I sat there, incredulous. As soon as the conversation was over, and we started preparing for bed, I confronted Matthew.
“Are you serious?” I blurted.
I’ve always been interested in missions. In fact, missions is practically in my DNA, because when my family moved to a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean when I was three years old, I became a (very tiny) fifth-generation Seventh-Day Adventist missionary. My sister and I grew up eating pounded bread-fruit, building our own cooking fires, cutting down banana trees (ask my parents), and catching geckos by their tails (you’ll never forget it if you’ve tried it).
My parents ran a small mission clinic, and some of my most vivid childhood memories revolve around it: a visiting dentist’s hand over mine as I “helped” to extract a tooth (it broke), drawing up syringes of lidocaine, counting pills, translating for visiting doctors, watching my mom painstakingly put in 40-some stitches on an eel bite, and standing anxiously by as she did CPR on a tiny infant. When my little world was rocked by a move back to the United States when I was eight, I knew I wanted to be a missionary nurse like my mom.
I grew up in the midwest, and, while I was fully vested in the mission of church-planting when my family moved to a dark county during my teens, I had never seriously considered being a foreign missionary. From the time I started working in software development I knew that a) I liked it, b) I had aptitude for it, and c) there was commercial demand for it. Over time that last justification shifted to recognize that in addition to commercial demand there was a great need for Adventist developers who would work below market for the church.
When I met Rachel, those convictions led me to believe that, though she was strikingly beautiful and charmingly sweet, she was not the one for me because she was going to be a missionary nurse, like her mom. By that time I had been working professionally for 5yrs and was a lead programmer. I believed the statement that “the specific place appointed us in life is determined by our capabilities.” Ed 267.1 I felt that God was calling me to be a stateside software developer and God was calling Rachel to be a nurse overseas.
In 2011, one of my dreams came true when our family went back to our little island for a visit. I remember one evening towards the end of the visit, standing on the beach and watching the sunset with my sister, and talking about the future. The clinic was still running, and as I had opportunity to observe once again, I had come to the realization that I couldn’t see myself doing that long-term. I didn’t feel it was where my talents lay. A verse came to mind: “What is that in thine hand?” (Exodus 4:2), calling to mind the talents God had already given me. Over the last few years I had discovered a love for graphic design, and I had already been doing that on the side for several years. I enjoyed it, and felt that it could make a meaningful difference in God’s work. So when we returned home, I started a business and was soon inundated with work.
Enter compatibility! We were later engaged, married in August 2012, and have lived with the paradigm of serving the Lord through stateside software development, graphic design, and supporting our local church for the last ten years. As kids came along, a new dimension was added to our life calling.
Although I knew that Matthew didn’t have a burden to go to the mission field, I was at peace with how God had led our lives. I also realized that if God did ever want us to go overseas, He could lay the burden on Matthew’s heart. So, without telling Matthew, I began praying intermittently over the next ten years that if God wanted us to become missionaries, He would place the burden on Matthew’s heart. I decided not to tell Matthew about those prayers because I wanted to know for certain that it was God— not me— giving him the idea. I figured that if it did happen, it would be when the kids were much older.
In the spring of 2021, we began to wrestle with the idea of selling our property to move to a dark county. While the Lord soundly closed that door, one of the key takeaways from our processing was that since my work was online I could live anywhere (basically). If I could live anywhere, why was I living here when the needs are so much greater elsewhere? Those thoughts simmered for awhile until…
…this June some missionary friends texted saying they had an unexpected opening in their busy furlough schedule and would be able to come by for a visit. We had a great weekend with them, and one evening as we were talking, they mentioned rather off-hand that Thailand has great internet, and it would be totally doable for Matthew to work online there. I expected Matthew to blow it off, but instead he started asking more and more questions. I could tell he was actually quite interested.
The realization of the ability to have good internet and work as a tentmaker in Thailand really gripped me. I had known about the needs in Asia. Having a steady train of missionaries through our church and watching hours of mission-oriented media had made that clear to me. But I had always written off the call with my conviction that I had these skills that were unique in the church and so I couldn’t go. Had I been holding my software skills as an idol to keep me from answering the call? Could I have both software development for the church and foreign missions?
As I sat there attempting to mask my incredulity at Matthew’s level of interest, my sister, who was over for the evening, piped up cautiously: “I just started praying a couple weeks ago that God would put the burden of missions on your hearts if He wanted you to go.” I have to confess: my incredulity spilled over a little at that point. After heading off to bed, I cornered Matthew with the question that had been burning in my mind all evening: “Are you serious?” And so began the first of many late-night conversations, prayers, and studying.
As we processed over the next two weeks all I knew about the needs in Asia grew into a mountain of conviction that God needed His people there. I read John Holbrook’s article “If not you, then who?” with deep conviction. Everyone has an excuse why they can’t go. Safety, family, work, money, the list goes on. But if everyone with an excuse didn’t go, no one would go. I could look at others who I felt were better qualified to go, but they probably had an excuse equally as (in)valid as mine.
Those needs somehow became unavoidable in my mind. Thailand has 1 Adventist for every ~4,400 people (vs. MT with 1 Adventist for every ~250 people), but most of the members are in the ethnic minorities at the country’s periphery. In central Thailand there are provinces with >1MM population and fewer than 20 Adventists, some provinces with <5. How were they to be reached unless someone took the time to learn the language and live among them?
The gospel must be preached in all the world for a witness (Mt. 24:14), and though Montana didn’t have as many Christians or Adventists as the Lord or we wanted, there was much witness. Mass mailings, evangelistic flyers, public evangelism, radio stations, not to mention churches and members. Not all who receive the witness will choose to believe, but at least they had opportunity to know. How could the millions in Asia even have an opportunity to know but the name of Jesus?
The following statements, and others, shone with new light:
If the followers of Christ were awake to duty, there would be thousands where there is one today proclaiming the gospel in heathen lands.Steps to Christ page 81
Throughout the world, messengers of mercy are needed. There is a call for Christian families to go into communities that are in darkness and error, to go to foreign fields, to become acquainted with the needs of their fellow men, and to work for the cause of the Master. If such families would settle in the dark places of the earth, places where the people are enshrouded in spiritual gloom, and let the light of Christ’s life shine out through them, what a noble work might be accomplished.”The Ministry of Healing page 155
I knew many of these statements but somehow they were personal now. I could be “awake” to my duty. “Families” could be my family. A switch had flipped from “whether” and “if” to “when” and “where.” I felt the call to missions.