Fergus Falls native and his wife are building relationships, raising their family in Africa
An instructor’s unique teaching style spurred Dan Venberg’s passion for the outdoors which he’s paired with his calling to the ministry.
Venberg, of Fergus Falls, grew up in Chad and Cameroon where his parents, Rodney and Helen, served as missionaries for 30 years. He attended a boarding school in Nigeria, where his biology teacher would drive his class to a wildlife preserve. The students would clamber on top of the vehicle and watch the wildlife in its native habitat.
“From a very early age, I was interested in being outside,” he said. “Outdoor recreation, hunting, fishing and camping all interested me.”
It prompted Venberg to return to the United States and major in natural resource management at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Venberg says it was a positive experience growing up in Africa with his parents’ call to missions. But, at the time, he had no desire to follow their career path. He wanted to work in the outdoors.
They say you can take the boy out of Africa, but you can’t take Africa out of the boy, Venberg said.
That was also true of him. He sought a master’s degree in forestry and international resources management because, at the time, he wanted to go back to Africa and work in developing natural resource management.
While in college, he married his wife, Rachel, a nurse who was also interested in working internationally.
The two worked for the Peace Corp for two years in West Africa and returned to Wisconsin, where Venberg worked as a forester and his wife, a nurse, in Eau Claire. Then they felt the call to return to Africa and to work in missions.
The Lutheran Brethren Church was changing its mission emphasis, focusing on unchurched people groups.
By 2001, the couple made their decision to go to Africa.
“God spoke to us slowly, and we came to a decision that this is what’s out there, and this is the need,” he said. “There was a lot of writing on the wall that this is what we were supposed to do.
Their first two years as missionaries was focused on language, he said. They learned French and Chadian Arabic. Then they were invited to move into a village. They were warmly welcomed in an area that was mostly Muslim, he said.
He was anxious yet excited about the family’s move and recalled walking through the village after their move. An old man was sitting on a mat and called Venberg to join him. Venberg took off his shoes and sat as the man held a string of 99 prayer beads, praying to Allah. As they started talking, Venberg talked about learning the Fulfulde language. When he was asked why he, as a white guy, would leave America and move his family to the middle of Chad, Venberg replied that God brought him there.
The man beamed and said, “May God’s will be done.”
It is a common response in the area. The man also gave Venberg a chicken, letting him know the family was welcomed into his community.
“It was a process of learning, of building relationships and trust,” Venberg said. “Over those years, as we learned their language and culture and as my wife served their medical needs, we gained a real solid platform to share our faith.”
Venberg’s forestry training and ag knowledge came into play as they worked with farmers to build forests and ag land. His wife’s nursing skills were important in an area with little medical care, he said.
There were challenges including health risks for the family. They almost lost two of their children to illness, he said.
It was hard, but they felt blessed to be able to serve the area, Venberg added. In the 10 years they lived in Chad, the family was evacuated a couple of times due to political unrest and a few times due to medical reasons. It was medical issues that prompted them to return to the U.S. in 2012.
They moved to Fergus Falls, where Venberg started his forestry consulting business and work with the Church of the Lutheran Brethren, and Rachel continued her nursing career.
Through his own experience as a child of missionaries, Venberg said he was able to help the couple’s children – Gabe, Sylvia, Tetianna and Claire – make adjustments from life in Chad to that of the U.S.
“Leaving Chad was hard for me because that’s where I felt I belonged, but that’s all a human perspective,” he said. “I have come to understand that wherever we are planted and are open to be of service to God.”
He has made trips back to Chad, where he focuses on building water wells. It’s a poor country without access to water, he said. The Lutheran Brethren is going into communities that don’t have good wells and, through donations, is installing wells. Building those wells has also opened communication with people in the community.
Someday, they may return, but, until then, he continues his work in ministry and forestry while continuing to build wells in Africa