By Joe Lee
JACKSON – Imagine being very successful in your profession. You and your spouse have a wonderful family, are blessed with many friends and are active church members.
But something crucial is missing from your lives.
“I had always done well in commercial real estate and banking,” said Saul Keeton, a native of the Jackson area who became Catholic in 2001. “But (my wife) Jan and I had a growing dissatisfaction with what the world had to offer us … we sensed the Lord wanting something radical from us.”
Jan Keeton, a cradle Catholic originally from Stafford, Texas, considered the idea of foreign missions for the first time in 2018. But with young children at home (the Keeton kids range from age 20 down to seven), planning such a trip was complicated.
“A Methodist college friend was very involved in supporting a school in Haiti, and she invited me to go with her several times,” Jan said. “Eventually it dawned on me that the only way I’d get to go on a mission trip was if (our entire family) went together.”
Through a simple Google search, Jan learned of Family Missions Company (FMC) and was delighted to learn that in addition to being a Catholic organization, FMC was based in Abbeville, Louisiana, only 250 miles from Jackson.
“All the FMC missionaries and staff live in Gospel poverty, meaning they have all they need to live and nothing more,” Saul said. “Most of my questions (amounted to), ‘What would it be like for our kids to go from living in American suburbia to living in the desert, the jungle or a barrio?’”
Their first mission trip was to General Cepeda, Mexico, in 2018. Saul recalls reading aloud to Jan his journal entries from that week.
“We cried about it together in a jumble of emotions: anticipation, anxiety, relief, excitement, unworthiness,” he said. “I think we experienced all simultaneously. We intensified our spiritual direction with Father Anthony Quyet after the trip and, praise be to God, he confirmed our missionary call.”
They applied with FMC to be full-time foreign missionaries and were accepted. With the new formation year beginning that fall, the couple faced the choice of entering formation within a few weeks or waiting until fall 2019. They chose the latter, wanting the extra year to get their affairs in order and build a team of missionary supporters.
They also wanted time to pray about their son Nicholas’s 2018 diagnosis of autism.
“We knew the Lord was in control,” Saul said, “but trusting in Jesus is pretty easy until a serious trial comes along. And it was hard to see the path ahead more than one step at a time.”
Saul made another mission trip to Mexico in early 2019 with the couple’s four oldest kids, and Jan made one to Costa Rica that year, but they felt the Lord wanted them to put down roots in Jackson and dove headfirst into autism therapy.
Then, in summer 2022, they again heard the Lord’s call to go back into mission work and relocated from Jackson to Abbeville.
“I gratefully accepted the position of Director of Mission Advancement for FMC,” Saul said. “I oversee all fundraising efforts, donor relations, our marketing team, our two retreat centers, and foreign mission trips. For the last year, my family has lived in missionary housing in community with many of the other families that are part of the FMC administrative staff.
“Many people mistakenly believe that the Gospel has been taken to the whole world … that couldn’t be further from the truth. While there are hundreds of organizations that have sprung up in the last 60 years to serve the church in the U.S., I know of no other that is so focused on taking the Gospel to places where it hasn’t been heard yet.”
While the Keetons’ family service with FMC looks different than Saul and Jan envisioned, they look for opportunities to preach the Gospel around their mission post whenever possible.
“I spoke (recently) to 40 high school kids at one of our retreat centers on serving and loving the poor,” Saul said. “When the poor need a water well, we’ll dig one. Or we’ll mix and pour concrete to replace a dirt floor. We’ll also listen and offer a shoulder to cry on – and cry with them – when emotional support is needed.”
“We do find plenty of opportunities to practice the Corporal Works of Mercy within our own family,” Jan said. “This has had a profound experience on our own hearts.
“It’s easy to forget sometimes how hard it is for many people to say yes to the Lord’s invitation. Through much prayer, we’ve said it twice now, and we’re surrounded by people who’ve also given up everything to follow Him. But that shouldn’t dull us to the shock people feel when their consciences are shaken awake for the first time.”
One of the only lay-run Catholic foreign missionary organizations in the U.S., Family Mission Company have more than 200 missionaries serving in nine countries around the world. They work with the blessing of Bishop Douglas Deshotel of the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana. To support FMC, or to reach Saul or Jan Keeton and learn more about international mission work, visit familymissionscompany.com.