The former Kodiak residents live in Belize, known as an international tourist attraction. But they live far away from the fancy resorts, posh hotels and tourist traps.
Their open-air house — merely a platform with a floor — is accessible to birds, rodents, wild hogs, snakes and lizards, but the Baldwins’ dog keeps the critters at bay.
“We catch the snakes and sell them to our Chinese friends who like exotic meat,” said Debbie Baldwin. Currently she is in Kodiak visiting friends and doing temporary work for Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center, which employed her when the Baldwins lived here several years ago. At that time Debbie and Nat, a mechanic, were youth pastors at the Kodiak Assembly of God Church.
Late last year the Baldwins came to Kodiak for a visit. Nat and Levi have returned to Belize. Debbie will join them once she fulfills her commitment at Providence.
The Baldwins live in the village of Black Man Eddy and own Mad Dog Motors, an automotive repair and fabrication shop in San Ignacio, 12 miles away.
They have an apprenticeship program for disadvantaged young men, most of whom have a criminal record.
“These young men had a rough start and made some bad choices but are committed to change,” Baldwin said.
Besides teaching them welding, mechanics, fabrication and other trades, the Baldwins partner with local churches counseling them in Bible-based Christian principles.
“It is our belief that, once a person has come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, he must make a change in his life,” Baldwin said. “We assist them in reaching their maximum potential and full calling of God on their lives.”
The Baldwins believe their divine calling is to minister to the needy in Belize.
“I have a strong faith and spiritual conviction that God called us to live in Belize. We are striving to do what God called all of us to do (in order) to affect the world and save souls. It’s the same calling that each of us as Christians have. The difference for us is that we are in Belize doing it. So we have a calling rather than a mission.”
Baldwin said they don’t like to be called “missionaries” because the term has “garnered a negative connotation.”
“Many well-intentioned individuals come here, stay a few years, start a work and then, for one reason or another, abandon the work. This doesn’t sit well with the local people who are continually getting their hopes built up and then crushed.”
Most of the missionaries are short-term.
“It’s hard to make a difference in that short amount of time,” Baldwin said.
Nat, the son of lifelong missionaries, grew up in Guatemala. In 1985, right after Debbie and Nat married, they moved to Belize. Their son, Levi, was born and raised there. Both Levi and Nat have actually lived out of the USA more than in, said Debbie, who grew up in Arizona.
The Baldwins run a self supportive ministry. Proceeds from their garage go back into the program, covering salaries and living expenses.
“Although we willingly and gratefully accept it, we do not solicit or depend on outside support,” Baldwin said. “We don’t go to the churches and ask for support.”
While Nat was in Kodiak, he preached at the Assembly of God Church, where an offering was taken.
“We’re buying equipment for the garage and sound equipment for musical outreach ministry” with that money, Baldwin said.
To help fund their ministry, Baldwin has been working at the hospital in various roles.
Baldwin said she has enjoyed her time in Kodiak.
“If I was going to choose to live in America again, I’d choose Kodiak. It’s a great community with lifelong friends. I’ve always been a small town girl. This is a nice small town. As crazy as it can get with island fever, it’s awesome. I love the church, the people in the church, the community and I love the hospital.”
Baldwin said Kodiak people have donated tools and other equipment to their garage.
Last year Kodiak Assembly of God members Jeremiah Olsen and Jesse Stearns visited the Baldwins.
The Kodiak Assembly of God may send a team down to Belize in the future to help build a dormitory, a step needed in making the Baldwin’s ministry residential.
“The government agreed that, if we have a residential program, boys charged with minor offenses could come to us instead of jail.”
Currently the Baldwins are limited to working with young men in the immediate area. With a residential program the Baldwins would be enabled to reach out to far away places such as Belize City.
Baldwin said it has been a joy to see positive changes in the men they work with.
Changes have also come within the family.
When the Baldwins lived in Kodiak several years ago, their son “got sucked into a party lifestyle and made lot of bad choices,” Baldwin said.
As youth pastors, “We worked with other kids, but there were moments when we felt that we had lost our own son to the world. That has changed. God has done a work in Levi and Levi has seriously dedicated himself to the Lord. He’s come a long ways.”
In Belize Levi works full time in the training program. He also has a music ministry and serves as a leader with the young people in a countrywide outreach program called Legacy.
“To see him involved has been incredible,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin is looking forward to joining her family in Belize.
“Belize is my home,” she said.
When the people of Belize ask the Baldwins why they don’t live in America, where they can make good money and have everything they want, Debbie responds that her highest calling is to see souls saved for God.
“When I’m in His will, I am satisfied. When I’m not, I feel disconnected.
“When I come to the end of my life, I want to hear God say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’”