By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross
“She’s known since she was 10 that she was going to be a missionary, and I’ve known since I met her that I was going to be a missionary,” jokes Nic Davidson about his wife Jacelyn.
Both grew up Protestant, and Jacelyn said meeting the missionaries that used to come visit churches was an inspiration. “That is kind of always what I was hoping to do with my future,” she said. That much was made clear on their first date, and shortly after they were married, they moved to China for two years.
After their return, they converted to the Catholic faith but always kept pursuing that goal of mission work, with Jacelyn pursuing a secondary vocation as a medical doctor and Nic becoming a well-known speaker on the Theology of the Body. Jacelyn’s medical studies took them to the Caribbean island of Dominica, where they adopted their three oldest children, before they moved back to the Diocese of Duluth.
But on Sept. 5, the Davidsons and their five children will be taking their boldest step yet in bringing Christ to the world as they move to Cambodia in East Asia.
Cambodia coming full circle
Nic and Jacelyn have been to Cambodia before, visiting during their time in China, and it played an important role in their journey, but it wasn’t necessarily a destination they had been leaning toward. They say they were open to wherever God was calling them, and they initially tried places they had more contacts, like Kenya and India, but those doors closed, while things just opened up for Cambodia, which Jacelyn described as the poorest place they had ever been, but a place that astounded them with how “nice and cheerful the people were there.”
It was on their first visit to the country that Jacelyn received the clear calling to be a doctor in a kind of “light-bulb moment.” They were at the Killing Fields, and she had fixed up a cut for a little boy.
Nic said that as they watched the little boy run away, he watched the light-bulb moment play out in real time as Jacelyn said, “Somebody could become a doctor and just come here. Like, I could become a doctor and just come here. I’m going to become a doctor.”
“She’s never really faltered since then,” he said.
The Davidson family had no contacts in Cambodia, but one day a friend texted them a screen shot suggesting a contact. It was a priest who was a French-American missionary to Cambodia who had written a biography of Blessed Carlo Acutis.
Within 24 hours, the priest had responded. The priest spoke to his bishop, who was eager for them to come.
“It was just immediate, it was an open door, so since then everything has been a freight train going forward,” Nic said.
Their departure date of Sept. 5 is the feast day of St. Teresa of Calcutta, an inspiration of Jacelyn’s, and the only canonized saint known to have set foot in Cambodia.
If the call to Cambodia was clear, what things will look like once they get there is more an exercise in trusting God. The Davidsons said their immediate plans are to immerse themselves in the Cambodian language and get accustomed to living there.
Nic said a lot of times missionaries will go places and not choose to learn the language. “It’s fine in one sense,” he said, “but it’s sort of incarnational to put the work in and learn the language and be able to talk to people in their own tongue.”
So they will have formal language study during the day, then go out to markets and have interactions. Jacelyn will also be seeking to get her medical license in Cambodia and getting out to meet people in clinics and trying to get a sense for how God may want to use medical work in their mission.
She said like many places, medicine is widely available, but the further you get from large cities the lower its quality gets.
Nic said the question of what they’re going to do in Cambodia comes up a lot, and the answer is: “We’re just going to go because God has said to go.” But he said the uncertainty is familiar. When they first moved to Dominica, he said he felt like he had to give up speaking, but the first Sunday they went to Mass, a deacon announced they needed help with youth ministry, building projects, mission trips, marriage and family ministry. “God had all those doors open,” he said. “We just had to go.”
Staying for the long haul but keeping in touch
Leaving for Cambodia is no easy task, and neither is coming back. The Davidsons have had to figure out schooling options for their children (they are going to homeschool starting out), visas and passports, and how to get rid of their belongings in Minnesota, which it would be prohibitively expensive to take with them.
They are also saying goodbyes to family members who are happy for them in their hearts but also sad at the prospect of being separated for a long time. Nic said the cost for the whole family to visit the United States from Cambodia is about $14,000. “Never in our life have we had 14 grand lying around,” he said.
Still, Jacelyn said compared to the missionaries of 50 years ago that she’s read about, it’s not so bad. “It does make a huge difference that we can FaceTime so easily,” she said.
They also plan to keep in touch with the faithful of the Diocese of Duluth through video messages and through the mailing list on their website. They even have people from the Diocese of Duluth accompanying them for a time and hope to have trips in the future.
To follow the Davidsons and to support their ministry, visit freelygiveninc.org.