Note from Alana: Laurie and I were coworkers prior to their big move. I remember hearing of their dream to pick up and start over in a new place. At the time, a small part of me thought, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” I am so inspired by their courage and faith, I wanted to share it with you!
We Sold Everything for the Dream
shared by Gary and Laurie Pokorny
The American Dream. How is it defined? Webster’s definition: an American social ideal that stresses egalitarianism and especially material prosperity; also: the prosperity or life that is the realization of this ideal. Some say it’s the ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity traditionally held to be available to every American; a life of personal happiness and material comfort as traditionally sought by individuals in the United States. Well for us, the American Dream was pursuing a passion or calling that was haunting us for 10 years. It was going against the traditional path. It was taking a risk and a huge leap of faith.
Gary and I fell in love with the Caribbean island of St. Croix after vacationing there every other year for the past 12 years. About 10 years ago Gary felt the Lord calling him to the island to make a difference.
By growing tomatoes and helping the island become more sustainable. I did not feel the same call, not when our kids were still at home and in school. We discussed our options, prayed, and agreed to wait until the kids were out of high school before pursuing this call.
When our youngest was a junior in high school we were ready to make the move. We figured we would sell the house and downsize to a place in the same area so our son could finish at the same high school. We put our house up for sale and waited. We had our house on the market for two years and nothing. We didn’t give up on our “dream”; we figured the timing wasn’t right. We decided to proceed and submitted our business plan to the Department of Agriculture on St. Croix. We waited to hear back from them as to whether we would be able to lease acreage for farming. After 4 months we finally heard back from them and were told we were approved for the land lease. We met with a realtor and were ready to sign a contract after we returned from a vacation. Well, the day we got back a neighbor phoned asking us if we were still thinking about moving to St. Croix because their niece was interested in looking at our house to buy. We sold our house, after waiting 2 years, without a realtor. Wow! The doors were opening fast. That was our first God moment. We knew the timing was right and that we had God as our compass.
Moving from two steady jobs, living in the same neighborhood for 16 years and saying so long to family and friends, was not easy. Selling our things and packing only a 7’x8’ container was certainly an experience. But we had a vision, a plan, but most of all we were in this move together, the three of us, Gary, Laurie and Christ.
The lifestyle on St. Croix is simple; tee shirt and shorts simple. The locals are humble; struggling to survive with little to no health care, high electric rates, high water prices, high food prices and little employment opportunity. But the beauty of the island is ever present. The weather is always in the 80s. And a sincere “Good afternoon” goes a long way… a true small town value. Gary and I grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods in the suburbs of Chicago, so for the first time in our life we were in the minority and living day by day. Taking a risk.
The vision was to establish a food business, upgrade the quality of the food, demonstrate that the island could provide for itself, and most of all, join a community and provide leadership of the spiritual kind.
When we arrived and saw our land we were excited and a bit overwhelmed. It was 2.5 acres of 5’ tall guinea grass with one beautiful tree. An empty canvas that was ours to paint! The plan was hampered by record rainfall. Equipment could not properly prepare our land due to the rain. We worked hard, really hard; digging out guinea grass, putting up perimeter fencing, tilling a section of land, laying irrigation lines, and managed to get some plants in the ground. Perseverance paid off.
There were times when we felt pretty low, times when our frustration was high and then someone or something would snap us back towards our focus. Once we were setting up our 20’x24’ shade house in the Serengeti heat of July when our drills died. We looked to the road and saw someone waving to us – it was a local farmer stopping by to give us encouragement and words of wisdom regarding the heat. Her timing could not have been more perfect! After talking with her we felt strong again, ready to continue our challenge. Another example of God’s presence was when Gary almost got hit by our 10’ ladder. He was standing next to it when the wind blew and it was just about to crash into his head when he put his arm out and caught the ladder. He didn’t really see or hear the ladder coming; he just sensed it out of the corner of his eye and extended his arm. It calmly landed in his hand. Another God moment indeed! In the end the plan worked. It didn’t take long to find out what we suspected. I remember getting a phone call from a local asking if we could bring him some tomatoes. We were standing in his kitchen and he asked to taste our tomato before buying some. He took one bite, stammered backwards saying “Oh my God! This is the best tasting tomato I have ever had!” He then threw away his store bought tomatoes. Our customers proved we could grow the best tasting tomatoes on the island and we started three farm stands to meet not just their tomato needs but a wide variety of produce needs.
We planned to become a vibrant part of the St. Croix community and we did by joining a local church. We got involved with the church community by teaching church school and helping landscape the church grounds. We touched many lives along the way and made such an impact, they bestowed Gary with the Father of the Year honor. We became familiar with the saying “God is good, all the time” and truly believe it.
We faced emotional challenges as well. Laurie’s dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer one month after we moved and died 9 weeks later, our youngest was deployed to Afghanistan, and our first grandson arrived in October. We didn’t doubt our decision. We continued to trust God, and He continued to guide us and provide for us. We grew stronger spiritually and in our marriage. Laurie was able to be with her dad when he died, our son returned safely from Afghanistan, and thanks to Skype we were able to keep in touch with family and see our grandson grow!Life is a journey full of risks. We had a passion, a calling and took a risk. We didn’t know how things were going to turn out. We just figured the worst scenario would be move back to the states and start over. Yes it’s a risk to sell everything, move to an island 4,000+ miles away from family and friends and grow vegetables. Through it all we worked, prayed, and played together and never regretted moving there. It was truly more than an adventure; it was a life change, a change that would not have happened had we not taken a risk.
We planned to return to the states in June to welcome our son home and reconnect with family and friends. The thought of no income for 7 months was a bit concerning so we started to pray. Laurie thought perhaps Gary could get a consulting job to carry us over until our crops would come in, sometime in November/December. Gary laughed, “Laurie we live on an island 21 miles by 7 miles. How do you think I’m going to find a consulting job here?” A few days later he was looking in the local newspaper and noticed an ad for a project manager locally for a short term project (Gary had 5 years project management experience and was well qualified for this position). Another God moment he thought, so he updated his resume and applied. He received the typical “thanks but no thanks” letter and didn’t give it much thought. A short time later, Gary received a phone call from his brother in the Chicago area telling him a friend was looking for a consultant for a project. Gary talked to him, had an updated resume to send thanks to the ad in the paper a week earlier, and was on a plane the next morning to meet him and the client. A God moment for sure! A prayer answered. Another door opened for us to walk through.
We have friends taking care of our farm on St. Croix while we see where this journey takes us. Having been back in Chicago for about two months we see so many, with so much. It is often taken for granted. We have lived firsthand the simple life, hard physical labor, but no matter where we go in the future we won’t take anything for granted. We try to live one day at a time. More and more we are learning how to do this. We read an excellent book on how to discern life’s call — If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat (affiliate link) by John Ortberg. We burned our canoe, walked on water, and are now exploring another canoe that showed up on the beach.
Life is short. Take that risk. In the end, it is all in God’s hands and with him as your compass you will not falter.
Gary and Laurie are living life one day at a time, trying to make a positive difference along the way. Gary and Laurie have been married for over 27 years. They have three grown children – two sons and a daughter, a daughter in-law and an adorable grandson. They are presently living in the Chicago area while maintaining their Sun Croix Foods, LLC farm on St. Croix, USVI. Check out their business www.suncroix.com.