Steve and Debbie Palich: Continuing their big life of service
Steve and Debbie Palich have spent their lives introducing people to Jesus Christ, connecting them to the Church and engaging them with God’s work around the world.
And while the energetic couple’s service with CMF — which began in 1990 and has continued to their retirement from full-time work this month — is now transitioning into a part-time role for Steve, their passion for the goals that have focused their lives remains strong.
Steve and Debbie met as students at Manhattan Christian College and graduated in 1978, Steve with a degree in Bible/Ministries and Debbie with a degree in Christian Education from MCC and elementary education from Kansas State.
After graduation, Steve began an 11-year ministry with his home church, Central Christian Church, Mesa, Arizona, and earned a master’s degree in theology at Fuller Seminary. Meanwhile, Debbie served as curriculum consultant at a local Christian bookstore, as an elementary school teacher and then as an at-home mom of the couple’s three children.
Steve had been influenced by various missionaries and preachers, and the call to cross-cultural evangelism that began during his college years grew stronger. For Debbie, that was still just a conversation!
“After we were married several years, Steve wrote his life goals for a seminary class, and one was to be on the mission field within five years!” said Debbie. “Gulp! I had a hard time thinking about selling our house and closing out our lives in the U.S. CMF Director Mick Smith calmed my fears, reminding me that ‘saying yes’ to missions wasn’t ‘saying yes forever.’ After that, I was able to move forward.”
The Paliches’ initial ministry with CMF was 1990-2002 as church-planting missionaries in Mexico City. They focused on leadership training in a young church, Southside Christian, and recruited others to join them. Steve also served as Latin American Coordinator for CMF, supervising CMF’s church-planting ministries in Brazil, Chile and Mexico.
Steve counts the many relationships he developed as highlights of his years in Mexico and Latin America, and Debbie singles out one particular couple.
“A personal and ministry highlight for me was God bringing Jorge and Juanita del Angel into our lives,” she said. “Steve helped lead Jorge to the Lord and we discipled and then mentored them in leadership and were partners in planting a church. They are life-long friends and family.”
Another highlight came in 2000, when Steve was involved in developing a new partnership with Christian Campus Fellowship at Georgia Tech University to establish international campus ministries. Globalscope, our successful campus ministry program, began with its first ministry in Mexico City.
“I thought Globalscope was going to be great in Latin America,” said Steve, “but God had bigger plans. Seeing a total of more than 100 Globalscope missionaries from Georgia Tech who have served or are now serving in 10 locations is not something I anticipated.”
Raising Third Culture Kids
One of the biggest challenges for many missionary families comes in raising their children in a different culture. But Steve and Debbie feel that their family was blessed by the experience.
“Our kids were 9, 6 and almost 4 years old when we went to Mexico, a great age for assimilating a new language and culture,” she said. “The biggest challenge was that when we were in Mexico, they missed family in the states. And when we were in the U.S., they missed their lives in Mexico. We later learned that they felt they ‘lost out’ on summer breaks during the furlough years when had to travel cross-country.”
“The biggest challenge for Paul (their son with Down Syndrome) came when he couldn’t keep up in the Mexican bilingual system in first grade,” said Steve. “But God led us to a couple of educational psychologists who worked with Paul on his reasoning and planning skills. Now, he plans our life, and he’d be happy to plan yours, too!”
“God was so faithful in meeting Paul’s special education needs,” agreed Debbie. “Mexican culture was the perfect environment for him, and he still expresses some of that in how he interacts with people.”
Home office service
In 2002, the Paliches returned to the U.S. to work at CMF’s home office in Indianapolis.
Steve served as Director of Church Mobilization, assisting churches to take bigger steps in mission involvement for 10 years, then moved into a new role as Director of Ministry Center Development. This role took him to Mexico, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil to establish holistic ministries among the urban poor in Latin America.
“A highlight of this time has been seeing Latin Americans on the CMF board, continued church planting in Mexico and a partnership for an expanding ministry among the urban poor in the Fuego Nuevo area of Mexico City,” said Steve.
In 2017, he stepped into the role of interim Director of Mobilization for nearly two years. For the past several years, he has focused on building church partnerships for CMF and initiating a growing CMF alumni family of former missionaries, staff and board members.
Debbie worked at CMF in the important role of mobilizing CMF missionaries and serving the needs of partner churches. Her major focus has been training and coaching missionaries in raising financial support and nurturing partnerships.
“It was always a highlight for me every time a recruit had a breakthrough in their attitude or perspective or skills,” said Debbie. “Especially as they reached 100 percent in funding for their ministry, and we got to ‘kick them out’ of the States.”
“What seemed like so many months from January 2020, when we first talked about our retirement target date, has flown by so fast,” said Debbie. “When I started at the CMF office in August 2002, I had no vision for working at the office for this many years. I just kept showing up to work and there was always plenty of work to do. One more recruit ready to learn about how to raise support for his or her ministry.”
In typical fashion, Steve is already looking ahead to more hands-on ministry.
“I don’t look behind very often,” he admits. “I have some great models of people who continue to serve in their retirement years that I plan to follow.”
It’s certainly no surprise to see that retirement for the Paliches looks like a continuation of their passions for their family, their church and CMF.
The couple enjoy spending time with their family — three children and eight grandchildren — all of whom live in the greater Indianapolis area. They are excited to have more time to nurture these relationships with the next generation of this faith-focused family.
Debbie is also excited to begin delving into writing projects, including a book about life with their son Paul, now 37 and still living with them, and sharing God stories from her years of assisting CMF recruits with support raising.
Steve will continue with CMF in a part-time role focused on further development of the CMF Alumni Group. He looks forward to continuing his mentorship relationships through men’s small groups and Discovery Bible Studies in English and Spanish and expanding his vegetable garden. And both look forward to increased involvement at Heartland Church and encouraging CMF ministries.
And certainly, both will continue to share how cross-cultural service impacted their lives and encourage others to consider it.
“If God has gifted you to live cross-culturally, then do it!” said Steve. “Even if it’s just for a few years. It will make you better at life and teach you to wait on God’s leading and bless your children with a sensitivity toward diversity.”
“One of my favorite quotes is ‘No guts, no story,’ ” said Debbie. “I would change that to ‘No guts; no God story.’ It’s when we step outside our comfort zones and participate in God’s work that we have the privilege of seeing God’s powerful hand at work.”
Top photo: Kip Lines, CMF Executive Director, prays for Steve and Debbie Palich and their family at the couple’s retirement party this week.