As a journeyman, Chris met a man from Central Asia. He had no idea at the time that God would use that meeting and the friendship that developed to teach Chris and his wife, Joanna, about His sovereignty through a difficult waiting process years later.
Chris grew up in the church, but he says it wasn’t until the age of 20, as he served in student ministry during college, that he recognized he had not fully surrendered his life to Christ.
“I look back on the years before that and realize there was no fruit, no peace, and no assurance.” Chris explains, “After I decided to give my life to Christ, everything changed. I had a desire to be in the Word and grow in my relationship with God.”
A few months later, he attended a Passion conference, and he heard something there that stuck with him, “I remember the speaker said that for about every million Muslims there was only one missionary working to reach them. I was really taken aback by that and wondered how that was possible. I thought, if you can use me Lord, then I’m willing.”
Chris sought opportunities to serve on several short-term mission trips. He had his first real contact with an unreached people group when he decided to go to Turkey for two years.
“About 95% of the people I shared with had never even heard the gospel before,” he says, “It was crazy. So after that, I knew. This was absolutely what I wanted to spend my life doing.”
Joanna also grew up in a Christian family. Her dad was a pastor, and she grew up hearing Bible stories and knowing Bible answers.
“For a long time,” she says, “I thought that’s what saved me – my relationship with the Lord was through them. It wasn’t until high school that I realized I had to make my own decision. I was still a sinful person despite my parents believing. So I made the decision to become a follower of Christ, and in college, I had my first opportunity to serve overseas in Guatemala.
“It was the first place I caught a glimpse of true poverty and need. Not just physical, but spiritual. That’s when the Lord really opened my eyes to the fact that there’s a whole world still in need of the gospel.”
God continued to confirm His calling on Joanna’s heart to make disciples of all nations through multiple short-term trips and a mid-term trip to Ukraine.
“I think that was the trip that just solidified this was what the Lord was calling me to,” she says. “I experienced an extreme spiritual darkness for the first time there, and it was eye-opening.”
Chris and Joanna met while serving in a student ministry together in Huntsville, and when Chris decided to pursue seminary, God led them both to Birmingham and Brook Hills.
As they continued to follow Christ and seek where He might send them full-time, God drew Chris and Joanna to Southeast Asia – a part of the world made up of about 330 different ethnic groups, 99.41% Muslims, almost all of which are unreached and unengaged.
They then began a three-year waiting process. “Since we got married, we’ve been in this process waiting to go, and so many moments in our lives have just been unknowns,” Joanna shares, “But I think the waiting period and the unknown have definitely been two ways that the Lord is continuing to sanctify me.”
Despite the unknowns, they saw God work in a surprising way.
Chris’ friend from Central Asia unexpectedly won an immigration visa.
“A fraction of people who apply for it actually get drawn to go,” Chris says, “So in April, he, his wife, and his daughter moved to Birmingham, because I was the only American they knew. They literally came with nothing and just showed up. We were able to help them settle, and Brook Hills was amazing in all of that.
“So we can even see the Lord’s sovereignty in that we were here for them. Now they’re plugged in at Redeemer. They’re a Muslim family, but they haven’t missed a church service, and we’ve had lots of opportunities to share, with lots of people at Brook Hills and Redeemer pouring into their lives. So the timing is just perfect. That’s helped give us peace in all of the waiting. We know He has a plan, but sometimes He allows us to see a little glimpse of His plan, and that’s encouraging.
“The whole process has not been easy,” Chris continues, “It shouldn’t be easy, but I think it’s preparing us for life in another culture where nothing is going to be easy. We feel the least to be used by the Lord. There is nothing special about us. We get it wrong way more than we get it right, and if God could use us, then He can certainly use anybody. We’re praying that He would use our lives for His glory and His advancement.”
“My aim is to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named, so that I will not build on someone else’s foundation, but, as it is written, ‘Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.’” –Romans 15:20-21
Chris and Joanna have been married for three years, and they have a 15-month-old daughter named Naomi. Before going into full-time ministry, they served in the ESL and Student Ministries at Brook Hills. They will be commissioned out during each Worship Gathering on Sunday, September 24.