By Mary Lou Hinrichsen
Herald Staff Writer
GOOSE LAKE — Mike Shields was mesmerized by his Spanish teacher, a man who had fled a sweltering jail in Havana, Cuba, bringing only a sack of socks and underwear.
He had left behind a beautiful home in a posh section of Havana for a small upstairs apartment in Goose Lake. But it was freedom, and Rogelio Villagelieu never looked back, Mike says.
“As I sat through four years of high school Spanish with him, I began to dream of traveling to Spanish-speaking countries. In his broken English he talked of the richness of the Latin culture and his newfound privilege of being an American.
“He mixed history, linguistics, food and fun into a package that made me determined to see a world far beyond the confines of our home in the cornfields of Iowa, he said.
And Mike Shields did just that. Within weeks of having graduated from Northeast High School he joined a team of eight American students in Managua, Nicaragua.
“Those were the waning times of the suppressive Somoza dictatorship. Managua was a city steeped in the depths of miserable poverty. It was not unusual to see naked children wandering the dirt streets of their neighborhood, their families eking out an inhumane existence.
“That three-week trip to Nicaragua convinced me of the need for compassionate, proactive U.S. missionaries to work alongside their Latin counterparts, dedicated to making a difference.”
A bright and pretty young lady, the daughter of career Bolivian missionaries, was part of that team. She was going to be a senior at North Central University in Minneapolis. She urged Mike to go to NCU also, to improve his Spanish and take ministerial studies that could open the doors of international opportunity.
So, in September Mike Shields walked into the Spanish classroom at NCU — “and to my surprise that bilingual, bright-eyed and beautiful brunette who had urged me to come to Minneapolis was the Spanish teacher!”
Within a week Mike was in love and within a month he had decided to marry his teacher. But MonaRe’ graduated from NCU and went directly to Panama to teach in the National Bible Institute. It was a year before Mike could get to Panama City, find MonaRe’ and pop the question.
It took two more years, he said, to get her back in the U.S. and then coordinate a wedding with her parents, who by then were living in Argentina. They were days of high drama and great expectations for Mike and MonaRe’.
“And nothing in our lives has changed since.”
Over the years, beginning in the 1980s, Mike and MonaRe’ formed, trained, fund-raised and/or accompanied teams of more than 3,000 young people, traveling to more than a dozen Latin American countries. Those teams have gone to scores of schools and met with thousands of Latin American students. .
Mike and MonaRe’ are now directors for the Christian Training Network, which sponsors seminars in more than a dozen countries each year. In 2012 they spent several weeks in each of 14 countries.
“We and our team teach administration, finance, leadership, classroom didactics and ministerial formation to hundreds of the more than 6,000 Christian leaders, pastors, school administrators, Latin missionaries and trained professionals involved in our intensive international post-graduate program each year,” Mike said.
He and MonaRe’ also sponsor medical outreach teams that go three or four times a year into the southern region of Chile to work with the Mapuche Indian people, treating thousands of children and their parents.
“Our main emphasis is dental treatment. Our team of Christian professionals has two dental tech specialists who work night and day manufacturing implants, bridges and dentures.”
And then there is Cuba, where it all started.
“We have been given visas to be able to legally enter Cuba bringing so many things that simply are not available there. We bring hundreds of pounds of clothing, supplies and teaching materials. It is one of the great parts of our job to be able to go to a place I dreamed about so many years ago in Goose Lake High School (now Northeast).”
“We have often gone to jails,” Mike said, “but a high security women’s prison in Paraguay is permanently etched on my heart.
“They let us have a little party for the 40 women in that section of the jail. To our stunned surprise, there were at least 15 children locked up with their mothers because there was no one else to care for them.
“We went out and bought soaps and lotions, toiletries and basic supplies for each of the ladies. For each child we bought a special toy and books. I will never forget a 9-year-old girl hugging me, in her school uniform, to say thank you. She was allowed to leave the prison for her classes, but had to return to the prison each day to be with her mother — for a five-year prison sentence. School uniforms were her only clothes.
“We wept when we left that place,” he said.
“But over the years,” Mike said, “one of the greatest opportunities we’ve had is speaking to tens of thousands of young people in national conventions, retreats, camps and ministerial training schools all over Central and South America.
“In country after country we have seen amazing young men and women with gifts and talents that exceed my generation. They are sharp, they are smart and they are part of a growing professional class of Latin youth. They embrace Christian principals of hard work, self-reliance, respect for others, creativity and a strong faith in God that tomorrow will be a better day.”
Mike and MonaRe’ have two daughters. Both are wives of ordained pastors. Kristi works with her husband, Wayne Northup, in a new church in New Orleans. Elizabeth and her husband, Tory Farina, have planted a new church in Eagan, Minn. Each of the daughters has two small children.