Interview with Newlywed Missionaries, Johnny and KayBy Evan Nehring
EN - Well, Johnny and Kay, I've enjoyed following your wonderful newsletters and praying for you as you've been out of the country.
First things first, what can you tell us about where you've been and what you've been up to?
[K]: Well, currently we are teaching English to children in a large city in East Asia. Johnny had previously spent one year studying the local language full-time in the same city, returned to America for about 2 years, and now married, the two of us have returned to Asia as a couple. This year our time is primarily spent teaching English to our students, studying the local language (independently and with a tutor), meeting with local M#slims we have befriended, and fellowshipping with other like-minded workers in our city. The goal has been to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the teaching position to basically live here for free, so that I could gain exposure to the country and culture and we could determine together what the best steps are for future ministry. We are trying to travel throughout the country this year as well, as different regions have different ethnic and religious make-ups. We are hoping to have a clear vision for moving forward after this year of travel and exposure.
EN - So this has been quite an adventure. The question I'm asking myself is, how did you find each other and how did you end up choosing to do this together? In other words, how do your relationship and your mission tie together?
[K]: We actually grew up in the same home town in America, but never met each other. We both grew up going to church, but came to faith as young adults (ages 17 and 21). I actually became a member at the church that Johnny grew up at, but he had moved away for work. We met when Johnny came back to visit his family at that church one Sunday. Actually, Johnny had just committed to going to Asia for one year a week before we met, which was part of the draw I had to him. He had a good and stable life, a great career, good income, everything young people hope to have when they graduate college. But he was quitting his job and moving to the other side of the world. It was unusual. It was special. So we actually ended up dating the whole time he was overseas and got married when he came back. We knew missions was the plan, I think, from the moment we decided to spend our lives together.
There was a season of uncertainty and struggle after we got married, as we had some obstacles to overcome and realized that our visions of the future weren't entirely like-minded. We realized that both people need to be equally invested in the vision, otherwise thriving on the mission field is impossible. Johnny was ready to go to the field immediately, but I was still holding on to some things that I knew I needed to let go…things like desiring a career, more education, the comfort of your own culture and language. We weren't sure if we were cut out for the work (actually, Johnny was quite sure, I was not). But marriage doesn't work like that. You can’t go into missions when one of you feels cut out for it while the other does not. You are one. Either you’re both equipped for it, or God has better plans for you both together. So we had to think long and hard and pray that God would align our desires with His, and with one another. And He did that! We had an unexpected opportunity to go on the field for one year, and it seemed like the perfect way to “test the waters.” So here we are, and it has absolutely 100% confirmed our desires. We want to serve the Lord, together, through cross-cultural missions in Asia.
EN - What's the best thing about working abroad like you do? What's most difficult?
[J]: I love theology! I love sharing the gospel with people, and I love reading scripture with them. I’m currently studying Luke with a couple guys who have decent English. I’m amazed at how the Holy Spirit still reveals things to me in his word that I've missed through the questions and observations of guys who aren't native English speakers and who have never heard these stories! As far as the most difficult thing, I’d say the cultural differences. Although I have a heart to be a servant for Christ to the lost, I am far from servant-hearted. I’m quick to see something that’s different from my culture and pass judgment. Rather than serve locals, I often want to change the locals! I’m blessed to have a wife who was raised in a bi-cultural home by an Asian mother. Her insights into both western and eastern thought are a gift to me. She calms me down often!
[K]: I love observing culture. I get the most joy out of comparing and contrasting our own American culture with the culture(s) that we are learning about here. I am finding that, yes, of course cultures are different, and sometimes radically, so. However, ultimately, we all boil down to the same stuff. We all long for the same things. We all search for joy, for success (in various forms), and love. We’re all made in God’s image, all born into sin, all in need of a Savior. What is most difficult for me personally is definitely the language barrier. There are so many things I wish to say that I am not able to. So many people I want to know that I simply can’t at this time. You can only partially engage with the world around you. I am anxious and excited to continue studying to overcome this barrier!
EN - Talk to me about God's presence. Is it harder to feel close to God when you're far from family and friends? How would you describe the feel of God's presence over there?
[K]: I think it is so much easier to feel closer to God when you’re far from loved ones. When you have a phonebook full of friends, like in America, sometimes you couldn't feel lonely even if you wanted to. When things are different or difficult, those tend to be the times you sense God’s care for you the most. We also see His care for us in things like giving us the internet, which allows us to video chat with friends and family, and giving us like-minded Christian community here in our city as well. His care for us is so evident here.
[J]: I completely agree with Kay. The more I feel my weakness, the more I’m pointed to his strength. Nothing makes you feel more helpless than living somewhere where you can only communicate at the level of a toddler! His grace is sufficient for us.
|25-hour train ride, standing room only|
1. What does worship mean to you?
[J]: What excites me about worship is that it’s a glimpse into heaven. It’s communion with God and it points to the day when we will no longer be separated from him, in any way, by our sin. It’s really just seeing God rightly and responding accordingly. We’re called to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. I think seeing him rightly is the “truth” part and our appropriate heart response (not just in action) is the "spirit" part. We can only see him rightly – His character, His power, His heart - when we’re properly guided by Scripture. We can trust the truth of His Word more than our emotions. It often frustrates me what we’ve turned worship into in the west. We’ve reduced it to shallow, tingly feelings we get when the right tune is played at church. Worship is done in prayer, meditation, Scripture reading, obedience, and service as well! I love the story in Nehemiah 8. The congregation of Israel is gathered together, hands lifted in the air, at times bowing with faces in the ground, and crying out, “Amen! Amen!” There were no instruments here, just Scripture! We aspire to be affected by His Word in this way.
One other important aspect of worship is the corporate nature of it! We individuals are members of a greater body, the Church, the body of Christ! We are not meant to live out our faith alone in a vacuum. The prayer, the meditation, the Scripture reading, the obedience, and the acts of service (all forms of personal worship to God) must build up and overflow into corporate worship. For example: obedience. It’s not good enough that I seek to obey the Bible and do the things I know God requires of me. It is my responsibility to come alongside other believers in the church community, and engage them in relationships of mutual accountability to encourage/exhort one another in holiness and the battling of sin. It won’t just be me and Jesus in heaven! I have a responsibility to my brothers and sisters in the faith.
|At the mosque, reading their book|
[J]: We start off our days with Scripture study and prayer. We believe it’s vital to the Christian life. In our own experience, nearly every instance of depression or spiritual dryness we’ve ever experienced has been preceded by a lack of faithfulness in the area of daily scripture reading and prayer. We’re obviously not referring to things like the loss of a loved one or battling sickness as if they were consequences for faithlessness, but what better source of strength, especially in those times, than God’s Word! In the past, we’ve always tried to read Christian books together or read through the Psalms and pray together. In this season overseas, we have found that our personal devotional time spills over into our conversations with each other. We work together, study language together, eat together…so we often speak quite naturally about the things we are reading in the Word and the things that the Lord is laying on our hearts. We haven’t had a specific time set aside for joint devotionals during this season. Consequently, our time together can be unfocused in terms of spiritual disciplines, and we would like to improve in this area. Nonetheless, we can see God knitting our hearts together and unifying our intentions and purpose in serving Him.
[K]: We are still overseas, but are able to see our friends and family frequently through video chat. Of course, these people are incredibly special to us. It’s a sacrifice to be separated, both for them and us, and it will become increasingly difficult once we, Lord willing, have children. However, God has blessed us both with like-minded, believing families. This makes the sacrifice so much easier. We all believe that the difficulty of separation is worth it, for the sake of serving the Lord and making His name known.
|Crowded night Market Street|
[J]: Well, I've kind of touched on this in a previous answer so there may be some overlap. I think the answer is two fold: God is worthy of the worship of ALL people, and we desire to see lost people saved. I think seeing lost people saved is the obvious answer for most, but the fact that God deserves worship has to be the main reason if we want longevity in ministry. It’s the foundation to everything we do. People will reject us, people will frustrate us, people are sometimes not easy to love. If we’re going primarily for the people, I don’t think it’s sustainable. Desiring to see God glorified can sustain me in my efforts regardless of the persecution that may come my way from people. Now, why have we crossed over to another culture? This is where I think there’s an important distinction to make between missions and evangelism. Missions is crossing cultural lines to make disciples among those people groups with little access to the gospel. Evangelism is making disciples within one’s own cultural context. Both are vital, and all Christians are called to both, but the difference is important. If we view them as the same or say things like, “I’m a missionary in my work place,” one is sure to be neglected – and that one is almost always missions, due to the out-of-sight out-of-mind nature of it.
I can’t speak for every country, just the one I’m living in, but I've found that it’s easier here. We work with M#slims, and the religion is completely intertwined with their culture. Simply put, they are spiritual people. It’s normal to talk about God, the way it’s normal for Americans to talk about football and Justin Bieber! It’s a far cry from the compartmentalization of faith that is taught in the US. In the US, we’re taught by our secular culture to keep your religion and your politics to ourselves. Even Christians in America sometimes get squirmy when you bring up Jesus in conversation. So, the conversations are much easier to come by here, but the results are much more difficult – and for the same reason! Their culture and religion are so intertwined that exhorting someone to leave !slam and follow Jesus is like telling them to abandon their culture and family. It would be akin to telling a Japanese person they can’t be Japanese anymore. It’s impossible!
[K]: As far as how our travels affect our view of lost people in America, I think the nature of our cross-cultural focus can sometimes cloud our view of evangelism in the States. Unbelievers feel more “lost” to us here in Asia, and it’s easy to forget that non-believers in America are equally as lost. People like us who work overseas can be focused on this idea of “access to the Gospel,” that is, the ability to pick up a Bible, listen to a sermon online, find a church in a phone book, etc. However, just because Americans have this “access” does not mean they even know where to look for the truth. There are a significant number of Americans who couldn't tell you one accurate fact about Jesus. This really puts the onus on the American church to 1) know the gospel as stated in Scripture, and 2) lovingly but uncompromisingly communicate it. Evangelism is important!
EN - 5. What does Christian character mean to you? What would you say to Christian young adults about being like Jesus?
[K]: I think Christian character boils down to humility. Humility should affect every way we view ourselves, view God, and view how He speaks to us. Humility goes hand-in-hand with worship…which we addressed in question one about what worship means. Humility naturally flows into worship. Humility also motivates us to obey God…understanding that His law is not just right, but showing His perfect character. Humility also naturally lends itself to sincere repentance when we fail in obedience. When we say “sorry” to God, with every intention of sinning again, it’s not repenting. It’s cheapening grace. God’s grace is free to us, but only at great cost to Christ (it should not be treated as cheap). A person who thinks highly of themselves is unlikely to see how precious and magnificent God’s forgiveness is.
To be like Jesus, we have to understand who the Jesus of the Bible is, and that takes humility. We have to remember the Bible is about GOD, not about the reader of the Bible. And it is dangerous to approach Scripture in this way. We live in a terribly “me”-centered culture today. We are often tempted to place ourselves into a passage as if the passage is directly speaking to us or promising something to us. For example, Scripture often speaks of God deciding to prosper a certain biblical figure for some reason. Some then proceed in claiming that passage for themselves, thinking that he will prosper them in the same manner. But many of these passages aren’t intended to make a direct promise to us as Christians. They’re often simply there to tell us something about the wonderful character of our amazing God! So it’s dangerous for us to say things like, “What is God saying to me in this passage?” God is saying to me the same thing He is saying to every other reader of that passage! Approaching God’s word in this way will inevitably result in us inserting our own thoughts into Scripture and declaring them to be God’s - proud, indeed! Being like Jesus requires that we humbly approach Scripture the way Jesus did. He was faithful to the meaning of the Old Testament texts, often memorizing, never twisting, and always using it to make much of God. So we must take care to read it and study it as he did, and the Spirit will work to continue forming us in Christ’s image. If we want to be more like Christ, we must value his Word and not our own.
EN - 6. For personal management, please rank these four things from easiest to scariest, and tell us why. 1. Time 2. Money and career 3. Possessions 4. Health
[J]: My easiest to hardest would be 1) Possessions 2) Health 3) Time 4) Money and Career. The possessions one is easier now than it would have been, since we lost most of them in a flood right before coming here. Health is also easier, because I’ve always been in good health. This will likely become more difficult when pregnancies and children are in the picture in the future, and pollution in this area of the world is extremely problematic for health.
Time is fairly difficult for us, though I think we do well with it (I’m a planner). Between teaching English, studying the native language, building relationships with local M#slims, and continuing our theological education, there isn't a lot of room to relax with our schedule. We have to be very diligent to avoid wasting time, and it’s a constant battle.
Money and Career is most difficult. Most of our friends would probably expect this to be the easiest for us, considering I left my career in construction management to pursue a life of ministry here in East Asia. My family would also likely be surprised by this because I've always been gifted at money management. But beneath it all, it’s a lack of faith in God as a loving Father who guards over his children. Leaving behind money and career was not evidence that I don’t struggle with this area, it was simply an act of obedience in spite of great fear and constant, continuing doubt. I need Christ’s forgiveness every day for not trusting him to provide.
[K]: Easiest to hardest would be 1)Possessions 2)Money and Career 3)Health and 4)Time. I’ve always been young and relatively poor (in terms of personal income), so I’ve not had a lot of possessions to struggle with. We also lost all of our possessions in a flood last year, so I’m typically pretty aware of the temporal nature of material things. We kind of dealt with the whole money and career issue when we were deciding to move overseas (and basically abandon the career trajectories we were on). Once I finally let go of that, it was easy to trust God.
Health and Time are trickier because there aren't clear ways to measure them, and they are more personalized in terms of management. People’s standards of health vary, so what is the Biblical view? Age also affects the amount of effort to be healthy? And what about idolizing the human body? There are many questions to answer and continue to re-evaluate. Regarding time, I actually tend to be kind of lazy, so we've had to make a schedule to keep us accountable. Every hour is accounted for, even rests and “free time”. It’s really helped me not only get things done, but to remember the goals we've set, which determine our schedule.
|This is not photoshopped|
[J]: I honestly try to not think about these first two questions very much. At the end of the day, all I can do is be faithful to Scripture and to the gospel calling. I have zero control over the results. No amount of evidence or persuasiveness on my part will change someone else heart. Only God can change peoples’ hearts and cause the blind to see. Certainly, I hope to see many of my friends saved and to see churches planted through my efforts here. And if God sees fit to work through me in that way, then praise God! But if at the end of my life I haven’t seen a single person come to faith, but I’ve been faithful to spread the message of the gospel - and to the integrity of that message - then blessed be the name of the Lord! He is glorified in the telling! As I get to know more and more individuals from among our target people group, I feel the burden for them always growing, so whether through me or through the witness of another, I just hope to worship alongside many of them on the final day!
If I could shout anything to 18-20 somethings, it think I would most like to echo the answer to the first question of the Westminster Catechism: “What is the chief end [or purpose in creation] of man?” What I would shout is, “The chief end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.” This is why we all were created. If your life is not spent making much of Him and enjoying Him, then you are wasting your life! John the Baptist says of Jesus that, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Think of how much suffering and pain is wrapped up in that term “decrease.” With this decrease, though, comes amazing joy! Peter and the apostles elsewhere, after being beaten for preaching the message of Christ, walked away “rejoicing that they were counted worth to suffer dishonor for the name [of Jesus].” [Acts 5:41] The life of a true follower of Christ is a hard one and often marked by suffering, but it is absolutely full of joy! When in the midst of suffering (whether it be terminal cancer or public reproach for your faithfulness to Jesus Christ) you can still rejoice in the knowledge that you are blessed and loved by God, this makes much of God. This gives Him much glory! If the lost around us see that we love our iPhones, houses, and families more than we love God, the message they will receive is that he is a worthless God, not worthy of our glory! What does your life declare about your view of God?