DU QUOIN — After a full career with the U.S. Marines and Kentucky State Police, Harvey Baxter thought he'd retire back to Du Quoin, where he grew up, to enjoy leisurely days of fishing and hunting.
His wife Rosemary, had other plans, experiencing an incessant urge, she said, to do more than the ministry work of driving a bus to pick up inner-city youth and ferry them to her church, Lexington Road Church of God in Richmond, Kentucky.
"During that process, the Lord was really dealing with me," Rosemary said. "But there was just still something missing. He was still dealing with my heart."
She said God's "dealing" with her became clearer after she visited Nicaragua in 2011 with a fellow church worker. She said serving the poor and underprivileged in that country, especially its children, is where she felt led to be.
She tried to convince her husband, but Harvey wasn't sure that was God's will for their life, the couple said Friday afternoon in Du Quoin.
"He said 'hmm, I don't know, I think you need to pray about it a little bit more'," Rosemary, a Metropolis native, said. " '(He said) My God's fine with me fishing.'"
Harvey's own mind began to shift after he made a missions trip, a more evangelical outreach to Guyana with their pastor and another church member.
Baxter said the revelation came as he exited the plane.
"I saw these bright smiles, these dirty faces, this raggedy clothing," Harvey said of some of the children he saw as he got off the plane. "But yet, there was something in them that was joyful. … But they would look at you … just with curiosity."
Now, he and his wife feed and teach dozens of children and adults each day, many with meals that might be the only ones they get for the day, they said.
Establish non-profit to fulfill mission
While still in Kentucky in 2012, the Baxters established a non-profit 501(c)3, calling it the Hands of Grace International Missions, Inc. That organization now has several outreaches in Nicaragua: its Thrive youth, nutrition and worship centers in Aranjuez (which does outreach to children who live on a coffee plantation) and in Solingalpa, Nicaragua; and its Grace street ministry outreach to several youth, some of whom are homeless, and adults in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.
One of the schools is actually taught on the front porch of the home of a Nicaraguan woman who supports their outreach.
They are also starting to build another facility, a $15,000-to-$20,000 building they want to build in the mountains, just north of their current center; he hopes to have that finished by January 2018.
They started with about eight youth and men from the streets, and now have 90, ranging in ages from 7 years of age to 84. They have a particular outreach to many of the children who sniff glue, a commercial cobbler's product that they sniff because it helps curb their hunger, Harvey said.
Some of the first children they worked with are now in fostering types of situations, Rosemary said.
"We sold everything" in 2014, he said. "We had our clothes, we had our dog, and we went to Central America."
They have five children of their own, ranging in age from 20 to 28.
"We were trusting God, trusting God," he said. "We thought this would take five years. … This was a little bit scary."
Back in Du Quoin to drum up support
They are visiting back in Southern Illinois for a few weeks as they look for more support for their mission and work on a property on Du Quoin's Division Street, in which they plan to establish their U.S. counterpart.
Rosemary said they have been blessed in the running of their projects. In the beginning, they supported the mission 100 percent, using several hundred dollars a month of their own retirement money, but have seen their support be reduced to 25 percent as others make donations.
"The Lord provides, and He's really opening doors for us," Rosemary said.
They want to spread word about their mission in hopes of interesting others in working with them, including students who might want to do missions work and people who might be interested in serving on their board.
Rosemary said they also need volunteers with experience in computer expertise; design experience; video production and photography; advertising and fund-raising; accounting; and other services.
They're also seeking donations, which are eligible for tax-deductions.
Not all of those they work with are homeless, but many come from homes that are not always supporting, Harvey said.
"Truly, they want that better life," he said. "We're trying to give them that love of Christ."