Vanessa’s Story.


~This is a post that I wrote for my friend Ginger’s blog series “In Her Shoes”~

By Grace Alone.

I wear a lot of different shoes; flip-flops, tennis shoes, rain boots and riding boots, but my favorite and most worn is nothing. I go barefoot most every day of my life here in the jungle. Bare feet are easier to wash and so much cooler!

In my bare feet, I homeschool my three beautiful kids and help my genius husband build our house out of iron wood lumber that we mill ourselves from giant logs. Life here is wonderful, tough and not for the faint of heart.

I have wanted to be a missionary since I was seven years old, and when my family moved to Russia when my identical twin and I were ten and our little sister was nine I was thrilled. We lived in an orphanage as a kind of surrogate family to the kids and loved them as such. Although we are both from Georgia, I met my husband, Vann Brock in Russia. He was a single missionary at seventeen years old. He taught English in the public schools, worked with the police of Moscow helping juvenile delinquents that they were trying to save from mafia associations, and was an interpreter for the Department of Education. He spent many hours at our orphanage where Momma fixed him southern style food, and we girls adored him, and he and Daddy would talk into the wee hours of the morning. They were kindred spirits. We saw God work some amazing miracles for us and in people’s lives! Those were the best years, but they also marked the end of my childhood. The weight of the world was on my shoulders. 


We knew when we moved to Russia that Daddy had a brain tumor. He miraculously survived a brain hemorrhage two years before from which he had fully recovered. Three years later, a box accidently fell on his head while unloading a shipping container on Christmas day. Somehow that triggered the tumor to grow, and he started having headaches and seizures that would put him in bed for six weeks at a time. Daddy needed Momma’s constant care, so my sisters and I started going out to the market alone to do the shopping and I would cook most of our meals. The doctor from our mission in Moscow came out with supplies and taught me how to give Daddy an I.V. which I did every third day for six months. At that point my parents went back to the States thinking that Daddy just needed a chiropractic adjustment, but he had an MRI done and found that his tumor had doubled in size and he would need emergency brain surgery. My mother called us with this news and told us that we would have to pack up and fly home alone. He barely survived the surgery with every possible complication and lived for two years after that. My Daddy died when I was fifteen. He was the greatest lover of Jesus I have ever known.


My Handsome Daddy

From the time that we left Russia I assumed the responsibility of running our household while my mother selflessly cared for my dad.  I did all of the cooking and cleaning and schooled my sisters and myself as best I could. At sixteen years old I got my GED after not having any formal schooling for seven years.

Meanwhile, after Vann left Russia he was working in Georgia as a Research and Development engineer. When he made enough money for tickets he would fly to South America as a missionary to missionaries. He can fix anything and build anything, and loved extreme sports. He taught a small engine repair class to a remote tribe in Peru and a rock climbing class in Paraguay. He traveled all over South America helping countless missionaries.

Boy, I loved this man, and was so proud of him. I wanted to be a part of his adventures and help him in his mission. I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that I had found my soul mate, so I married him at seventeen years old – my mother had to sign for me! I was not the typical seventeen year old though to say the least. I had already lived a lifetime.

Vann and Vanessa's wedding

Foreign missions was a no-brainer for us. There is nothing else that gives either one of us so much joy. We traveled the States to raise support for four years. Those years were full of blessings and loss. We lost our first baby in the fourth month of the pregnancy. Not long after that Vann’s father passed away unexpectedly during a redo-quadruple bypass surgery. He loved me as one of his own, and was one of the greatest blessings of my life. God mercifully gave us two healthy babies after two traumatic, life-threatening deliveries sixteen months apart. We finally moved to the jungles of Peru with a twenty-one month old and a five month old and I was twenty-one. Two years later our third healthy baby was born in Lima after another emergency C-section. I moved twenty-four times by the time I was twenty-five. I was ready to be in one place long term even if it was the jungle!

Vann and I spent several months cutting wood and building our garage apartment, and by the time we got a roof on it, with screens in the windows and a door we moved in. We lived IN the construction without electricity or running water for almost a year with a four, three and one year old. I filled buckets of water to haul for washing, and our bathroom was not even an outhouse - we had waist-high grass and post-hole diggers. Imagine that – in the rain forest, in the heat, in the bugs, in the mud. Not much fun. No electricity meant no refrigeration or fans or anything. We ate mush for breakfast and beans and rice twice a day every day for months, and my kids never once complained. I wasn’t nearly so gracious. I am a city girl. I had never been camping in my life, and thought that things like electricity and indoor plumbing were necessities of life. I quickly learned that I am stronger than I thought I was, and that those things are luxuries that I will not ever take for granted again. All of our days were spent building from dawn to dusk in the sweltering heat with no reprieve. They were hard, but good days. Sweet days.

Vann insulated our house with rice hulls, so it is a small air-conditioned haven. We have electricity, running hot water, and high speed internet in the middle of the jungle – he built a communications tower that wirelessly beams our phone and Internet from the nearest town 10 miles away. Again, my husband is a genius! Of course the plan was to build the apartment and then while living in it, move right on along and build the main house. God obviously had other plans for us.

On November 16th 2008 at 1 a.m. we survived a home invasion. Some men kicked our door in and shot up our house not knowing that we were all safely tucked away in the loft (no one sleeps near the roof in the tropics and we wouldn’t either except for the insulation of the rice hulls). My awesome God and my brave “Vann Damme” fought for us, and protected us from harm.  Of course after this Vann dealt with some crazy PTSD symptoms and didn’t sleep more than two hours a night for two and a half years.

DSC_9076sm copy

Eight years ago, about a year after we moved here, I got a virus from some bug bites that I have never fully recovered from. I started dealing with a strange assortment of symptoms that the doctors have all called Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue due to stress. Me? Stressed? No…

The episodes of fatigue and pain have come and gone through the years, and gotten worse at times, but this last year has been one long, difficult episode that I can’t seem to surface from. I can’t be around any groups of people for any amount of time or my blood pressure plummets through the floor and I can’t walk or talk, and tears run automatically down my face. It’s weird, and embarrassing, and isolating. My brain seems to be in a fog and I simply cannot process much at a time. I forget words (especially in Spanish) and cannot handle much going on around me. I need an extreme amount of sleep at night, and a nap every day. On my worst days I can’t even talk (with slurred speech) for more than a minute without exhausting myself much less get out of bed. I have low blood volume and low blood pressure (80/40), and a suppressed immune system. I have spent more than a year without going shopping, or to church, or prayer meeting, or anything where there may be more than a couple of people. I LOVE people – I love being around them, and talking and listening, serving and ministering. I have no problems getting up and talking in front of hundreds of people. If my house isn’t full of people something is wrong. I am the poster-child for the extroverted, or I was. Now, I am broken.

My family has been extraordinary in their care for me. I am so very grateful, but I feel useless and frustrated and like such a burden. Here I am – a missionary, and all of the things that I had been doing, what I thought was “ministry” have all come to a screeching halt.

    This lesson has been a very humbling one - It’s not about me. My life is God’s. My health is His. My family is His. My ministry, my hopes and dreams, my plans and desires and any strength I might have are all His to use as He sees fit. His light shines brighter through a broken vessel with cracks and holes in it than through a solid whole one. He will receive ALL the glory no matter how I feel, or what I do in His name - By Grace Alone.

More resent blood tests have shown “evidence of Secondary Adrenal and Neurovascular Exhaustion due to prolonged and excessive stress”. Oh, well, okay. Maybe I have been stressed, but I’ve been happy. This has been an amazing life!

    I am now taking a steroid to keep my blood pressure up and medication to give my adrenals a rest, and it has been a tremendous help. Now, my best days mean that I can get my family fed, the kids through their schoolwork, and after a nap I sometimes have the energy to help Vann cut wood and build walls – all in my bare feet I might add.


“If you ask me to run

And carry your light into foreign land

If you ask me to fight

Deliver your people from Satan's hand

I'll go, but I cannot go alone

Cause I know I'm nothing on my own

But the power of Christ in me makes me strong

Makes me strong

'Cause when I'm weak, you make me strong

When I'm blind you shine your light on me

Cause I'll never get by living on my own ability

How refreshing to know you don't need me

How amazing to find that you want me

So I'll stand on Your Truth, and I'll fight with Your Strength

Until You bring the victory, by the power of Christ in me”

-Casting Crowns, “In Me”

© 2014 Petra Ministries | All rights reserved |