“We lacked a clear language and a clear strategy. We had become a strategic hybrid of every big church out there.”
You came to personal faith when you were 12, listening to your dad preaching on the resurrection, but that commitment was further clarified a few years later.
When I was a sophomore in high school I was at a camp in Kansas City, Mo., and somebody was speaking on the lordship of Jesus. They had this invitation at the end, and I was sitting in the back row. I was shy, very reserved. I hated getting up in front of people and speaking, but I wanted so badly to go forward and make a commitment. I couldn’t do it. I felt like I had sandbags tied around my feet.
After the service I walked outside and went down to the baseball field. I sat there on the ground, crying and telling God, “I’m yours. Wherever you want me to go and whatever you want me to do.”
My mom started feeding me missionary biographies after that. I just couldn’t get enough of them—Peace Child, Through Gates of Splendor and some of the classic works on people who had served overseas. I felt drawn to global evangelism.
The following year I went to Taiwan for the summer and got to work in an orphanage. That was a huge experience for me to see another culture and to care for little kids. It was so simple, but it was so fulfilling and rewarding. That was another defining moment for me.
So how were these new desires for ministry played out in your preparation—your education and decision making?
Following other mission trips, I decided I wanted to be a doctor. Being shy and reserved, I thought the best way God could use me on foreign soil was through medical missions.
Between freshman and sophomore years of college I bumped into a friend of mine at a missions conference who was running a school in Haiti. She challenged me: “I need a second grade teacher this school year. Why don’t you come down and serve with us? You’ve got the rest of your life to be in college.”
I had never been there, but three weeks later I had raised some support and I was on a plane headed to Haiti. During the 10 months I spent there teaching at the school for at-risk children, God helped me overcome that shyness—it had been really debilitating. I had to get up in front of the kids every day, but kids are so forgiving, and these kids were hungry for love and affection. I kind of became a father figure to them. That experience was another significant link in the chain of my faith becoming my own.
As you started to move beyond your shyness, you developed a burden to preach.
Yes. I had had moments when my dad was preaching when I thought, I love words and sentences and good stories. But I never thought God would use me in that way. As I prayed and processed it, I felt God saying, “Go to Bible college and I’ll help you.” So I enrolled.
I was nervous about homiletics classes, but I jumped in, and I made this deal with God. I said, “I’ll do this if I can talk to real people in real ways about real things.”
By my senior year of college, though, I still felt led to missions. There was this tension in my heart. Here were all these great communicators that were going to graduate with me, and I felt God was saying, “They can go and preach. But they don’t know about the need in Haiti.”
So I went back to Haiti for four years, to the school where I had taught. I also got to help plant some churches and train some Haitian preachers, which was really fun. But primarily what I learned during those four years was dependence. I think God just needed to get my attention. And he did—through sickness and hardship and loneliness and all the battles we fight in missions.