From the bench to mission work around the world

John and Lori in Haiti. Photos supplied
John and Lori in Haiti. Photos supplied

by Kathy Tomlinson

In January 2003, John McBride was sworn in to serve on the Chisago County bench. However, his years of public service began more than a decade before.

McBride, who serves as a 10th Judicial District Court judge, now chambered in Stillwater, had been volunteering for many years, leading mission trips for “Operation Classroom” and International Child Care to Haiti, Uganda, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.

He became involved at the urging of his wife, Lori, who had previously attended and led several trips. Eventually, she was appointed to the board of International Child Care.

ICC is an organization that has operated in the country of Haiti since 1967 and the Dominican Republic since the late 1980s with the goal of changing conditions of poverty that impact the health and well-being of children and families.

John with a baby at the medical center.
John with a baby at the medical center.

Through financial support, education and volunteers, ICC seeks to prevent illness, restore health and promote health by sponsoring immunizations, providing prenatal care, promoting clean water, establishing and supporting outpatient clinics and hospitals and providing rehabilitation for disabled children among many other services.

The McBrides said ICC is a board that coordinates the actions of four nonprofits, each with unique talents and connections, in the United States, Canada, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. By agreement with these groups, the board aims to coordinate their efforts for the common mission of ICC.

John McBride went to Haiti for the first time in 1997 through Operation Classroom, which focuses on building schools for children. On one trip, he and his mission team stayed in the Methodist Guest House near a children’s hospital. The team was encouraged to visit the children.

“I immediately fell in love with the children,” he said, noting many of them suffered from serious, chronic illnesses.

It was at that time he became deeply committed to working with ICC.

Port-au-Prince Medical Center was nearly demolished in the 2010 earthquake.
Port-au-Prince Medical Center was nearly demolished in the 2010 earthquake.

The McBrides continued to lead mission trips to Haiti. A typical trip lasts seven to 10 days, and John and Lori each were involved in about two trips a year. John estimated he helped build four schools, though they are all works in progress that take many years to build.

Due to their busy schedules, they did not take a trip together for ICC until 2012.

Successful careers, mission trips

John, a 1977 Hamline University School of Law graduate, ran his own law firm from 1982-1989. He then served as vice president and senior shareholder at the law firm of Lommen, Nelson, Cole and Stageberg, P.A.

He helped raise five children with Lori, who found her own success as a paralegal before taking on several roles at their church.

John, who would use vacation days for his mission trips, said his colleagues understood that his mission work was an important part of who he was.

“They just knew ‘this is what John does,’” he said.

Lori embracing a young girl in Haiti.
Lori embracing a young girl in Haiti.

The couple emphasized mission work was hardly a sacrifice. It was something they enjoyed as a part of their ministry. This passion to help others became a part of their children’s lives, too. All five of the McBride children have been involved in mission trips of their own, Lori pointed out, and the oldest daughter served in the Peace Corps for several years.

John explained the work has allowed him to get to know the people on an intimate level and learn about other cultures. Working with them one on one, he was able to experience their genuine personality. Through these informal interactions, they are able to break down any barriers that may exist between them.

The trips he has gone on are highly organized with reputable organizations, he noted, which has been a key to maintaining safety and security while on the trips. He has heard gunfire but has always felt relatively safe, he said. He has experienced some illnesses but both he and his wife have escaped any major diseases.

Prior to taking any missionary trip, the team engages in extensive training about the region they are visiting. In particular, he said, it is important to understand the culture of the country they are traveling to. This includes important topics such as manner of dress, societal values, eye contact and body language.

“I have done work in the United States, as well,” he said, “and I am not choosing one group over another. On the other hand, the depth of need, poverty and despair in the United States pales in comparison that present in Haiti.”

The McBride family.
The McBride family.

Through these experiences, he and his wife learn about what is important in their own lives.

He pointed out that in the United States, there are social security nets in place to help those in need, but in other countries, such as Haiti, those safety nets are not as readily available. For example, medical treatment for children with chronic but treatable illnesses may be delayed.

The McBrides indicated that they entered into this kind of work with no expectations. Initially, they thought it may be an interesting experience. However, John said that he has “received much more than he has given.”

John, a graduate of the Hamline University School of Law, received its Distinguished Alumni Award in 2000 for his contributions to the legal profession and because of his missionary work.

However, he feels his greatest achievement has been opening his children’s eyes. They have learned to engage in these experiences not for any extrinsic reasons but to experience what you “ought to be” in this world.

Currently, John serves on the board of ICC-United States and International. The challenge facing ICC now is rebuilding the Grace Children’s Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which was destroyed in the January 2010 earthquake. They have currently reached the $3 million fundraising goal on this $9 million project.

For more information about ICC, visit

— Kathy Tomlinson writes for the St. Croix Valley Peach

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *