That title might come as a surprise to our daughter, who for twenty-nine years has thought she was an only child. (She’s really thirty-two, but children aren’t really cognizant of much those first three years, right?)
Ashley is the one whose birth certificate has our names on it, but John got here as soon as he could. The most important person in this picture, however, is the little guy on the lower left. He is known to all who know me as the WCG, the World’s Cutest Grandkid, for obvious reasons.
The Phifers are currently phollowing the Lord twelve timezones away in Cambodia. Ashley is doing what she’s wanted to do since she was twelve, investing in children in the classroom, growing their hearts, minds, and spirits. John is investing in Khmer men with one of our other kids that you’ll meet in a minute, and as a by-product they’re opening a wakeboard park. Digging septic systems probably wasn’t on his mind when he left here, but hey, a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do. The WCG is having to step up his cute game, as he has a lot of competition in Cambodia.
The rest of these are in totally random order to prevent gloating. I assigned each family a number and rolled a die until I had rolled all four numbers. I could have called a random function on the computer, but then this might have happened.
The Sains were in our small group at church, and after I gave a Cambodia trip report a few years ago, he came up to me and said, “That was very impactful.” Thus began a three-year journey I’m sure he didn’t expect and I know I didn’t. In the middle of that journey, his wife Jen died for a little over a half-hour right after giving birth to their third child. It turns out she was only mostly dead, though, and after a medically-induced coma and a few weeks in rehab, she was back and rarin’ to go.
And go they did. He started by going on our annual Cambodia trip, during which he said, “I thought I would get here and know immediately this was where God wanted us, but I’m not feeling it!” Six weeks later, he and Jen were making plans to move their family there for a year. That year expired last month, and they’re still there. Chris is working with IJM’s Cambodia office, and Jen is lending her considerable skills and talents to the Khmer version of the PTA at her children’s school (which also happens to be Ashley’s school).
The Hoffman’s came to our small group just as one of our other couples was leaving the country. (We told the couple they had to bring their own replacements, so they did.) Paul was a laid back surfer dude from California who talked about missional communities and iced mocha latte’s no foam and apostolic genius and other things I didn’t understand. Kristen was not quite so laid back and took over the group’s social planning to everyone’s immediate benefit.
Paul’s heart was and is to plant churches, so they weren’t with us very long. They didn’t do it where they expected to the first time, and they’re not doing it where they expected this time, either. They’re in the process of getting ready to go to Portland, Oregon and join the work God is doing in the middle of the city. They’ve had a couple of kids of their own in the meantime, who are paying Paul back for his raising.
We met Paul and Mackenzie while we were working doing name tags at our church on Sunday morning’s. They were newlyweds and ridiculously cute and just waiting to get past their first year of marriage so they could go to the uttermost parts of the earth to share the good news of Jesus. That uttermost part ended up being Naples, Italy (I know, but believe me, it’s a lot harder place to share the Gospel than it sounds), where they stayed for three years, had a baby, and grew a heart for the Italians and their need for Jesus. (They’re also the ones who brought Paul and Kristen to our group.)
The past four years they’ve been at a church plant in North Carolina, and had another baby, but their heart for the Italians never really left them, and now they’re preparing to move back there for an unspecified amount of time. They’re going to be a little further south this time, in Salerno, but the mission is the same — build relationships with post-Christian people and love them and show them Jesus loves them, too.
My “real” introduction to Alf came five-and-a-half years ago when our mission pastor told me he’d invited Alf to come to the IJM Global Prayer gathering with us. That seemed odd to me, since Alf 1) hadn’t been involved in any of the work on our justice project, and 2) had a wakeboard park thing. (At the time I wasn’t sure what a “wakeboard park thing” was.) This just goes to prove what all of us already knew — Rodney is a lot smarter than I am.
Alf also went with us on our first trip to Cambodia, went home and told his wife about it, and she said, “When are we moving?” It took another trip or two and a year-and-a-half, but that’s exactly what they did. Kelly spent a couple of years working in an aftercare center for trafficking survivors and is currently pursuing her masters in counseling through the magic of the online classes on the interwebs. Alf is investing in men and teenagers through a wakeboard park and showing John how much fun digging trenches can be. Pretty crazy, but welcome to the Evans’ world. Their kids are probably the most well-adjusted to Cambodia life of the four of them.
What all these families have in common, in addition to being our “kids,” is that they’ve followed God wherever He has taken them, and for these five families, that has meant across the country or around the world. It’s meant going when it didn’t seem to make sense to go (Jen still suffers from occasional seizures). It’s meant going when it meant leaving a really nice job. It’s meant going when it meant leaving family living in the same city (ahem). It’s meant going when the last thing on their mind was going.
They’ve all gone, and in some cases are going again, for one simple reason: God called them to go. They are not more spiritual than we are. They are not holier than we are. They are not better prayers than we are. (Well, OK, some of them might be better prayers.) They’ve just learned to practice obedience, even when His ways and His reasons seem hidden to them.
Chan calls it crazy love. Platt calls it radical. I call it … our kids. Remember them when you need a break from the generic “missionaries” that often fill our prayers.
(I should note, lest I get angry phone calls, these aren’t the only ones we call our kids. I would expect a phone call from Misty any second, except she still hasn’t really figured out the interwebs.)