It all started with that powerful three-letter-word, “yes.” Almost 10 years ago, Cathie Hoehner said yes to joining a mission group traveling to Romania. Since then, she has returned four times to Romania; traveled on Haitian missions six times; and taken three mission trips to the Dominican Republic with her sons.
“I always had it on my bucket list to do an international mission trip,” Cathie explained. “It’s crazy how this all got started. I was at a school conference in Lexington, eating lunch with (Children First founder) Bill Nallia. He said, ‘Hoehner, why don’t you go with us to Romania?’” Her reply was, “Yes, I’ll go, but where is Romania? You know that I have to work with kids.”
Cathie’s first mission trip to Romania was in July 2010 through Romanian American Missions (RAM). The RAM website, www.ram-christian.org, states that the organization was started in 1996 by former Buck Run Baptist Church pastor, Dr. Robert H. Jackson. “RAM exists to bring together Christians and churches in order to spread a passion for Jesus Christ in the world,” according to the website.
Cathie explained that their mission goal was to bring Jesus to the people they met while providing much-needed services. “We take a medical team, a Vacation Bible School (VBS) team, provide an eyeglass ministry and an evangelism team. While the adults are at the medical clinic, the kids are at VBS.
“We base ourselves in a big city in Romania, then we go to different sites each day. We’ve worked under a tarp in the hot sun. We’ve sat behind little village houses with no running water and the women would pump us water from the well. We even have gone to a gypsy village.”
While she loves her mission work in Romania, Cathie admits that her first love is Haiti. “My heart is in Haiti,” she said, holding her hands to her chest. Bill Nallia also invited Cathie to Haiti.
“Bill had started Christian Covenant Home Orphanage and at church one day he said, ‘You wanna go to Haiti?’ I replied, ‘Heck yeah!’ My husband, Tom, was standing beside me and asked if I wanted that to be my Christmas present. So in June 2011, Tom paid for me to go on my first mission trip to Haiti.”
Cathie, an active member of Buck Run Baptist Church, is involved with several organizations that do mission work in Haiti — Children First, Love Big and Haitian Hope. “Haiti needs our prayers now more than ever,” she said. “These people live in horrible conditions and it just breaks my heart. Their faith is so amazingly strong.”
When the mission team is in Haiti, we stay in Port-au-Prince and take an armed bus to the Children First orphanage in Croix des Bouquets that houses 42 children ages 3 to 17.
“There is a capacity for 72 children, but they need more funding and sponsorships. They are also in the process of building a school. To open, they need desks, electric wiring, dry erase boards, a computer lab and a solar energy system,” Cathie said.
Photographs of smiling Haitian children are spread across Cathie’s kitchen table.
“Look at these babies. Just look at their faces, sweet angels,” she said, picking up one after the other. “They are so full of love.”
She points out a photograph of herself with a young Haitian man, “This is Wilby. He’s great with children. I sponsor his college education.”
According to Cathie, Love Big and Haitian Hope, are local off-shoot mission programs from Bill Nallie’s ministry with Children First. They provide feeding programs, schooling and discipleship.
Since 2005, Cathie and Tom’s sons, Sam and Matt, have been going to the Dominican Republic with GO Ministries out of Louisville. One part of GO Ministries is to develop and disciple athletes through baseball. Sam and Matt work with baseball camps through this group.
Cathie said she told her boys she wanted to go with them, but they didn’t know what she could do — it was baseball. But, Cathie found a way.
“A pastor’s wife down there was the head of a private school so I helped them with structure changes to their math curriculum. There’s always something you can do to help.”
Cathie said their sons have really taught her more about her own faith. “My boys have taught me. Growing up we took them to church. We talked the talk. But my guys have walked the walk. They have truly helped my faith grow,” she said.
Finding a way to help
A longtime, beloved teacher in Frankfort, Cathie is partially retired. Lately, she has found a new way to give back. She spends her early mornings and late evenings teaching online ESL (English as a Second Language) classes to Chinese students through a company called VIPKid. “I just love doing it and some of the money I make I can donate,” Cathie commented. “I’m just giving it back to people who need it more than I do.”
One of Cathie’s extra bedrooms has been turned into a donation center. The dresser top is loaded down with new boxes of crayons, containers of shoes are stacked on the floor, along with old cell phones, soccer balls and clothes.
“People just come and drop things off at my house. I find things on the porch all the time,” she said.
“I don’t have anyone in my past who has done missionary work. All I know is that I love kids, I love to travel and I love Jesus. That’s why I do what I do. I just get so excited to go. And, when we come back home, we come with more love than we left with,” she said.
Whenever Cathie gets the chance, she speaks about her mission work. “Heck yeah. I say yes to talk about these opportunities every chance I get,” she remarked. “It’s important to tell the stories of these people in need and to try to help.”
For more information about the mission organizations that Cathie is involved with contact:
Romanian American Missions
℅ Debbie Wicker
406 Leawood Dr.
Frankfort, KY 40601