In recent days, Randy and Adele Millwood have been on a permanent road trip—one designed to better understand the needs of churches throughout Maryland and Delaware.
Randy, the team strategist for church strengthening at the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network (also called the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware), noted, "After we moved our offices to our home and became field-based, we weren't going into Columbia on a daily basis. We were going out to where the churches are."
At first, they found themselves staying in a hotel for three or four nights, for instance, in western Maryland, so that they could meet with a variety of pastors and groups while there.
But over time, he and Adele, his ministry assistant/partner, "sort of had an aha! moment."
"We were gone. We came home. We packed a suitcase. We came home to mow the yard. Those kinds of things, but we didn't really work at home," Randy said.
"We worked on the field, and we started thinking, 'What would it be like if we lived on the field as well?'"
Even deeper, the Millwoods knew they "sort of understood the lifestyles of people that lived in the suburbs of Baltimore and Washington" because they had done that. But they didn't know life in southern Maryland, the Eastern Shore and Delaware, or out West.
"We knew the churches and the pastors, and that was very nice, but we didn't know what the people face on a regular basis," he noted. "It was very difficult for us to discern counsel or advice or coaching techniques for churches because we didn't know what they were facing."
That changed when the Millwoods bought a recreational vehicle, their version of a tiny house on wheels.
Since that purchase three years ago, the ministry couple (and their pet, Ellie May) has now lived in western Maryland, along the Capital Beltway, on the Eastern Shore, in Delaware, and northeast of Baltimore city, among other places.
"We've lived all over the region now. We know the ebbs and flows of the folks and some of the questions they ask," Randy said.
He noted the types of things they typically learn about each community: where to get a haircut, a good place to eat, where to get prescriptions and groceries and gas.
"It generates an ordinary conversation for us to have with pastors and key leaders, and then more deeply understand some of the challenges that they face in representing Christ and His Kingdom in their culture and in their world," Randy said. "That's pretty cool for us."
It is quite the journey for someone who previously thought "a bad Holiday Inn was his idea of camping," Adele said with a laugh.
They admit they often are asked: "How in the world do you live in a tiny house? How do you live in a small house with wheels on it? Do you guys ever run into each other?"
"Well, obviously we run into each other, but we've never really seen it that way," Randy said. "I mean, if we have a miff with one another, we can step outside, and we've got a hundred-acre campground. We've got plenty of space we can get away from each other. That's not really a problem for us at all."
And besides, their availability to local pastors outweighs all of that.
Adele said, "One of the neat things is, I typically will send out an email to each region when we're scheduled to be there, and pastors respond." Now, even before she sends out the schedule, pastors ask when the Millwoods will be in their particular area so they can schedule training and coaching appointments.
"It seems that it makes it a little easier to ask for assistance, because they know we're coming there," she said. "We had one pastor, early on, say, 'Well, I've been needing to talk with you for quite a while now, but I hated to ask you to drive all the way over here.'
"Even though we gladly will do that—we're available anywhere anytime—the fact that we come and live there has made all the difference. It just puts us closer," she said.
They are now so much closer that the Millwoods have gotten to know Network pastors and staff and their spouses a little more intimately because they're there with them.
"We get invited into their homes. That just kind of deepens the relationships as well," Adele said.
Randy noted, "We have folks on our staff that can and do an outstanding job of making quick calls and finding out what's going in somebody's life for quick response. But we're just wired in such a way that we really prefer to hang out with the folks for a little bit, and get to know their rhythms and their patterns, and get to know how they live.
"It's very helpful for us to sit down with folks over dinner, and spend time with them, and hear their story, and meet their kids, and see their strengths and weaknesses, and strengths and weaknesses of their kids through their parents' eyes, and hear the challenges of the church from that kind of a conversation," he said. "It helps us to make recommendations for other members of our staff to be able to engage some specific need, or where we can help, too."
After some hard wintry weather experiences in the RV, including 68.5 inches of snow, ice storms and the like, the Millwoods now schedule their travel season from April until October.
The Millwoods will communicate by email their availability to pastors and directors of mission in each area, offering to help them any way they would like.
"We're coming to a neighborhood near you sometime this summer, between now and fall, we will be pretty close," Randy said. "We'll be looking for you."
Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network in Columbia, Md. This article first appeared in Baptist Life, newsjournal of the Mid-Atlantic Network.