Heart for service: Josh Barrett finds passion, blessings after tragedy

Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Josh Barret during a mission trip to Africa. (Submitted photo)

While Josh Barrett grew up in a Christian home and went to church regularly, he never envisioned himself going on an international mission trip.

"I never had a tug at my heart to go on one until recently," says Barrett.

That tug on Barrett's heart started when he and his wife, Lisa, carried and then said goodbye to their newborn son Jonathan in June of this year.

"We spent one hour and 15 minutes with Jonathan before he went to heaven to be with Jesus," says Barrett.

The Barretts found out around Lisa's 16th week of pregnancy that Jonathan's kidneys were not developing properly. After several trips to specialists, including visits to the Cardinal Glennon Fetal Care Institute, the Barretts realized that Jonathan's life expectancy would be very short.

"We wanted to carry him to term no matter what," says Barrett.

Jonathan was the couple's third child -- they also have a 4-year-old daughter, Ella, and 2-year-old son, William.

"At first, you're kind of in shock over it all; then, you move on to figuring out how to handle it," say Barrett on the painful loss of his child.

The book "I Will Carry You" by Angie Smith helped ease some of the Barretts' pain.

"The book was written by the wife of a member of the Christian band Selah," says Barrett. "They had the same experience that we did, and the book really helped us to see it not as a sad, horrible experience but as a blessing from God."

The Barretts' church family also provided them with tremendous strength and encouragement.

"They brought us meals and surrounded us with love and support," says Barrett. "They told us what a blessing our faith was to them while they were the ones giving us strength."

The idea to a go on a mission trip to Swaziland with Heart for Africa came up about a month before Jonathan was born.

"I had talked to Jimmy Wilferth [director of Heart for Africa] about a group of us going over there on a construction mission trip. When the opportunity presented itself, I knew I had to go," says Barrett.

Eight men, including five from the Cape Girardeau area, spent 11 days in late September and early October working on construction of the baby home there.

"I love babies and I loved being out there and being a part of what was going on," says Barrett.

He explains that the mission of Heart for Africa, a faith-based, not-for-profit charity, is to provide self-sustaining homes for orphans and vulnerable children in Africa.

"The founder, Janine Maxwell, had a vision to start with a generation of babies left on roadsides and [other abandoned areas] and raise them on farmland that is self-sufficient, and then surround them with Christian values so that they could become a self-sustaining people," says Barrett.

Barrett was amazed by the spirit of the people he met in Swaziland.

"They are not downtrodden people who sit and say 'Woe is me,' like you might expect," says Barrett. "They may have next to nothing, but they have smiles on their faces and a positive attitude. While we were over there helping them, they ended up blessing us with their positive outlook."

The experience was an eye-opening one for Barrett, who is the assistant store manager at Lowe's in Cape Girardeau.

"The trip really helped me to put things in perspective," says Barrett. "Now, a problem like a broken dishwasher or something like that seems so insignificant when the people we just left may only own the clothes that are on their backs."

Barrett has been asked to go back on a second construction mission trip to Swaziland next October.

"I am considering it, and Lord willing, I will definitely go on another one," says Barrett.

The Heart for Africa mission trips are 100 percent participant-funded.

"Lodging on the farm where we work is very limited, so there are hotel, food and flight expenses which can really add up," says Barrett.

But, combining Barrett's passions for construction and helping babies continues to pull at his heart.

"I think the Lord put circumstances in my life that led me to take that trip to Africa," says Barrett. "It really helped me to put things in perspective in my life."