Ralph even worked out a deal to bring the sisters and kids from the orphanage to Idaho for Christmas one year. He estimates he made nearly 30 trips to Tijuana over the next six or seven years.
‘A beautiful experience’
It was around this time that Ralph realized he had the heart of a full-time missionary. So he left his farming partnership with his father, and he and his wife, Theresa, set about changing their career paths.
Ralph and Theresa wanted to learn Spanish, so they moved the family to Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2003 for a three-month intensive language course.
Eventually, the family landed in a very poor area of Peru, near the large city of Trujillo. The area was very dangerous at the time, with high crime, no paved roads, most houses having only a dirt floor, and water available only once a week.
In terms of the Catholic community, there were 180,000 people living within the local parish boundaries, which had one main church and 5 small chapels spread throughout the area. Ralph started building gardens at all of them, and Theresa did a lot of youth ministry and music ministry work for the parish.
A large Catholic school, run by Spanish and Peruvian nuns, recruited Ralph to teach horticulture classes to the kids three times a week, which he did for the next two years.
Eventually Ralph paired up with another Catholic to form a nonprofit in Peru. He would go house to house to figure out the most critical needs for each poor family, and then recruited services to come in and help the poor neighborhoods. He also liased between university students who wanted to do service and the poor neighborhoods that needed their help.
His organization supported working mothers, teaching them skills such as cooking, and classes on how to build businesses. They also launched seven medical campaigns, bringing in doctors, dentists, and psychologists to poor villages and neighborhoods.
Another project they undertook involved the hiring of local people to collect garbage and plant over 2,000 trees in the community.
After a brief vacation in Europe, the family returned to the Peruvian jungle in 2011, and bought a dairy farm there which eventually became very productive and successful.
(Story continues below)
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“It was such a beautiful experience to be with these humble people in their time of need,” Ralph said of his time in South America.
A new start
Family matters— including Theresa’s mother being diagnosed with cancer— led the family to come back to the U.S., to Boise, in 2015.
Teresa began working as an accountant, and Ralph took a “vacation” of several months, laying low and working in their garden.
Eventually, he started volunteering with the Red Cross, helping with disaster assistance, rising to the position of logistics manager for the region.
Then, in 2016, Ralph met a woman who was volunteering with the Red Cross as a nurse, who was also the incoming president for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) for the area.