed on its own.
A few weeks later, Cassi interviewed for a teaching position and was offered a job in a prestigious school district. Yet, hints of a return to Romania seemed to continue looming on the horizon.
“While we served in Bangladesh, upon our return and over the four years since we’ve been home, Romania seemed to peer from around every corner, refusing to hide,” she said. “We kept praying for God to confirm it and it was like God was peeking out at us, tapping us to remind us where our call to missions began and why. It did not matter where we were, who we were talking to, or what we were doing; Romania would come up. People would randomly mention it; waitresses would have accents; our neighbor is marrying a great guy whose last name happens to be Romanian. The list goes on and on.”
Now, the family is planning on returning to Romania for a minimum of two years.
“Most missions organizations encourage missionaries to go for two to three years,” Cassi said. “First, to learn the culture, start language training, develop relationships and seek what ministry God has in store for them. We believe that to be a good practice and our pastoral leadership and partners have encouraged us in that direction as well.”
The Reach family is currently raising money for their extended eastern European trek.
“We have prayerfully determined a sum of up-front money we will need for the basics to get there and get established, as well as a modest monthly income to help us live and do ministry,” Reach said. “We will have transitional housing to stay in for a short time upon arrival but we are still in need of long-term housing to rent while we are there. Transportation will be public. We will not have a vehicle but we have spoken to our friends in the country and developed an idea of what our needs will be and how much they will cost on a monthly basis. I think we’ll definitely miss the ability to drive around freely.”
But this will be just one piece of a cultural puzzle that the family is apprehensively looking forward to piecing together.
“(The kids) are older and more accustomed with the U.S. now,” Reach said. “Like adults, they will deal with cultural shifts but again, we are praying for God’s peace. We have been blessed with some great children, so we are confident their excitement, teamed with His purposes, will produce some memorable moments for us all.”
With regard to her children, Cassi hopes that this experience helps them gain a new perspective and outlook.
“As Mike and I look around the world today, the one thing we feel is significantly lacking, both in churches and in general, is a heartfelt perspective into the lives and circumstances of others,” she said. “As our pastor often says, ‘Extreme is easy. Balance is hard.’”
In context, Reach said she wants her children to further learn the lesson of not just reacting to life’s ups and downs but to respond in love.
“I’m petrified about selling everything and moving four kids around the world,” she said. “On the other hand, I’m confident in who has gone before me.”
For more information on the Reach journey, or to donate, visit reach360.missionsplace.com.