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Benefit: Church, friends aim to bring couple back to Bemidji

John and Chris Parsons of Bemidji have been in Scotland since November as Chris undergoes medical treatment. Their church community at Mt. Zion Church in Nymore is hosting a benefit for them Sunday evening to assist the couple in their goal of returning to Bemidji. Submitted Photo

John and Chris Parsons came to the Bemidji area in 2001, expecting to stay a year or two while doing missionary work.

Instead the couple, along with their two children, found a new home and established roots, even building a new cabin northeast of town.

But now, due to health concerns, the couple is back in Scotland while Chris undergoes dialysis and other medical treatments. The couple, as missionaries, did not have insurance in the U.S.

Their church community, Mt. Zion Church in Nymore, is hosting a benefit for them at 4:30 p.m. Sunday to raise funds to aid the couple in reaching their goal of returning to Bemidji this spring.

The benefit includes a $10 spaghetti dinner, bake sale, silent auction, nail art painting and live entertainment.

"We've been just so amazed at how Bemidji has embraced us over the years," Chris said in a phone interview from Scotland.

"It really blows us away," John said of their friends' efforts with the benefit. "We're amazed at how big it has become."

The family came to Laporte in 2001 to help Ben Israel Fellowship deliver a web-based training program. The following year, the family visited Ground Zero and the crash site of Flight 93.

"(We) felt a profound sense of calling to remain in America," John wrote in an email.

They began setting down roots. John and his son, Sam, began studying at Bemidji State University and then established the Christian Perspectives radio show on KKBJ AM. They joined Mt. Zion and established a media ministry called My Life Radio, which John and Chris have co-hosted through the Internet at 7 a.m. every Sunday. In 2006, John began working as a reporter/assignment editor for Lakeland News.

"We've lived a lot of places, done a lot of things, but really, we have found Bemidji to be a warm and welcoming place," Chris said.

Chris became ill in 2008 and returned to Scotland to seek medical help. She was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. She underwent radiotherapy and chemotherapy in 2009 and, that summer, they returned to continue working on building a cabin north of Concordia Language Villages.

Chris was hospitalized in the Twin Cities in October 2009 for renal problems. She was in critical condition for a week.

In 2010 and 2011, the couple was "to-and-fro-ing" between Bemidji and Scotland as Chris underwent medical treatments.

This past November, they returned to Scotland for an appointment, expecting to be back in Bemidji by Christmas.

"That wasn't the case," Chris said.

She was diagnosed with end stage renal disease and began dialysis, which she undergoes three times a week for about five hours per session.

Their daughter, Danielle, was 17 when they first came to Laporte. Their son, Sam, was 16.

"It was one of the things that convinced us that it was the right move," Chris said. "We had this invitation to come to Bemidji and we really felt that we all needed to be in agreement about it. Both of our kids were really excited and on board with it. That really convinced us it was the right way to go."

Both kids married Minnesotans. Danielle lives in the Twin Cities with her family. Sam lives in the Bemidji area with his family.

It is hard being away family, Chris said, noting that she and John have three children all under the age of 4.

"We talk on the phone a lot," John said.

"We Skype as often as we can," Chris said, referencing a web-based video calling program.

But it's hard.

"The one that will be one (year old in a few days) just started crawling a few weeks ago," she said. "You miss those different phases. That's kind of hard. I know there are lots of grandparents who aren't around for that, but we're missing it."

Chris' doctor supports their planned move back to Bemidji. Chris said it is easy for dialysis to overtake your life, but her doctor supports their plans to be near family and friends again.

They hope that they can get Medicare coverage in order by April, at which time the couple would return to their Bemidji home.

"The doctors have been fairly encouraging about it," she said. "We were concerned that they might not be, but they've been really encouraging."

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