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T and J – Live Deeply

We’re T and J (names intentionally withheld), CSPC missions partners who help catalyze church planting & discipleship among an unreached ethnic group in a difficult part of the world. This is how we’ve been living deeply.

J: “It’s the last thing you want to hear a missionary pray: ‘Lord, I’m really disappointed because things don’t look the way I’d hoped.’ But that was honestly how we felt. When we started out, we felt like, ‘In 15 years, X, Y and Z will happen. There will be this explosion of churches.’ But now that we’d been on the field for 17 years, we looked back and were more like, ‘Wow, this has been hard. It’s been a long road.’ There have been joy and breakthroughs along the way, of course. But God chose to grow different areas than we expected and I think we were having trouble seeing the beauty in all of those other places.”

T: “We were definitely experiencing some burnout. Churches that were in formation in our part of the world had fizzled out, largely because of the COVID pandemic. That was discouraging. Our mission field wasn’t a pleasant place to be during COVID, so any sense of isolation we already had was just heightened because of that. For probably 11 months, our church wasn’t allowed to meet in person.“

J: “The joy of ministry is in the face to face, and all of a sudden, we’d lost that. When you’re doing a lot of Zoom discipleship, it loses some luster. And so then you feel sort of like- What are we doing?”

T: “Our kids’ schooling was mostly online the whole pandemic, so we were all on top of each other for two and a half years. I also think we were just working through the exhaustion of years and years without coming back home to the U.S. as a family.”

J: “When we started overseas, it was just the two of us. Now we were a family of seven, with kids ranging from 14 to 4. Our kids had never had the experience of living in the U.S for an extended period. It was time to come home to the States to let God refresh us all and renew our ability to serve. But we didn’t really have a home base. Our parents were scattered. They no longer lived where we grew up. So the big question became- Where should we live for a year?”

T: “We asked the Lord where we could live that would offer support for what each one of us needed. Ideally it would be a place with a lot of green, open space (we live in a crowded city overseas) and where we have a supporting church. Knoxville and CSPC seemed to fit the bill- I had visited a few years back during the Global Missions Conference and really enjoyed it. So that’s where we moved in July 2022. We were longing for somewhere that would be the best place for all seven of us. And that’s been our experience.” 

J: “Our kids had never been connected to a large body of believers, so I wanted them to experience a thriving children’s ministry and youth group.”

T: “In their typical school setting, they don’t have peers who are Christians or come from Christian backgrounds. So it was big that they got to experience that, especially our oldest two, one who’s in high school and one who’s now going into middle school. Making those connections has helped solidify their faith.”

J: “We wanted everyone to grow spiritually, mentally, and physically. That would mean seeking out some counseling for our mental health, joining a gym for our physical health, and jumping all in spiritually. So when we landed, we didn’t shop around for Sunday school. We just joined the class T had been to when he was here for the mission conference -the Journeys group- our very first Sunday. I joined the Grace and Truth Bible study as well as a Women on Mission group, and T joined the Friday morning missions prayer group. So from day one, we got involved. Friendships could form quicker because weren’t looking around for whatever- we just jumped in. And I think there was grace, too. Obviously God met us in that and we didn’t experience cliques that we couldn’t penetrate. Maybe we just didn’t give people a choice to not be our friends- it was more like, ‘Here we are!’ And people stepped up. Gradually, we even gained new perspective on that disappointment in ministry we’d felt. We pulled back and could see: ‘Wow, I thought we were plowing this field, but actually this little side thing we were part of, it’s thriving & growing. He scattered seed in places we didn’t even realize.”

J: “The deepest work God did in me came back to His leading me to a really dynamic, great counselor. With our goals of growing spiritually, mentally, and physically, that was important for me to do early on. When you’re in ministry overseas, you don’t always stop to kind of sharpen the mom axe. I was coming back broken in a lot of ways and wanted help to process things so I could move forward and grow from them. So finding this counselor was just life-changing for me. Really being able to dig deep takes time. I had the space here to just take a breath and do that. We weren’t busy doing all of the things we normally do, so I could really just sit and do the hard work of introspection & growth. I actually went for one thing and then ended up peeling back these onion layers of a whole other thing. I realized, ‘Wow, when I left high school, I just moved forward.’ I did a gap year with a youth ministry, then met T. We got married and we moved overseas. I just left- that was it. Peeling back those layers was life-changing for all of us. Now, when I have a big emotion about something that I really shouldn’t, I can stop and say, ‘Hey, what’s behind that?’ That’s just one of several really good internal tools I’ve added now to carry me as a parent. Being here -knowing the kids are all in safe environments, and I can spend some time just sitting & working on me- that’s been huge.”

T: “The biggest work God’s done in me, I think, has been surprising me with the readiness to return. We came back feeling very depleted, knowing we wanted to return but weren’t ready to yet. Two things I’ve found so refreshing have been community and creation, the people we’ve connected with and the time spent in nature. Recently I joked with someone at CSPC that when fall came and the leaves turned color, I had the thought of, like, ‘Wow, this is really nice. I could get used to being here every year for this!’ It’s surprising how enjoying a season of life here has now developed into the eagerness to go back. That’s the sort of thing that you can’t really directly work at- it comes indirectly as you temporarily step aside to let God do a new work in you. The people we’ve connected with, the relationships, the beauty of creation here that we’ve been able to get out and enjoy, those are going to stay here. But somehow God has used that to really prepare me, to make me not just ready, but really eager to leave and to go back to where we serve. The emphasis on prayer at CSPC has been a key part of that. I’ve just loved being there with the Friday morning group of people faithfully praying for the ministries around the world, and experiencing being on this side of things. We really can’t do anything apart from Christ, and prayer is the most fundamental way of living into that reality. As we leave, knowing people will be praying for us is really encouraging as well.”

J: “As for our kids, the three littles are 5, 7, & 9. Home really is where Mom and Dad are. Although they’ve loved lots of things here, they’ll be ready to go as we leave this summer. Our older two, it’s different. We heard a lot of ‘Do we have to go back?’ So we’ve had to explain to them that we don’t just feel called, but we feel like God’s called all of us as a unit, so we’re going to trust in faith. We’ve also explained it won’t be 17 years before we come back for another furlough, especially as we start launching our kids to college in three years. They can begin to already see that in their heads, which helps bring a lot of peace to them.”

J: “Our oldest, especially, was struggling with going back because he found a great group of friends at school here. But then the click happened for him a couple months ago. Instead of all the ‘Do we have to go back?’, he started listing off the things he was excited to go back for. So God really did a work.”

T: “We have been able to watch God answer prayer and move in his heart. At one point we were just talking about this with him. We told him ‘You can pray about this, you can tell God exactly what you’re feeling and what your desires are’- but challenged him to work toward that prayer that says, ‘Not my will, but yours be done.’ That’s the growth & maturity He’s calling us to pray for- not just praying to ask for things, but to align our hearts with Him. It’s been fun for us to be able to watch and actually see God do that in his life; really in both of our older kids’ lives. We’ve seen God answer different kinds of prayers, too, for our younger kids. One needed a specific type of tutor- specialized, hard to find. And the week before we arrived, we found someone in the church who specializes in this, just a couple miles away from where we’re living. All of these prayers were answered, and each one of us has received what we need to be able to go back now. When Jesus talks about those who leave home & brother & sister & mother & father, how they won’t fail to receive that a hundred-fold in this life, it feels like we’ve been experiencing that throughout this year. We’ve left family & home behind. And then even coming back to our home country, we’ve found a whole family here at the church ready to receive us and help us. Recently I was reading about the armor of God in Ephesians 6 with one of our kids. It describes our shoes as the readiness given by the Gospel of peace. I love that idea of readiness connected to the Gospel. Being able to simply rest in & delight in the Gospel this year, to be reminded of it week by week at CSPC, has been so refreshing. I think that enjoyment of the Gospel is a key part of what God has done to make us ready.”

T: “I can sum up our year here by comparing it to a connection we made overseas. As we were getting started with ministry to this people group we work with & trying to make initial contacts, we’d been hearing about people from this group who’d left our country of service for factory work in other countries nearby. So I was told by a church leader in a neighboring country they had a guy from their church -a guy who was a part of our target ethnic group- who’d returned to our country of service. But all the leader knew was his first name and the province he was from. It would be like being told we needed to find John from Tennessee and that’s all that we had to go on. But our team just had this sense that the Lord could connect us to him. So we prayed on a Thursday that we would meet him. On Sunday, I got a call from a different pastor who told me he’d met two believers from that ethnic group and wanted to introduce me. So the next day they came down on the bus from their province. And as we met on the side of the road & exchanged names, we realized one of them was the very guy we’d just begun praying on Thursday that we’d meet! We all spent a couple days together in the Word, praying & casting a vision for ministry amongst their people. One of the guys finished our time by telling me, ‘If you take a coal out of the fire and set it off to the side, that coal will get cold while the fire is still hot.’ He felt like that was what happened to him as he came back from the neighboring country: completely isolated, no other believers to fellowship with, no church to be a part of. He said they really needed a church in his province. Now a church is established there, he’s a leader in it, and we’ve watched him grow in his faith for several years. He’s gone through intense persecution, even getting kicked out of his family, but he feels the fire’s warmth! In the same way, our family feels like we’ve been able to sit around the fire of the Gospel this year, to enjoy its warmth & light, and now are ready to take that spark back to villages that remain cold & dark in Gospel indifference or ignorance. Thank you, CSPC, for helping us rejoice anew in God’s goodness.”

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