Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)
In 2001, after 4 years of living and teaching English in Taipei, Taiwan, I decided it was time to return to the States and reconnect with family and friends. I vividly remember lying in my bed on the night before my departure and praying to God and asking Him to one day allow me to come back to Asia - specifically mainland China - for the purpose of being a full-time missionary. My years in Taiwan had been spiritually fruitful but very limited due to my full-time teaching responsibilities. I knew that I had only scratched the surface of the spiritual needs and opportunities all around me. How much more could I accomplish for God's glory if I could serve Him full-time? And so that was the conviction on my heart that night: If You bring me back Lord, I'll be your missionary.
Fast forward just a few months and not only have I returned to Texas, but 9/11 has rocked our country and the world, and on the morning that the airplanes struck the Twin Towers, I had just started a 2-day road trip out to southern California for a long stay at my brother’s house. That road trip was full of anxiety, heartbreak, and a lot of soul-searching. And by the time I'd arrived in Simi Valley (with my Isuzu Trooper covered in shoe polish patriotic slogans and Bible verses!), I’d never been happier to see my family!
I stayed in CA for many months helping my brother renovate his house and even applying for work at a local temp agency. Then, as the time of my return to Texas drew closer, I began planning for graduate studies at UTA and looking for a youth pastor position with any Asian church that would have me. Pastor Chan from Arlington Chinese Baptist Church responded to my email with a part-time job offer and that’s how I found myself launching into youth ministry in his small house church with two youth members: his teenage daughter and son. That was the youth group!
However, right before leaving California, I got a phone call that would literally change the course of my life. Two college friends of mine had launched a missions sending organization while I was in Taiwan. Their focus was on training and sending high school and college-age students on short-term mission trips around the world (igoglobal.org). Just the year before they had sent their very first team to Japan and now, in their second year, they had their sights on China. They thought of me and gave me a call. Would I be interested in leading a team of students to China in the summer? I’ll never forget the joy, excitement, gratitude, and wonder I felt after getting off the phone with my friend. I was certain that God was ALREADY answering my Taiwan prayer!
Over the next 5 years, I would help recruit, train, and lead student missionaries on half a dozen short-term trips to Asia and Europe. I would supervise a small team of college students on an 18-month-long mission assignment in China. And then after getting married and moving to Asia with my family, we would host another half dozen teams over a 5-year period in our city. God had truly answered my prayer! And I had come to be a passionate advocate of short-term missions and the effectiveness of using young people to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus. No one serves as boldly and honestly - and engages in relationships with others - as a young person sold-out for Jesus!
During these years we experienced the glory of God in many ways. We saw first-hand the power of the gospel to change lives across cultures and landscapes. We prayer walked through many city streets, mountain trails, and villages. We shared many meals and many stories. We performed Christmas dramas in village schools, gave clothes and food to the poor and hungry, visited orphanages and hospitals, and taught praise songs in the languages of the people we were reaching. We witnessed the salvation of villagers and businessmen, students and teachers, the young and old, first-hand. We baptized and trained new believers. And all this was accomplished through the simple strategy of engaging people in authentic and committed relationships.
The work was not always easy. The traveling could wear out your body. The spiritual oppression could burden and wear out your soul. The food could unsettle your stomach. The language could confuse and frustrate. But at the end of the day, I’ve never in all my life experienced anything as satisfying and thrilling as making God famous around the world. We called it “living the dream” then and I still call it “living the dream" now.
During all these years of doing missions in restricted countries, we never had anyone get questioned or kicked out. We were protected (we have no idea just how much) from severe sickness, injury, surveillance, and harm. We also heard many stories (some firsthand) of persecution, miraculous healings, and spiritual revivals that swept through entire villages. We prayed and prayed and prayed - and continue to pray - for God to move in the same powerful ways today. And we know that He is.
During our final year in Asia (with no idea that we would soon be leaving) a team of students came to our city to do what they do best: hit the streets with eager hearts, prayerful spirits, and consecrated lips (Isaiah 6) to make God famous in a part of the world where so many have never even heard the name of Jesus. One girl on that team was a real blessing to our family. She was also spiritually mature beyond her years. She was also bold and a little reckless in her faith. On her final night, she asked if we would let her walk around town and pray all night long. We said, "Go for it".
My new novel, "Prayers 'Til Dawn", is a fictional account of her last night (based on a collection of true events over the past 20 years). I hope the story is as inspiring to read as it was to live and write!