August 28, 2015

Trusting God’s guidance: Holy Spirit, faith lead family of five during 17-month ocean adventure

During their 17-month ocean journey, Jen and Marc Konesco pose for a photo with their children, Camden, left, Maria and Joellen. The Catholic family sold their Indianapolis-area home to live their dream. (Submitted photo)

During their 17-month ocean journey, Jen and Marc Konesco pose for a photo with their children, Camden, left, Maria and Joellen. The Catholic family sold their Indianapolis-area home to live their dream. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Marc Konesco keeps pushing himself to live outside his comfort zone, believing that’s “where the magic happens” in life.

Yet as he and his wife Jen and their three children—all under 10 at the time—were in the midst of their 17-month ocean journey by boat, Marc experienced a moment that made him feel too uncomfortable.

“We were at a remote island— a two-day trip from civilization,” recalls Marc, a 1993 graduate of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. “I couldn’t start the engine, and our water maker on the boat stopped working. So here we are, in a remote place, with no engine and no water.

“I said a prayer, ‘Lord, I’m hurting.’ Then I ended up getting on the radio, asking for help. The radio could reach up to 60 miles, but I didn’t think anyone was around. I was very anxious.”

Less than five minutes later, a small boat with two men aboard appeared around a curve of the island, heading toward the Konescos’ boat.

“They were brothers,” Marc says. “The one brother installed water makers for a living, and the second brother owned a shop where they worked on engines. They were like two angels that came out of the air. After about four hours of working on the boat, we were ready to go.”

He pauses before adding, “It shows you how God works.”

Sharing that story makes Marc smile. It also takes him back to the time he wrote 15 goals for the “adventure-service journey” that would eventually lead his family to a stronger faith, a deeper connection with each other, and a commitment to serve at an orphanage in Costa Rica for six months. (Related: Family’s goals capture spirit of dream trip)

The first goal on that list notes: “To have the Lord lead us and focus on his will for the rest of our life, fully trusting that his hand is leading this journey.”

The adventure begins

The Konesco family made their journey from January 2014 to May 2015, sailing the Atlantic Ocean south from Florida and all around the Bahamas.

Yet the dream of this trip began even before Jen and Marc were married in 1999. In fact, their engagement was a time of three significant beginnings in their lives. They prepared for their marriage. Jen also entered the Catholic Church with Marc serving as her sponsor. And the couple wrote down their dream of someday leaving their jobs and spending a couple of years on an “adventure-service journey.”

Fourteen years later—in 2013—they steered their dream toward reality when they bought a boat they named Adagio.

“It’s a musical term to slow the tempo down,” Marc explains. “We wanted to slow our lifestyle down.”

It was just the beginning of the adventure.

They put their Indianapolis-area home up for sale in July of 2013, and sold it nine days later. They gave away or sold 80 percent of their possessions. Jen and Marc also took turns getting weeks of extensive training in sailing on the ocean while they alternated taking care of their children.

And when the family moved to Florida in January of 2014, they spent several weeks in port, doing practice sails, working on safety drills and getting used to living together in much smaller quarters—making the transition from their 4,000-square-foot home to their 350-square-foot boat.

In late February of 2014, they left the safe harbor of their lives and set sail toward the Bahamas with their three children—then-8-year-old Joellen, 7-year-old Camden and 2-year-old Maria.

Aboard the ship were four months of provisions, including diapers, batteries, pasta and canned goods. Jen had also packed all the materials she needed to homeschool the children. Still, Marc and Jen were hoping to give their children an education that extended far beyond school lessons.

A meeting with an unusual crew

One of the 15 goals for the journey was “to appreciate nature and particularly the ocean to the fullest.” That goal was met quickly as the family sailed into the Bahamas in March, a month when they normally experienced the tail end of another brutal Midwestern winter. Instead, they soaked in the sunshine, the blue skies and the crystal clear, turquoise water.

And when they docked at a marina in Bimini and were greeted by a dock master who said, “Ya, mon, take any spot you want,” they took the first step toward achieving another goal—“to meet a variety of different people.”

Before long, they met a woman from France—a paraplegic—who was sailing through the Bahamas with a friend. After Mass one day, they befriended the priest who celebrated it—a priest from Poland who was marking the 50th anniversary of his ordination.

They also met the unusual crew of a boat named “Beacon Won.”

“It was full of high school kids, parents and the crew,” wrote Jen in the family’s blog, “Love at First Sail,” about the group that was volunteering during spring break at an HIV/AIDS camp in the Bahamas.

“They invited our family to join them. The plan was to just spend time with the residents, praying and singing with them. Here in the Bahamas, there is still the stigma with those with AIDS, and many families turn their backs on a family member that has AIDS. A former leper colony has been transformed into a HIV/AIDS camp run by a couple from the U.S. It just so happened there were five extra seats in one of the vans. God always works it out, doesn’t he?”

The next day, they met the camp’s residents, some of whom were bedridden while others were in wheelchairs. The family joined the volunteer group in singing with the residents and listening to their stories.

The experience led Jen to write, “It was a reminder from God that no matter where you go, even in the midst of paradise, there are people who need help and need to know there are people who care.”

That belief also guided the family as they beached their sailboat for six months to volunteer at an orphanage in Costa Rica. The Konescos moved to that mountainous Central American country during the hurricane season—from July through December of 2014.

‘Just go to share God’s love’

“We weren’t sure how the Lord would use us at the orphanage,” says Marc, who has previously served on the board of the archdiocese’s Mother Theodore Catholic Academies in Indianapolis, and taught religious education at his family’s former parish—St. John Vianney, in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.

“We went to the orphanage five days a week,” recalls Marc, who is 40. “We cleaned, cooked and organized. We taught English, we taught science, and we played. We tried to follow the best advice someone gave us, ‘Don’t go to try to do something. Just go to share God’s love.’ ”

The family did that and more, according to Cherie McCullah, the director of the Residencia de Vida orphanage.

Marc used his extensive business background to help with the orphanage’s financial concerns. He also coordinated the effort to move the orphanage from one site to a new one.

“They came over and fixed meals for us on my days to cook, and made it a fun activity for the kids,” McCullah says. “They had swimming parties for us. They bought vegetables for us at the farmers’ market. Marc drove me places so I didn’t have to drive all the time. The kids loved when their whole family came over because it was going to be a fun time.”

She recalls one joy-filled moment that involved a water fight between Marc and the children at the orphanage.

“The kids got squirt guns for Christmas and couldn’t wait for Marc to come over that day so they could get him wet. I warned him beforehand so he could have some extra clothes. When he drove up, the water fight started and everyone had a blast. He actually snuck up and got a couple of guns the kids had laying there, waiting for him to come. He got a few of them wet first. The kids laughed and laughed about Marc getting them first.”

The Konescos have left a lasting impact on McCullah and the children at the orphanage.

“They are a part of our family here, and we miss them all the time,” she says. “We have an artist that will eventually come and paint a mural for us. It is going to be a beach scene, and the kids asked me to have her paint Marc, Jen and the kids’ boat in the middle. So that’s exactly what we are going to do. They made a lasting impression on all of us by truly caring about us in every way.”

A prayer of thanks

The journey also left its lasting marks on Jen, Marc and their children as they returned to the sea from February to May of this year.

Now 10, Joellen especially grew in “the depth and understanding of her faith in a pretty remarkable way,” says her father, who set the goal of wanting their children to learn to love their Catholic faith during the trip.

Now 9, Camden developed a passion for fishing that led to him hooking a 65-pounder that he decided to share as the main part of a meal with other fishers and their families.

And Maria, now 4, developed an early understanding of Spanish, learning the language as the family volunteered at the orphanage.

As their journey neared its end this year, Jen used the family’s blog to share one of the main lessons she has learned.

“We have realized that we don’t need as much as we used to think we did,” noted Jen, who also turned 40 on the trip. “Living on a boat forces you to live with less. The goal once we are on land in a home is to collect less stuff.”

She then offered a thank you.

“God has blessed us through this journey, and we thank him for keeping us safe and somewhat sane—living on a boat can drive you truly insane at times.

“Every night before we fall asleep, Marc and I pray together. We pray for safe travels and health. We also thank God every night for allowing us to experience this beautiful world he has created.”

Trusting God’s guidance

Shortly after their ocean journey ended in late May, the family returned to Indianapolis in June to visit with relatives and friends. During that time, Marc and Jen became godparents for their niece, Molly Hanrahan. Then they moved into their new home in Asheville, N.C., close to the ocean and the mountains they’ve come to love.

Marc has started a coaching company there that he has named TACK.

“Tack is a sailing term,” he says. “When you tack a sailboat, you change course.”

Marc realizes that not everyone wants to leave their lives behind for a 17-month ocean journey. He also knows that everyone doesn’t have the savings to make such a drastic change. (When Marc and Jen both worked, they set aside one income to save for the trip.) Yet he also believes that many people have their own special dreams.

“I’m focusing on helping people—professionally and personally—define, plan and achieve God’s dreams for their lives,” he says. “It’s important because I see a lot of people living day-to-day without thinking about their dreams and what they want to accomplish.

“The biggest obstacle for people is that they aren’t intentional about their dreams. And they’re unsure they can live their dreams. Every time we’ve taken our family outside the comfort zone, it’s been good for us.”

Marc sees the impact that following their dream has had on his family.

“It’s brought a close family even closer, and it’s showed our kids and Jen and me the power of dreams and prayers. The trust level between Jen and I went even deeper, and our confidence level went even deeper. For two years, we weren’t more than 15 feet away from each other. We had 15 feet to figure it out.

“And we had a lot more fun with our kids. In Indy, we used to do a lot of structured activities together. On the trip, the kids became a lot more creative. They’d find scraps of wood on the beach and they’d make a fort. I became involved with them and saw their inspiration. And they saw that their mom and dad didn’t know everything on the boat. We had to learn as well, and we learned together.”

The journey also led them closer to God.

“Looking back, I see God’s hand leading us to the people, places and events he wanted us to experience,” Marc says. “He allowed the Holy Spirit to guide us.

“We’ve experienced God’s power and grace so many times. After this trip, we are a lot more free and confident in trusting God’s guidance for where we are going.” †

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