BRILLION — In Luke 18:22, a ruler asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replied, “Sell everything you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Taylor Schmidt and his wife Katie, both 34, have taken that passage to heart.
In late 2013, the couple made the decision to join Family Missions Company, an organization that sends lay Catholic families and singles out to proclaim Jesus Christ and his Gospel to the poor. In 2014, Taylor left a successful sales career, he and Katie put their house on the market, and they sold most of their possessions. On Feb. 22, 2015, they arrived in Peru with their four children to live the life of missionaries.
Moving to Peru was quite an adjustment, according to Taylor. “We spoke no Spanish. We left Wisconsin and it was minus-32, Peru was 98 degrees — that’s their average high. It was a shock culturally, it was a shock mentally, it was a shock physically, it was a shock spiritually. But the Lord gave us the grace to handle it.”
When they arrived they learned about the history of the area. “It was a state that was controlled by the drug cartel for many years. There was no church or government structure —no hospital or medical system was allowed to enter while the cartel was there in the late ’80s, early ’90s. Because the people who lived there were slaves of the cartel, actually growing the cocaine, it was called Cocaine Valley,” said Taylor.
“When the war came through, people either sided with the cartel or the government — an entire generation was killed in this war. There are people 38 and down and 72 and up and in between there is no one. The people who are about our age that we’re ministering to are without parents, without God, without education, so their view of love is very animalistic to this day,” he explained.
According to the couple, there is “rampant sexual abuse, lots of infidelity … that’s normal for them. Our main mission in this place is to bring the love of Jesus to them — to teach them what is real love.”
Taylor said the situation was overwhelming when they first arrived. “Our initial thought was, ‘We need to leave right now. We have young children.’ We felt very unsafe. But then we realized, if we leave, no one’s coming to bring the love of Christ to these people and their children. There’s no one coming to tell these little girls, ‘You’re not an object, you’re intelligent, you should study, you can learn, you can be whatever it is you desire to be.’”
There are 132 communities in the state where the Schmidts are missionaries, but they have only two priests. Katie noted they are very much welcomed into the country as Catholic missionaries.
A typical day for them starts with opening the local church and doing a morning prayer service. “After that we do breakfast, our family prayer and while Katie starts the homeschooling (they now have seven children), I will go and have meetings with the priests or other missionaries because we are the community leaders for all of Peru for Family Mission Company. In the afternoon I will do some of the homeschooling and Katie will go out and do home visits.” They are busy in the evenings with mission work as well.
Katie described what the home visits entail.
“I’m typically visiting single moms — many of them are very young, 14 or 15. Unlike here in the U.S., where mothers are trained in how to nurse and what nutrition to eat to pass onto their children, it’s not that way in Peru. I also visit the elderly and the dying. My biggest ministry is being with the dying. I pray with them and their family and I also call the priests to do the anointing of the sick.”
A good amount of time is spent teaching “Theology of the Body,” a vision of the human person laid out by Pope St. John Paul II during general audiences, Katie added. “Since we introduced that into our ministry it has really helped people see the dignity of women and then to see the love and joy they receive from entering into marriage.”
Another part of their mission is reaching out to people living in remote areas where they may only have a priest in once every year or two. “People want to be Catholic but for the lack of church they are agnostic. We started three Catholic communities in the last two years. We look for a person we can raise up as a local lay leader and train them. If they don’t have a church, the people from Holy Family Parish (in Brillion) come down and build churches for them. The last two years they’ve built three chapels,” said Taylor.
“That’s been the most rewarding, to journey with them from nothing to see them joyously accepting Jesus Christ and going out and doing it themselves,” said Katie. “It’s bittersweet because we’ve worked ourselves out of a job and these people have become our friends and loved ones. God has changed the hearts of so many people just by them accepting him. He’s doing miraculous and wonderful things on the people and praise be to Jesus Christ that we get to be his tools to do that.”
The Schmidts were in Wisconsin for the birth of their youngest child this summer but they’re heading back to Peru soon. “As we were there and realized the intensity of this place, it’s a mission that needs more time,” said Taylor. “We prayed about it and for as long as we can get a visa, we’ll stay. We committed to the company until at least 2020 but I’m at peace staying there the rest of my life. We would not run out of work.”