Nomads for Christ
Five years ago, born–again Christians Frank and Shelley Dostie sold their Connecticut home and all their worldly possessions and bought a 29–foot recreational vehicle (RV). They decided to roam the countryside looking for places to volunteer with their two daughters, Bethany, 18, and Georgianna, 12, as well as their dog Koko. The RV, a 2000 Fleetwood Jamboree they found on Craigslist, is now their permanent home.
Unlike the Bible’s rich young ruler mentioned in Mark 10:21, who went away downcast because he didn’t want to part with his riches, the Dostie family exudes joy when they talk about their simple lifestyle and helping others. During COVID-19, they volunteered for several weeks at The Salvation Army’s food hub in Ashford, Conn.
When asked about the family’s motivation, Frank counters with “It’s what Jesus tells us to do, right?” He continues, “It just seems like the natural thing to do. What else would you do? You can only roast so many marshmallows and that gets a little old.”
With typical Christian humility, the Dosties don’t want any praise for what they do.
“It’s all about the Lord,” Shelley says. “It’s all about Jesus. It’s all about serving Him. It’s all about teaching our children how to serve Him and getting other people involved and excited to serve Him. It’s not about us at all.”
The couple, both of whom are former atheists who struggled with alcohol before becoming Christians, survives on Frank’s pension from serving 24 years in the Army National Guard. Shelley also is a cancer survivor, who had to undergo treatment while her husband was abroad.
“We choose to live with less and rarely work for money,” Frank said. “Working for pay limits our availability to volunteer.
“My wife doesn’t want fancy dresses and jewelry. We keep our belongings simple. We occasionally miss having a bit of extra money, but the rewards of being able to serve others are so much better.”
The family got started in the RV lifestyle after Frank returned from his last deployment in Kosovo. They wanted to be closer as a family. Driving around the country visiting such sites as the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore and Joshua Tree, was Shelley’s dream.
“It was my wife’s idea originally and I thought she was a little crazy,” Frank said. “We had never used an RV and had no idea what we were doing. We knew God had a plan for our lives, but we didn’t originally set out to serve as volunteers. We really enjoyed camping and seeing the country, but there was a point about six months in that we knew we needed more.”
They didn’t really seek out volunteer opportunities at first—in fact, the opportunities found them through a huge RV community and support system across the country called Fulltime Families.
“We often travel, serve, and worship with other families,” Shelley said. “The girls have friends in almost every state.”
The Dosties first helped a fellow RVer, a mother with eight adopted children, who needed to repair her rig.
“We decided to utilize a portion of our tithe toward service projects and to help people on the road, as we weren’t attending a specific church any longer,” Frank said.
In the past five years, the family has volunteered at food banks from coast to coast. While traveling the roads in Arizona, they spotted a mission and stopped to help. They also volunteered at a special needs camp in Oregon called Camp Attitude.
The organizations they’ve helped goes far beyond The Salvation Army and includes the Global Aid Network (GAiN); Youth With a Mission (YWAM), based in California and Texas; Jacob’s Well in California; Children of the Nations in Washington state; and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), where Shelley serves as a chaplain and also takes calls on the 24–hour prayer line set up for COVID–19.
They’ve also served during three deployments for Samaritan’s Purse, run by Graham’s son, Franklin, to help hurricane and tornado victims.
While serving with Samaritan’s Purse, Shelley said God provided the funds needed for a complete solar set–up of their RV, which is now self–sustained and able to serve in disaster areas that may not have power or water.
“This allows us to camp off–grid and not rely heavily on campgrounds,” she said. “Disaster response is really where our heart is.”
The family purposely doesn’t align with any specific missionary organization, “as we want to have the ability to follow the Lord’s prompting wherever we are,” Shelley said. The family’s ministry name is “Light Our Path” and based on Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
Each year in June, the family returns to Connecticut to volunteer and see family and friends.
“Due to the coronavirus, campgrounds were being shut down all over the country,” Shelley said. “We were concerned that if we waited too long, we wouldn’t be able to return to Connecticut. We arrived three months earlier than normal.
“We attempted to contact local churches and organizations to volunteer with coronavirus relief. However, there were limited options for us to serve as a family. We were excited to find the opportunity at the Salvation Army food hub in early June.”
The family, which is staying at the Evangelical Christian Center camp in Ashford, volunteered several times during COVID-19 at the food hub.
“My oldest daughter and I help unload the trucks,” Frank said. “We all bag potatoes and pack up boxes. I enjoy restocking the supply stations to make it easier for the food packers to access supplies.
“They’re nice people. They’re organized and they have a heart for what they’re doing.”
The daughters also helped pack boxes and brought two friends. One of the goals of the Dostie family is to get others involved.
“That’s something we do when we’re out on the road. We get our friends to go with us, so we get more people doing it,” Frank said.
Shelley loved how their entire family was welcomed by The Salvation Army.
“Their food hub is super–organized,” she said. “They’re super welcoming to the kids. That part is huge for us. We want our kids to feel like they’re contributing 100 percent and not in the way.”
Frank added, “Some ministries are not used to having kids involved, but The Salvation Army was very welcoming to them.”
Katie Perrett, the volunteer coordinator for The Salvation Army’s Southern New England Division, said the Dosties are a huge help and often toil in hot conditions, but they know there are people in need of the food boxes.
“They’ve been consistent in coming every week since they saw our need for volunteers,” Perrett said. “They’re so wonderful and faithful wherever they go. They’re super–kind. They’re hard workers. I can’t say enough good things about them.”
Once the workday is over and they return to the RV, the family stays in touch with the world. They travel with a wireless data Jetpack and have Internet access except in some remote locations. The family maintains a website (www.lightourpath.com) and a Facebook presence.
“We’re not totally ‘Little House on the Prairie’–ish,” Shelley says with a laugh.
The RV does not have a television, but the family streams entertainment such as movies. The girls homeschool online and Bethany will soon simultaneously graduate high school and college and earn her associate degree.
Shelley said her daughters have carved out their own space and sleeping spots in the RV. One sleeps in the cab above the motor and the other created a bedroom across the passenger and driver’s seat. Koko, who is also a girl, sleeps on a couch or in bed with them.
Bethany and Georgianna, who play multiple instruments, often participate in worship at campgrounds and ministries on the road.
“I’ve grown in my faith through seeing, worshipping, and serving alongside other Christians all over the country,” Bethany says.
Shelley admits that sometimes they can feel crowded in the RV, such as in March when the family arrived in Connecticut and the weather was still cold outside.
“Living in a 29–foot camper with four people and a dog, when we’re not outside exploring and doing things, and when we couldn’t volunteer was really hard,” she said. “We would get in each other’s way. We would bump into each other. There are times that it can get frustrating, but we love what we do and the people we meet.
“I would say we love it 90 percent of the time. Ten percent of the time we are like, ‘Get me out of this camper. It’s too small.’ But we wouldn’t trade it.”
by Robert Mitchell