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Wesleyan coach, family have faith in move to Dominican

Photo: David McGregor. Former Wesleyan head baseball coach Mike Shaheen and his family are moving to the Dominican Republic.

Photo: David McGregor. Former Wesleyan head baseball coach Mike Shaheen and his family are moving to the Dominican Republic.

— There's always a moment.

They aren't always like the movies, grand or earth-shaking. Music doesn't play in the background and the weather, most times, isn't dramatic. These moments rarely meet any outside expectations for drama or a singularity of strength. Like most life-changing moments they come and go more fleeting than punctuated. In those moments, the big, memorable ones, there is a trust, a surrender to something greater, where hope blankets uncertainty.

Mike Shaheen calls it faith.

The moment for the Shaheens kick-started many others and was preceded by unknown preparation, but Mike remembers sitting with his wife, Jodi, and looking into her eyes and feeling the shared understanding of this new path.

The family's path to the Dominican Republic.

"I will always remember, we are looking at each other and thinking, 'Yeah, this is what we are called to do,'" the former Wesleyan baseball coach said.

That's the phrase both Shaheens use, "called to do," and it's apt.

To take your wife and two young children, give up your job as head baseball coach at Wesleyan, sell your house at a loss of thousands to move to a country with sketchy infrastructure, on-again, off-again power where you don't speak the language takes a leap of the greatest faith. It can't be a choice. A move so dramatic demands more.

"It wasn't a decision, if it was a decision I don't think we would have made it," Mike Shaheen said. "It was just we felt called. We felt called to do what we are doing."

Collision of faith and passion

Mike and Jodi both grew up in Massachusetts, in the heart of baseball country. Mike follows the Boston Red Sox to the point of hanging pictures of the stadium in what is now his former office at Wesleyan. At the Wolves' baseball games they played "Sweet Caroline" just like at Fenway Park and he already purchased Major League Baseball's Internet television package to keep up with his team after his move.

He led Wesleyan to three state titles as a head coach and has been with the school for the past decade, coaching and teaching.

And the love of baseball doesn't end with him. Jodi attended most of Wesleyan's games, home and away. She would meet him on the field afterward, bringing their adopted children with her. Baseball season meant a later bedtime.

Like at Wesleyan and with his more recent work with Atlanta's Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Mike uses his love for and knowledge of baseball as the vehicle for sharing his beliefs.

It's what he hopes to do in the Dominican Republic.

After six months of training in language and culture at Boca Chica, Mike will begin his work establishing youth baseball teams with local coaches. Like the FCA teams in Atlanta, the teams will be faith-based with attachments to local churches.

Baseball is the sport of choice across the Domincan Republic and The Highlands complex, where the Shaheens will live, is host to the San Francisco Giants' academy team. Unlike the unkept fields in the small villages, the teams Shaheen hopes to start will have access to minor-league quality fields with manicured outfields and smooth infields.

In his missionary work, Shaheen also sees an opportunity to disciple the professional players at his complex.

He is all in, both in baseball and as a missionary, and his commitment is indefinite.

"Hopefully in three to five years we'll have multiple teams coached by Christian coaches that are doing more than baseball," Mike said. "We are hopeful that we can start something. I don't know if we'll be down there three, four, five years or if we'll be down there our whole life."

From a mustard seed

In the Bible's book of Matthew, Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds growing into "a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches."

Wherever the Shaheens' work and impact in the Dominican Republic ends, its beginnings came on Mike's first trip.

"I remember at the time thinking I would love for my wife to come down with me," Mike said.

Jodi didn't join her husband on the island for more than five years. By then they were parents of two adopted children and comfortable with making leaps into the unknown as they did with their local adoption.

"When we were on our way to the Dominican Republic, I had never been there before," Jodi said of her trip in 2010. "When we were on the plane, I believe it was, I remember saying to myself I believe we are going to be here long-term at one point."

She envisioned it down the road, after Wyman, now 6, and Grace, 3, had grown up.

The seed had sprouted.

Mike had joined the FCA board in 2009 and one of the group's goals at the time was to set up an international ministry in the Dominican Republic. In two years of sending missionaries to the island, the number had grown from 30 to more than 100 and they started thinking of placing a full-time staff member there to build long-term relationships. The Shaheens were offered the position.

More thinking and praying led to the moment.

"We had a talk one night, (Mike) said, 'Listen, I feel called. I think it is what we need to do. It is 100 percent your decision,'" Jodi said. "I thought about it, literally for like two minutes. I had already played it over in my mind. My reasons for not going were materialistic and selfish and my answer was, 'Why not?'"

Time to go

Currently in Massachusetts visiting family, the Shaheens leave from Miami at the end of the month. They are shipping their car and each person will have two pieces of luggage to hold all belongings.

They took a loss on selling their house and only know that they will be living rent and utility free thanks to the FCA's partnership with Score International and Herb Rawlings. Jodi's role isn't clear and Mike only has goals, a plan and his boundless energy.

There is a school nearby for their children.

Jodi compared this end of the buildup to the days before her wedding. She just wants to get started, the planning phase has gone on too long.

Along with their church, people in the Wesleyan community and across the region, the Shaheens have heard from people across the country offering aid and support for their mission.

When the possibility arose that they may not go, Jodi responded with anger, not relief, cementing her belief in their leap.

That's where the faith comes, the surrender to something bigger.

And, eventually, a little baseball.

"This is what we are called to do and this is what we are going to do," Mike said. "We are going to trust it."