As we have only a few more hours before our flight to Thailand, I wanted to take the time to share some of the amazing providence that have been shown throughout our journey into the foreign mission field.
It all began on the 4th of July, 2012. We were asked to host a prayer room for a Campmeeting called Faithcamp.(http://faithcamponline.org/fc/) Neither of us had heard of it, but were excited to share in the blessing. No one came to pray the 1st night and so we entered the meeting hall to hear the speaker. The opening message was a startling one for us. Neither of us had any idea the state of giving in our church to foreign missions. We were educated in the steady decline of funding being given to foreign missions in the church since the mid 40’s. $ We also heard how there has been a massive decline in people dedicating their lives to foreign mission service. Number wise, we are sending more people into foreign fields than in the past, but the majority of them are either student missionaries, going short term, or are groups going for 1-3 week trips. Those are great, and we should not stop doing that, but as Christ example showed us, we need to mingle with the people to build relationships before we can bid them to follow us, which takes time.
After the meeting, Jessica and I headed back to the prayer room with a burden in our hearts. I began speaking and sharing what God had been putting on my heart, and after a couple minutes realized Jessica was being very, unnaturally, quiet. When I questioned her about that she said she was just wanting to see if God was speaking to us the same way. Long story short, He was, even down to the dollar amount we felt we should have to go with.
We were excited to know God was leading. We felt led to work for 1 year, after that we would sell all and enter the foreign field. The only issue with that is that we had just been hired to work as teachers for a new school of evangelism and bailing on a new program after the trial year seemed like a horrible thing to do. Thankfully the Lord has ways that are not our ways and we just walked forward in faith.
Nearing the end of the programs first year, the administration was reevaluating the model being used. After much prayer and planning, the decision was made to take the SOULS West model of literature evangelism AND Bible work training. We also found out we were pregnant with our first child. In praying for direction on what to do, it was clear that teaching in a school dedicated to training literature evangelists, while neither of us had ever even tried to sell literature, wasn’t looking like the right direction. In the end, we did not ‘bail’ on a fledgling, 1 yr old program, we were unqualified for a newly starting program. He always knows best.
Then came the next step, where to go? We spent much time praying and researching different unreached countries, before finally praying for God to reveal to us His greatest need. At that point we remembered a video series we had seen at Faithcamp, “I Want This City”* As we began watching the series and researching the Kingdom of Thailand, it became evident that that was where God was leading us. In a country of 65 million people, there is less than 1% Christian. The Adventist presence is even less; 1 SDA for every 7600 people. To contrast that, it is 1 SDA to every 330 people in the U.S.
We found that most Christians working in Thailand are working in the north with the hill tribes, while very few were actually working with the Thai people. The call was clear; we were going to Bangkok. This city of 12 million is full of people who have never even heard the name of Jesus before. How could this nation of beautiful people be ready for the Lord’s soon return, if they never even knew He came the first time. There was no knowledge of a God that loves them and wants to have a relationship with them.
We made the decision to go and then had the challenge of how to go. What do you do? How do you fund a life change like this? We felt uncomfortable going to churches and standing up front asking for money. We found in the testimonies the counsel that if we had the ability to be self supporting, we should be. We began praying, and on the same day, the Lord gave us the same idea. So we made a flyer(that I cant seem to attach) and sent it to the Upper Columbia Conference, the one we had worked in for the last 4 years. They sent it to all the pastors and we were hired to do a few prophecy seminars, speak for camp meetings, hold week of prayers, all to start our new life in Thailand. It was a blessing to have the privilege to minister here, while raising money to minister in Thailand. That 4th of July in the prayer room, we felt God lead us to have 20k to go with. As I sit on the plane typing this, we have just over 20k. God is good.
Then Nov 18th came. We could have a whole other post about the birth of our son, but Asher arrived 10 days early happy and healthy, so he seemed. Our first family outing at 15 days old, we ended up in the hospital. Asher had Hydrocephalus; which basically meant the cerebral-spinal fluid in his skull was not draining off and was causing his head to swell, putting pressure on the brain. At 2 weeks old our son had brain surgery, installing a programmable shunt into his skull. In layman terms, he has a pressure relief valve in his skull that opens up and drains the fluid. Needless to say, this caused us to pause. Was God trying to tell us that we shouldn’t be going? Would there be any means to support us if there was any complications over there? At the same time, the pastor I had been working for visited in the hospital and asked if I would be willing to come back to work for him. Long prayer sessions ensued.
As i mentioned, the valve is programmable. It is adjusted with a magnet, which means that a magnet can also throw it out of whack. So I set out on the mission to find out if there was any hospitals in Bangkok that worked with this technology. The search was fruitless, with no one returning my emails. So I found out the name of the company that made the valve and contacted them. They were able to inform me that they have never sold anything to thailand. Though the door seemed obviously closed, I had a strange feeling it wasn’t. I asked about the possibility of purchasing a programmer for ourselves to have. They gave me the number of a local sales rep and I put in a call. Now this is a piece of medical equipment; we were expecting a price tag of around 20k, but we thought if God wanted us to go, he could raise the money for us. The local rep got back to me and told me that what he would do, is give my dr another programmer and he could make the medical decision whether we should have it or not. So as I sit on this plane, above me in the overhead compartment is a magnetic programmer for my sons valve, FREE OF CHARGE! When we thanked the Dr, he said “don’t thank me, thank Medtronic, I’ve never seen them do this for anyone.” We serve a BIG God!
The answer was apparent, He wanted us to go. Now we had the physical aspects taken care of, the next battle was with our own hearts. When you plan to take a baby into a foreign country, we found that family and friends aren’t always super supportive; when he has had complications, it’s even worse. They didn’t intend to be negative, I’m sure, but there was a lot of doubts and fear put into our minds. We began to rationalize reasons to wait. God didn’t necessarily say we were going to go right now. We could wait till Asher was 3 or 4, when he could communicate and tell us something was wrong. We allowed a trust in American medicine to trump our trust in the Lord.
We began to try the doors that seemed ajar. We had multiple job offers on the table when we decided to leave the country, so we contacted them. Now these were offers, they called us. 1 by 1 the doors shut. Until we were faced with the glaring idea that God wanted us in Thailand, now.
We were trying all the other doors, why not try this one again? As we pushed on the door, it swung open. That was 3 weeks ago today. We had a skype call with our friends from Jesus 4 Asia, getting the rundown on how life works as westerners in Bangkok, and we decided upon a date for launch, April 27, Jessica’s birthday.
For some reason though, I kept putting off buying the tickets. There was a lot to do to get ready to move out of the country in 6 weeks, but I don’t know why I kept putting off the tickets. I know now. My in-laws had been going to a local Thai restaurant for a while now and had made fiends with the owner. She is a Thai, born and raised in Bangkok. She shared with us about her homeland and gave us great information to help us plan. As my in-laws went in one day they told Knitpa, the owner, that we were going at the end of April. She responded that she would be in Bangkok April 1-14 and that we should go then. She would show us around, teach us the places to go and introduce us to people there. We prayed about it and saw God’s leading through this providential opportunity. Now we had less than 3 weeks to get ready.
If you have ever moved before, it can be quite a chore, but when you are moving to a different country, where the average apartment size us 30 sq meters, you have to condense things greatly. In the matter of 2 and a half weeks, The Lord sold all our belongings, including a truck that had been on Craigslist for well over 6 months. He allowed an insurance claim from an accident I was in to be closed out and the payment to be sent in time, and also to clear out the other items we needed to get rid of. He found us an inexpensive hotel room and arranged for our friend, Knitpa, to pick us up and find us an apartment, with a local deal.
Throughout this journey there have been many trials of faith and many more blessings that I either have forgotten, or simply won’t even know about until all is revealed in heaven. As I look out the window of this plane, my eyes well up with tears and my heart with joy. Those who know my story, know where I have come from and the amazing work that God has wrought in me. I have lived for myself my entire life, only focusing on what can best benefit me. Knowing that everything I now own is on a plane and able to fit in 4 suitcases is a refreshing, freeing feeling and gives me so much peace. We have literally sold all, ok, most, and are dedicating our lives, not to a life of ease, but one of toil. But far greater than the toil, is the reward that we will receive to know that even one more soul was able to enter into the blessed Kingdom, through our surrender.
One thing we heard at that Faithcamp, was a powerful thought. The speaker said that “you may go overseas and not win a single soul to Christ, but you might just save your own.” That is something that has stuck with us. I noticed early in my ministry, that I still had great pride in my heart. I would often spend more time trying to win an argument, than a soul. I had all that I needed, I could explain and give evidence from the Bible till they were forced to surrender their belief. Yet that is not Christ’ way. Thinking about going into this new field, all of MY abilities, the ones that come from me, will be basically useless. My ‘arguments’ will mean nothing to someone that has no knowledge, let alone belief, in the Bible. God is sending us to a place where we will have to rely on Him. That, I am excited for. The character development that we are embarking on is one that I am excited about.
We are preparing to land in LA for our first layover, next stop, Guangzhou, china. We are looking forward to the journey, and hope you are excited to join us. We ask for your prayers, as those are the most important thing that we need. Christ, when here on this earth, in speaking of Himself, in John 5 and verse 30 said, “I can of mine own self do nothing” If the Son of God could do nothing in His own strength, how much less we. Your prayers for the Spirit’s guidance in our lives and ministry are the pivotal components to any and everything we do.
God be with you till we meet again.
With love in Christ,
Brian, Jessica & Asher Atwell