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Twenty Years with Team 2000

It was autumn in Fresno, California, and the leaves outside were red like fire. I was teaching ninth grade English at Roosevelt High School, sitting at my desk enjoying the quiet during silent reading time. 

All of a sudden, God downloaded a one-page proposal into my mind’s eye, and I frantically began to type it out. I addressed it to Harold Ens, who was the General Director of MBMSI (now Multiply). In the document, I boldly proposed that he bless me and my husband Ricky to form a team to go plant churches somewhere among the least reached. I asked if we could hand pick the team from our existing friends and design the scope of our ministry. We would all commit to a minimum ten-year term. I signed the proposal and, after work that day, I personally delivered it to Harold’s desk. The year was 1996.

When I was fifteen years old, God called me to serve overseas during a Keith Green Memorial Concert in Seattle, Washington. For Ricky, the call came during his college years when he was on a summer mission trip to the Panari Tribe in Venezuela. There in the jungle, God called him to be a missionary. 

After we were married, we did some discipleship-in-mission training with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) before we took an assignment as teachers and basketball coaches at an international school in Bangkok, Thailand. We thought we’d teach during the day, study Thai in the evenings, and plant churches on the weekends. It was an ambitious vision. We were young and full of love for the unreached. But two things made this dream too much for us: first, learning Thai was much harder than we anticipated, and second, we needed a team—we were lonely and desperate for co-laborers to pray with, worship with, and plant churches together.  

Eventually, we moved back to Fresno where we attended Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary (now Fresno Pacific University). We started recruiting friends to return with us to Asia where we would make at least a ten-year commitment to planting churches. Many said they would pray for us and come visit us, but no one sensed the same call. 

Carmen Ens was a close friend of ours in Fresno, with whom we had served as youth sponsors at Butler MB Church and co-led a Youth Mission International team to Venezuela. She was dating a guy from Kansas named Andy Owen. After they were married, we invited them to consider forming a team with us. We saw their love for Jesus and their passion to use their gifts. We started fasting and praying that they would join us. 

Soon after, while Ricky and I were praying in our apartment one night, we sensed that God was prompting us to call Dave and Louise Sinclair-Peters in Canada. We had enjoyed their friendship and ministry partnership during the years that they had lived in Fresno. We thought they might be crazy enough to join us. On the phone, Ricky asked boldly, “Do you want to start a church-planting movement in Thailand with us for ten years?”  

Dave and Louise laughed. We asked them to pray about it. Later we found out that, after the call, they had said to each other, “No way. Never!” But over the next month, they began to fast and pray. In the meantime, we were overjoyed to receive word from Andy and Carmen who confirmed that God had called them to join us. Not long after, Dave and Louise also let us know that God had made it clear to them in a number of miraculous and prophetic ways that they were called to go. It seemed incredulous, even impossible, but somehow God had put a team together. 

On January 17, 2001, the three couples touched down in Bangkok, Thailand. We were full of faith and expected God to use us in dynamic ways immediately!  

Instead, we moved to an isolated town called Lopburi where we began in earnest with language learning and cultural acquisition. Within weeks, we were homesick and overwhelmed with culture shock and the challenges of learning a tonal language. Ricky and our eldest daughter, Sierra, were hospitalized with Dengue Fever. I cried many tears and begged God to call us back home.

By God’s grace, we persisted. In Lopburi, our team became our lifeline. We helped each other combat loneliness and discouragement. We celebrated birthdays and holidays together and spent powerful hours in worship and prayer. We became a family. To this day, the eleven children on our team still refer to each other as cousins.

As a team, we sought God’s direction as to where he wanted us to move after language school. During one of our sessions in listening prayer, I remember hearing God speak the words to my heart, “city by the sea.” After some scouting trips to the eastern seaboard, God led us to a local pastor named Preecha, who invited our team to plant churches in a coastal city called Chonburi. “People are hungry for God here,” the pastor said. “It’ll be easy!”

In Chonburi, we experienced the blessing of team. We saw Paul’s description of the fivefold ministry (in Ephesians 4) come to life before our eyes. Andy and Dave were gifted teachers and pastors. Carmen had gifts of prophecy and pastoring. Ricky, Louise and I were drawn to evangelism and pioneering ministries. As a team, we paid attention to how God had created us each with different gifts and we offered those gifts for the sake of the lost in Thailand. To our amazement, God began to use us to bring hope to Buddhists and Animists. They came to Jesus and found freedom from spiritual oppression and healing from past wounds.

Over the next few years of ministry, we saw each other blossom: Carmen’s tenacity and compassion, Andy’s gifting in leading worship in Thai, Dave’s shepherd heart among college students, Louise’s pioneering work among the Burmese, and Ricky’s gifts of faith, celebration, and recruiting new missionaries. For me, I was blessed to have five of the highest caliber people I have ever met believe in me and spur me on to say yes to the dream God had given me to start an orphanage for HIV+ children.  

During the past two decades, we have seen God move in miraculous ways and we have experienced unspeakable joy. At other times, we have felt the weight of the spiritual darkness around us, and we have faced many overwhelming challenges. Yet our team relationships have continued to give us strength and purpose. 

Our team and our children are now spread all over the world, continuing to be disciples who make disciples. The Owens are moving to the USA for further ministry. Dave and Louise are back and forth between Myanmar and Thailand, and we are in Thailand and Cambodia. We all partner with national believers who are taking the ministry farther than we ever dreamed. 

Our team friendships remain strong, and we still manage to spend holidays together and keep in touch through video calls where we laugh until we cry. The tears we share are in celebration of God’s faithfulness to us, not only in fruitful ministry but also in protecting and nurturing our friendships over these past twenty years. 

GO LONG TERM

Is God calling you to form or join a team with a long-term commitment to see nations reached with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? To speak with a Mission Mobilizer, call 1.888.866.6267, or go to long-term opportunities

 

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