Singapore beckons for Cumberland family on a mission

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CUMBERLAND — At the end of the month, Doug and Joyce Erdmann will pack up the last of their belongings, say goodbye to their friends, neighbors and church, and trade their large, rural Cumberland home for a high-rise apartment in one of the most densely populated cities in the world.

The youngest three of their five children will join them in their move to Singapore, where Doug Erdmann has accepted a position as the national director of the southeast Asian city-state’s branch of The Navigators, an interdenominational Christian missionary nonprofit.

Erdmann’s desire to go to Asia, as well as his connection with The Navigators, was planted back in college, he said. After being involved with his campus ministry, he went on a short-term missionary trip to Korea with the organization after graduating.

His original post-grad plans involved going to law school, but those plans were postponed as he dreamed of returning to Asia. He took up computer programming for a few years, and moved to Hanover, N.H., where he started a Navigators campus ministry at Dartmouth College.

In time, he was actually offered a campus director position in China – but he and Joyce had a family to start, complicating the decision. 

“I always wanted to have four or five kids,” Joyce Erdmann explained, but Chinese custom was to limit families to one child. During the interview process, the Erdmanns, who at the time had only their oldest daughter, Ashley, were told it would be respectful of them to keep their family small. Along with other issues, the position no longer seemed a good fit, so Doug Erdmann declined and in 1992 enrolled in law school.

He spent nine years practicing law in Maine before he was asked to rejoin The Navigators as a supervisor for the eastern and central U.S. region of college campuses. True to the missionary lifestyle demanded by such an organization, by accepting the job he was asked to give up his comfortable salary in exchange for living off the good will of his neighbors, friends and various churches.

“Leaving law, the hardest part was leaving that salary,” Erdmann said, since he wasn’t sure if his family would have enough – or any – financial support. Though he admits his home was purchased while he was still a lawyer, living off donations “has been working for eight years.”

Money comes primarily from friends supportive of their mission, while he said about 7 percent comes from various churches around the region, including White Pine Community Church in Cumberland, which the couple helped launch.

After years of working with the organization, and request after request to be moved back to Asia, Erdmann’s prayers were answered when he was invited to spend a week in Korea. While he was there, the organization in Singapore sent an e-mail inviting him to a staff conference. At that conference, he was asked to be a candidate for the national director position he was eventually offered.

While Joyce Erdmann is not as excited as her husband for the trip, especially since two of their children are staying behind – one to stay in college and one to start family of her own – she’s glad he’ll finally have the chance to return to Asia.

“God is so good,” Joyce Erdmann said. “He gave me the desire of my heart – five kids – and now, 20 years later, Doug is getting the desire of his heart.”

The trip will also be tough for their children, she said. While their 19-year-old son Justin is excited for the adventure the trip offers, and ready to start classes at an audio engineering school in Singapore, their youngest two “aren’t dying to go,” she said.

After all, Tucker, 13, and Heather, 16, have to leave their high school, their sports teams and their friends. “They’re resigned to it,” Erdmann said, explaining that they’ll attend an English-speaking international school. “In a year or two,” he said, “they’ll say ‘this is go great.’ But right now, they’re not necessarily feeling that.”

And beyond just their children, Joyce Erdmann said she’s a little worried about leaving their parents, who are getting older, and is sad to leave her garden. The large yard she has in Cumberland is probably larger than any green space in the entire city-state of Singapore, so she’s hoping for a window-box or a balcony.

That lack of space, and the sheer number of people, the Erdmanns said, will probably be the biggest challenge of moving.

“Of course, that’s also the reason we’re going,” Erdmann said. Christianity is still pretty small in Asia, he said, so there’s a lot of opportunity there for their work. Within a 2,000-mile circle of Singapore, he said, “half the world’s population is right there. This is a chance to influence not only Singapore, but Asia.”

Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext 108 or

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n-singaporefam.JPGDoug and Joyce Erdmann will move to Singapore in July with their three youngest children, Tucker, 13, 16-year-old Heather and Justin, 19, to continue their work with the Christian missionary organization, The Navigators. Their older daughters, Jessie, 21, and Ashley, 23, are also shown in this family photo. (Contributed photo)