Have you ever heard the old saying, “Big doors swing on small hinges”?
It has been more than 10 years since Tonya and I launched to India as novice AFM church planters. Since then we have faced many crossroads. We have taken big strides and many slow, trudging steps along the path. As we reflect on the journey, we are mindful of how different our lives might have been if it weren’t for all the seemingly small choices that have brought us to where we are.
One sunny autumn afternoon in 2001, I was walking to class along the promenade at Southern Adventist University when I heard a Voice: Jared, I want you to be a student missionary next year.
I listened to that Voice, and the next year I went as a student missionary to Micronesia. Initially, I was supposed to serve on the island of Pohnpei. However, after arriving at the orientation for volunteers in Hawaii, I heard an appeal for teachers to go to the island of Yap. Most of the other islands had plenty of teachers, but the school in Yap was facing a critical shortage. I immediately responded. In Yap I met Tonya who had come as a student missionary from Union College. What if I hadn’t listened to that Voice on that fateful afternoon? What if I hadn’t answered the appeal to go to Yap?
After finishing our year of student mission service, I decided to follow Tonya back to Union College. After we had dated for a few months, I asked her to marry me. What if Tonya had said no? Seems like a crazy question to even ponder, but what if?
After being accepted as missionaries-in-training with AFM in January 2006, Tonya and I began the process of building a support team. After several months of speaking appointments and visits with potential donors, we both began to feel discouraged about our progress. We felt like giving up. What if we had thrown in the towel right there and decided not to press on?
Late in 2007, our fundraising finished, we boarded a plane in Chicago bound for New Delhi, India. The weeks and months just prior to our departure had been filled with tearful goodbyes, a slew of frantic last-minute decisions, and the growing realization that our lives were going to change forever. Then, just before our departure, Tonya got sick. By the time we arrived in India, we were exhausted, and the onslaught of strange sights, sounds and smells overwhelmed us. The experience was hardest on me, and within days I was ready to push the eject button and get out of there. In my panicked mental state, I took Tonya to the airport and tried to get us a flight home. Fortunately, there were no seats available. But what if there had been space on that plane?
Because we stayed in India, we found lifelong friends in our teammates, Jonathan and Karen Lovitt. We helped plant a church and a school that continues to have a positive impact in the Darjeeling community. God brought our Nepali daughter Dikee into our lives. We have brothers and sisters in Christ who might never have known Him otherwise.
As we look back, we can also see that it wasn’t just our choices but also circumstances that brought us to this point. Along with Jonathan and Karen Lovitt, we were heartbroken when we were forced to leave India in 2012. We weren’t ready, and we didn’t feel our young church family was ready to function without us. Then, not even a year into our next missionary assignment, just when we thought we were starting to make some headway, we were forced out again. We were hurt and angry. Sometimes we still wonder: What if we had been able to stay there? What might we have been able to accomplish?
Yet, as we consider the path down which God has led us to serve here in northeast Thailand, and how we have seen Him re-weave the threads of our often-torn tapestry, we find a whole new set of questions to think about. What if we had never come to live and work in Ubon Ratchathani? How would the children in the village ever have had a chance to know Jesus? How would our housekeeper and her husband have had an opportunity to see what a Christian family looks like? Who would have been there to help our friend Ming when she was afraid and needed someone to encourage her? There are too many “what ifs” to even begin to list here.
We are currently raising support to build a creative-learning center in our target community where we will be able to mentor children and youth and help families who are struggling to make a better future for their children. We are also seeking individuals who will pledge to support a local worker to help us reach the Thai Buddhist people of Isan. The task that God has put before us is immense, but by faith we drop our pebble in the pond, trusting that the ripples will reach shores we cannot yet see.
We invite you to join with us today. It’s far better than looking back someday and asking yourself, “What if?”