WEB EXCLUSIVE: Firefighter, family give up careers for nonprofit work

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) – Nearly all the home décor has been stripped from their walls. A borrowed dining room table and a pre-furnished refrigerator stand as reminders of the appliances, furniture and knick knacks they’ve already sold.

Foregoing family, friends and long-time careers, the Folkers family is ready to give up their lives in Grand Junction for something new-- something they hope will make a bigger difference.

Grand Junction firefighter Lincoln and hair stylist Leslie are taking three of their four children to Texas to work at Mercy Ships, a nonprofit that provides medical care and support to the world’s poorest.

“There was a stirring deep inside of wanting to do something that mattered most,” said Leslie.

So Leslie brought her feeling to her husband during a picnic one July night. Lincoln told her he had been feeling the same way and was seriously considering Mercy Ships.

“I ran that idea by her. I said, ‘What do you think about selling everything we own and going to Mercy Ships?’” said Lincoln. “I was a little surprised by her reaction. I didn’t really expect her to say, ‘Yeah, let’s go.’”

So their preparations began, including getting ready to give up two steady incomes. Mercy Ships requires that all their workers be completely self-supported, since the organization does not pay them any wages.

“It allows Mercy Ships to utilize the dollars that they receive as a nonprofit organization, they maximize those dollars, and they’re able to help more people,” said Lincoln.

The Folkers family has made a two-year commitment to the nonprofit, so they are getting support from a few local churches and a number of individuals.

Mercy Ships looks for people to work at its international operations center in Lindale, Texas, and onboard the world’s largest, private hospital ship, “The Africa Mercy.”

That remodeled rail ferry travels to countries across Africa, healing tumors, cleft lips and palates, noma and more in the ship’s hospital. Volunteers also train locals in each country to perform the same sort of surgeries using the technology available to them.

Lincoln will start in Texas, working in marine operations. He and his family will then move onto the ship and sail to the Republic of Congo.

“I’ll also be working with the security side of the ship for when they’re in port and actually when they’re at sea to make sure that ship security… that the people that are on the ship are protected,” said Lincoln.

Meanwhile, Leslie will be helping their 17-year-old daughter, 7-year-old son, and 5-year-old daughter adjust to their new schools and new life.

Lincoln said his feelings are mixed about leaving the department he’s been with for 12 years.

“You develop very close-knit friendships with these guys and gals that you work with. You put yourself in harm’s way with them,” said Lincoln. “So they really do become family.”

Another one of the hardest parts for Leslie will be the lifestyle change.

As a hair stylist for 25 years, she said she’s definitely had second thoughts about “my identity in life and what I was giving up and was I going to be just as special or important in society once I give up my career.”

But despite the uncertainty of where and how they will live, Leslie said she is free from any major fears.

In fact, she and her family were so excited about the idea, they sold most of their possessions in August, before they were fully accepted into the program.

“We got ready to have some dinner, and we walked into our dining room, and we started to laugh because we had no place to sit and eat our dinner,” said Leslie. “And Linc and I looked at each other and were like, ‘We really hope this is a God thing, or we are in so much trouble.”

Thankfully, things have worked out so far for the Folkers. Lincoln’s last day at the fire department is Dec. 30, and the family will be moving in early January.

Now, they are in the midst of packing and fundraising. If you would like to know more about their journey or help support their efforts, click the link below to their fundraising page.

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