Shellie’s dad asked, after she told him we would be moving to Sudan. “Sudan? Sudan? Sudan?” he kept asking, thinking he hadn’t heard her correctly. “They kill people there. Women are beat and raped there… Why would you want to go there?”
After Shellie and I had our conversation about going overseas on the steps of an academic building during our third year in college (from our last article); we were engaged 8 months later, married by the following summer, and began working jobs as teachers in Lakeland, Florida to pay off school loans and go overseas.
We initially thought we could work as teachers at an international school, but didn’t get a sense that’s what God wanted, so we instead took teaching jobs in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. We got more involved in pastoral ministry at the Stone Church, where my dad was serving as the lead pastor, and I finished the process of getting ministerial credentials as well.
Every summer, while on vacation from our teaching jobs, Shellie and I would serve as leaders of a third culture kid camp, held in Springfield, Missouri. We loved our summers, serving TCK’s and their families, becoming familiar with what God was doing around the world to build His Kingdom.
One summer, while serving at this camp, we were invited to join a team reaching Muslim families in Sudan. We could use our education degrees to serve as directors of a school in the country’s capital. We prayed, knew God was in it and decided it was time. We told our parents, had some fun conversations, like the one above, and began preparing to go overseas.
God was going before us to help us get there, but not without some bumps along the way. But hardships would prove to be part of the process, preparing us for what God wanted to do in Sudan and beyond Sudan.
By the time we had been married for five years, we were hoping to start a family, but we found out having kids is not easy for everyone. It wasn’t for us. After lots of doctor visits and temperature charts, we found out fertility medicine would be necessary for us to start having kids. Shellie tried the medicine a few months, she wound up pregnant, and we celebrated. Ten weeks later, we mourned the loss of that pregnancy around the same time we were going through the interview process to serve as cross-cultural workers with Assemblies of God World Missions.
It was a difficult time. We weren’t sure if we would have kids. We would be resigning our jobs as teachers, jobs we loved and worked hard to get in the community in which we lived. We would be leaving the church we had established relationships in, especially among the young couples we had the privilege to lead. But we knew God was going before us and we trusted His leading in our lives.
A couple of months later, Shellie was pregnant again, this time with our oldest, Nathaniel, whose name means “gift from God.” Nate was then and remains still, a gift. Kids are wonderful gifts from God. We finished teaching that year, as planned, resigned our jobs, and put our house up for sale. We never filled the 3-bedroom home with the kids we thought we might have while living there, but God had other plans for that house. The proceeds took care of the remainder of our college loans, and we were now free to travel around the U.S. and tell others about the opportunity God had given us to go and live amongst Muslim families in Sudan.
Within fourteen months, we had raised financial and prayer support to go to this impoverished nation where less than 2% of the population had a life-saving relationship with Jesus.
On December 24th, 2007, Shellie and I boarded a plane with one-year old Nate, at Chicago’s O’Hare International airport, headed for Khartoum, Sudan. We would celebrate Christmas in 2007 in one of the most lost nations in the world.
We would celebrate Emmanuel, God with us, in a land without saving knowledge of a Savior who had come to earth, more than 2,000 years before.
Shellie’s desire to go to the continent of Africa was finally realized, twenty-two years after her experience at kids camp. That ER room encounter with God as a university student was upon me. I was finally overseas. I had become an ordained minister and Shellie became licensed as a minister as well. We had grown up in the church and were ready to fulfill the plans God had for us overseas. We were ready! Or, so we thought.
But what came next, took us by surprise. Nothing could have prepared us for what laid in store for us. And yet, God was still leading and we were still following.
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Has God ever led you to an unexpected or interesting place? If so, where? Share your comments below.