"I have but one passion - it is He, it is He alone. The world is the field and the field is the world; and henceforth that country shall be my home where I can most be used in winning souls for Christ."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Journey to the Beginning - Our Story

Early 2007...
I've been serving here at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Morton, Illinois as a youth pastor for almost 2 years now. But I'm starting to feel like God wants me doing something different. I don't know what. I don't understand why. I don't want to do something different. This church has become home for me, and I just love my teens, my youth workers, and my pastors. But if God wants me doing something different, I must follow. I must obey.

What else should I do? I know it is some area of ministry - some full-time Christian service. I surrendered my life to full-time service when I was 12 years old and God has kept me on that path ever since. So I look into several different options. I contact a youth ministry and camp outreach in New York City and downtown Manhattan. I get papers to audition for a Christian musical theater ministry in Branson, Missouri. I consider rejoining Life Action Ministries, whom I traveled with my entire life before college. I pursue opportunities, but must wait on God's timing and direction.

I announce to the church and youth group that I would be resigning. Many people are shocked. Some of my teens are confused. "Where are you going, Pastor Jon? Did we do something wrong? Are you mad at us? Are you going to be a youth pastor somewhere else?" I had no answers. And so, the last lesson I taught to my teens here was on Abraham. When God called Abraham, He told him to leave where he was and go to "a place that I will show you." He didn't know where. He didn't know why. And he had to follow on in obedience until God directed him further. This is where I now was.

June 2007...
As God's plans begin to unfold, the last thing I ever did with my youth group was to take a missions trip to Jiménez, Chihuahua, Mexico. It was on this trip, that God began to speak to me again in the direction He wants my life to go. We minister alongside Randy and Gwen Ashcraft. I begin to see that missions is not some greatly complicated ministry for only the most elite Christians, but rather, a practically simple ministry of telling people about Jesus and what He has done for us.

I begin to see the need for more workers as we travel for hours into the mountains to small villages where people have never heard the name of Jesus - and never even seen a Bible. The preacher stands up before the crowd and says, "Who can tell me what this is?", holding his Bible in the air. "A book!", all of the children cry out. "Yes, but what book?" Silence. "This is the Word of God." Silence. I have never seen faces like that before. It was a look of shock and awe. It was almost an unspoken, "Where did you get that?!? I didn't know such a thing existed." As the preacher began to walk through the plan of salvation, starting with Adam and Eve and sin coming into the world, ending with Christ paying the price for our sin and rising again and returning to heaven, eyes were opened. Sinners learned that they were sinners. And after the invitation, some 30-40 of the 100 people in that village raised their hand to say that they had received Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.

The opportunity is there. And I am in a position now where there is no reason I should not go. There is nothing tying me to the States. There is nothing keeping me from the Mexicans, save for the fact that I can't speak their language. God is calling me. Oh, it wasn't loud. It wasn't some great sign from heaven. It was Ashley Hoye saying, "Pastor Jon, you really like it here don't you." It was Tim Gentry saying, "You know, Pastor Jon, I could see you doing this full-time." It was Randy Ashcraft saying, "We need workers; we need people to minister with us." It was Jesus Christ saying, "Open your eyes and look to the fields, for they are white already unto harvest. Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. For lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."

We sit down with the teens on the last night of our trip. Each person is sharing what God has been saying to their heart during this week. When we were almost finished, I spoke up: "Guys, I don't even know what all God has been saying to my heart this week. All I know is that I'm not ready to leave tomorrow - and I'm not sure I won't be coming back." I was so grateful to God for the way in which He directed me - that He allowed my teens to be there as He was calling me to serve Him as a missionary. I could see their faces, which were once confused as to why God was taking me away, change to a settled understanding that God has led me to go somewhere else.

July 2007 - February 2008...
I continue to pursue God's call towards Mexico. I begin to study Spanish in every way possible. I seek counsel from my parents: "What would y'all think if I went back there to Mexico full-time?" Dad: "Well, I think you already know... We just want you to follow God's will for your life, and if you think He wants you there, then you go." I talk with my pastor's about Mexico: "We're behind you, Jon. If you believe God is calling you to Mexico then we will support you. We'll be your sending church." I talk to Brother Randy about returning: "Brother, you come back down whenever you can, and stay as long as you want."

On my dad's advice, I begin to plan a 3-month trip to Mexico. I am going alone. I will be working with the Ashcrafts, helping in the church in any way I can, learning the language, and getting to know the people and culture better. To a degree, anybody can survive and even enjoy a one-week missions trip to another country. There is the excitement of the new, the fellowship of friends, and the adventure of a once-in-a-lifetime experience to keep you going. But to go alone, for an extended period of time, you will get a much more realistic picture of what life and ministry on the mission field is like. That was my goal. This trip was to determine if God wanted me going back to Mexico full-time.

March 15, 2008...
My trip begins. I quickly realize how much of the language I don't know. I have studied a lot of Spanish over the past 8 months, but when I am constantly surrounded by it and engaged in conversations with native speakers, I am struggling to keep up, but quickly learning.

April 13, 2008...
Something happens today that will change my life forever...

May 19, 2008...
What happens next in the story encompasses much of my time in Mexico and also some of the time before it. So I believe the easiest and clearest way to share this with you all is to copy some sections of a journal that I wrote on this date:

Lo Que Dios Ha Hecho

What follows is a record of the things God is and has been doing in my life. I can sense that my life is at a point of major change and want to record these things both as an explanation to those who ask and a clarification for my own understanding:

This story begins in September of 2007, when I understood clearly that God desired for me to end my relationship with my previous girlfriend. At that time I was very confident that that was what God was telling me and have never doubted that decision since. From that day until now, something has happened in my heart that I had been told to do before, but had never done. In fact, I wasn’t quite sure how to even do it. It is the advice that my parents have given me to go to sleep emotionally. When God created Eve for Adam, he was asleep. Adam did nothing to make the relationship between himself and Eve occur. God planned it, God did the work, and God presented His finished work to Adam. Even now, I am not sure I would explain to a person how to put their emotions to sleep; I can only share how this happened for me.

In July of 2007, I began to sense the Lord pointing me towards serving Him as a missionary to Mexico. Since that time, I have been learning Spanish, praying, planning, and preparing for a life of service in this capacity. Through the counsel of my dad and the agreement of Brother Randy Ashcraft, I began to plan a three-month exploratory trip to Mexico to prayerfully and practically consider if God is really calling me as a missionary to this country for the next stage of my life, whether it be for the rest of my life or not. Since the September that followed, my thoughts of a life’s mate have been second to my thoughts about Mexico. Oh sure, I have considered different ladies that I have met and if they could be the one God has chosen for me. The remainder of this story will be quite lengthy, for I write it in great detail. Every detail of this story has been prayed through and considered as part of God’s direction for my life. I have just spent 2 ½ hours with God alone at my spot on the mountain behind the ranch, praying and talking aloud to Him about everything He has used in the past 8 months to guide me to this quite unbelievable place in my life. Read with great care, for I write with it.

As my life began to head towards Mexico, it had a great effect on my considerations for a wife – for a like-minded wife is a key element to any minister’s success. As I began to talk with my parents, I told them this: “I don’t want to pursue anything with any girls right now. I’m about to go down to Mexico and try to decide if that’s where God wants me to go full time. I don’t want to get down there and be distracted by a relationship with a girl, or worse, to let my feelings for any certain girl affect my decision about what God wants me to do with my life.” So, though I didn’t think of this at the time, this is how I went to sleep emotionally. It wasn’t intentional. All I knew was that I had big enough things to decide right now and I didn’t need to add the decision about a wife to the list. What I was doing was putting God’s will, God’s plans, and God’s desires ahead of my own. I tried my best to push away or put off my feelings for any girl until another time, when I would try to decide what God wanted for me. Further, I told my dad this, “All I’m going to do right now is to pray about it. Here’s why. At times in the past, I have prayed something for myself that was not God’s will for me. So God, obviously, has not given it to me. But in the time that I’ve been praying, God has changed my heart’s desires, so that when He answers ‘no’, I am not let down or hurt by that answer. My prayers have not changed God’s plans for me, but they have changed my desires to His desires for me.” Actually, I remember a really neat time with my dad about two weeks before I came down here. Just before one of our evening services, he came and prayed with me during our prayer time. While he was praying, he said something like this: "And Lord, I just pray for Jonathan, that You will help Him to be patient and wait for Your plan to bring a life's partner into his life. I know how much He desires that and wants to trust You with it. You said that it is not good for a man to be alone, and You also said that You will provide all of our needs, so I pray that you will help him to trust You." And so I sleep.

My life continues towards Mexico. My plans are made. I will be leaving March 15th and returning June 7th. Before I leave for my journey, a few more important things happen, which I did not consider important until reflecting back on them tonight. One is a comment made by my parents. It was actually made several times, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. “You know, God may just bring you somebody while you’re down there in Mexico…” Once it was even followed with, “Have you thought through your beliefs on inter-racial marriage?” I remember that I kind of laughed and just agreed. My thoughts were such: “I’ve already got plenty of good choices for a wife here; I don’t need to add any more to ‘the list’.” Another very important thing that happened occurred two days before I left the States. It was a conversation I had with my sister Charity over Facebook. One day she sent me a Bible verse, Exodus 14:14, which reads, "The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” I did not realize until later how significant that message and that verse would become. So I leave the States, putting my desires for a wife aside.

Finally the trip begins. I arrive in Mexico and am immediately immersed in the culture and language that I have been trying so hard to learn. I realize very quickly how little I really know and how much I need to study. The first couple that I really get to spend time with is Pastor Jose Luis and his wife Mary. We begin to converse and they quickly learn that I am single and available. So the typical questions, suggestions, and jokes quickly arrive as well. They mention several girls to me, including one who will be arriving sometime during my trip, who is “muy guapa” and wants to be a missionary’s wife! I enjoy these questions as normal, but pay little attention to giving them serious consideration. My thoughts are, “Ha! Here we go again. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody that I should marry. Everybody has a sister, friend, relative, or acquaintance that ‘would be perfect’ for me.” About a month after I’ve been here, a serious conversation occurs between these two and myself, which I also don’t understand the significance of until later – tonight, in fact. We sat there after dinner as all the boys had gone on to something else. I began to look through their missionary prayer cards on the fridge as Pastor and Mary begin to tell me the stories of each one. “Those two met in college as they were studying to be missionaries. This man here was on the mission field for 4 years before he met his wife, while on furlough back in the States. And for these two here, the year that he began to pray for his future wife, when he was 16, she was born…” Then Hermana Mary looks at me very seriously and says this, “You don’t worry about her. You are here trying to serve God with your life. God will bring you a wife when He is ready; I promise you that.”

I now enter a section of this story that will seem unrelated, but bear with me – it is very related. About 4 weeks after I get down here, a church group comes down here – Cedar Creek Church from Aiken, South Carolina. Brother Randy tells me this: “Brother, you are just gonna love this church. This will be one of, if not, the best of all the groups that we will have this year. We will not have a single complaint, a single problem, or a single difficulty with them. They are a very lively, encouraging, loving people.” And he couldn’t have been more right. Cedar Creek was our family from the moment we met at the airport. This group comprised 5 couples and a few of their children. Our time with them was a combination of powerful ministry and dear fellowship as the family of Christ. The bond that was created between the 15 or 20 of us, literally, will never be broken. And even in terms of ministry partnership, this will not be the last time we hear the name Cedar Creek, as they invited both myself and Adrian Hernandez to come visit their church when we go about raising our support to come to the field full time. In fact, I asked Cedar Creek to inform me of ANY trip that they would be taking to Mexico in the future and I would see if it were possible for me to join them. Even as they left and returned home, the various team members immediately connected back with us through Facebook and have been a constant encouragement to us. Countless messages, comments, and updates from Cedar Creek kept us going through the slow times of ministry. I remember one comment in particular from Wes Holbrook which he sent to both me and Adrian: “My brothers, I just wanted you to know that I prayed specifically today for you two, that God would bring two women into your lives to support you in the ministries He has called you to.”

One week later, Brother Randy and Gwen travel to the States, this time for a month or so, to visit their supporting churches. Adrian and I move back into town with Brother Brian and therefore are more connected to the States through the internet. On April 13, I received a message from Erika Klipa, one of the married ladies from Cedar Creek. After some talk about our favorite TV show, she asks, “By the way, how old are you? I have a friend with a lovely young daughter of 17 years of age. She believes in arranged marriages.” That last part, I believe, was a joke, but I thought as usual, “Ha, here we go again. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody I should marry…” I replied: “I’m 26. Hmm…” She says, “Oh come on what’s 9 years?!?! She's really cute! AND a believer, AND raised conservative Baptist; a truly beautiful Christian young lady inside and out, with a heart for mission work.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this description of a girl that people recommend to me. And to be honest, more than half the time it’s not true, in one way or another. But coming from one of my dear friends from Cedar Creek, I believed it just as if it had come from my own family. Later that day, I got a friend request from Abby Temple with the message: “So, this is totally and completely Klipa’s doing :o)”

So life goes on as normal. A few days pass. Then one afternoon, April 17th, I have the random thought to write Abby a short message telling her who I am. However, knowing that Erika had talked to me about Abby as a possible mate, I had no doubt she had said the same to her. So before writing anything, I wanted to clarify my position to Abby. I told her that I was not pursuing any relationships right now. I further told her that if I were, I would not be talking to her, but to her father. Then I said this: “But anyway, from what Miss Erika tells me about you, there aren't many girls like you around anymore. And it could never be a waste to have friendships with godly people like you. So I would love to be able to be friends as much as is possible without having ever met you.” I tell her a bit about myself and hit ‘Send’. Now, the internet down here is quite slow. So within about 30 seconds, my message is sent and as I look at my home page, I see one new message. It is from Abby! It was a bit lengthy, as mine was. This was not a response to my message. It was a message almost exactly like what I had just sent her – “This is who I am; who are you?” This probably doesn’t sound as dramatic to anyone reading as it was to me at the time. Understand, this was 4 days after we “became friends” on Facebook. We had had no communication during those days. It was just a “random thought” I’d had to write her, which she apparently had at the exact same time. It was only the first of many strange coincidences that would happen over the next month.

As the ministry here continued, I had many opportunities to see God work and would often return home and update my family, church, and friends of what God was doing. As Abby and I began to write, it was nothing more than a normal friendship, except for the fact that we’ve never met each other. We quickly found out that we are very similar, similar in interests, family background, hobbies, tastes, and preferences. But our conversations were never just surface-deep. Not a single message went by without some kind of spiritual update, insight, or question. She truly was a godly young woman, as Miss Erika had said. As we have talked, I have continually tried to guard her heart. I know I told her at the beginning that I was not pursuing a relationship and I did not want to lead her to think that had now changed.

Oh! I can’t forget this part! About this time, I receive a message from my sister Charity. It says something like this: “I am praying for you constantly, big brother. I have been doing a lot of thinking about you lately and praying about what kind of wife you would need...”

This has been the hardest thing for me to recall/decide in my time with God tonight – when did I begin to suspect that God may be doing something in this situation with Abby and me? It is difficult to determine. As I said, none of our conversations were just surface. I would ask her deep spiritual questions. And I was constantly impressed with her answers. She obviously has a very solid grasp on the Scriptures and what God teaches us through them. In one of these questions, I asked her, “How should we reach sinners? What is the best way to witness? Should we be friends with sinners? How can we reach sinners without damaging our testimony with other believers? Big questions, I know. I just wanna hear your thoughts, your philosophy I guess, or maybe your theology, of witnessing. Anyway, just let me know what you think; I'm really curious.” Her answers to all of these questions were impeccable! First of all, they were totally based on Scripture and the example of Jesus Christ. Secondly, they were exactly the same as my own convictions and I couldn’t have answered my own questions better! As I read her answers, I could detect the incredible passion and burden she carries for the lost. And as best I can tell, this is when I began to suspect that God had brought this girl into my life for a very special purpose. This girl’s desire to be a missionary was not some childhood Christian fantasy. This was a living, breathing, live-giving desire that only God Himself could give. This is the call that God has placed on her life. This is the kind of girl that a missionary should pursue as a life’s partner!

Now my thoughts begin to race. All of these things that I have considered insignificant or even forgotten about come flooding back into my mind: “God may bring you somebody while you’re down in Mexico…When I pray, God changes my desires to His desires for me…God will bring you a wife when He is ready; I promise you that…I prayed specifically today for you, that God would bring a woman into your life…a truly beautiful Christian young lady inside and out, with a heart for mission work…there aren't many girls like you around anymore…I am praying for you constantly, big brother…” I know that I’m often a hard-headed person and God sometimes has to hit me in the head with something many times before I get it. But during my time here, one of the main things I’ve been learning is how to listen to God in a very real, moment-to-moment basis. So how many things does God have to say to get my attention?

So now I sit here in another country, trying to follow the call that God has been confirming for me here, and I find myself wondering what God is doing for me back in the States. I think of the verse Charity gave me, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” This is the thing that baffles my mind about this whole situation – I have done nothing to make it happen. I have not pursued a relationship with Abby. I have not tried to make Abby like me. I have not tried to convince myself that Abby is a good, godly girl. God showed me that clearer than anything through her own words. Tonight, I write all of this to help me understand what God has been doing.

I do not know how to describe specifically how God is leading me towards Abby. But as I have thought through all of this tonight, I realize that God has directed me in this exact same way before! In essence, it is a feeling. It is a feeling that is based on a combination of opportunities and God-ordained situations and godly counsel. This is the best way I can describe it: This is the way I felt last June, when I began to suspect that God wanted me to come here to Mexico full-time. The opportunity was there. God used situations to lead me back this way. And all godly counsel I received was in agreement that I should pursue this. And I just felt that it was what God wanted. So it is with Abby. The opportunity is there. This is why God led me to push this decision until after I got back from Mexico. God has used situations, both to introduce me to her, to get to know her, and to hear her heart for the Lord. And thus far, all godly counsel has said that this could be from God. I still can’t explain how God has done this. To describe it as a feeling seems trivial. To describe it as a sign from God seems to lack solid proof. So I pray that God will confirm this in a way that only He can.

This is the process I must go through now. My frustration in all of this has been that I can’t explain it in a way that makes sense, humanly speaking. So I fear going home and seeking counsel about this and appearing like I’m making some kind of emotional decision. Here is what I prayed to God tonight: “God I don’t know how to explain this in a way that makes sense. You have been putting all of this together and have just thrown it into my life. So I’m going to assume and pray that you will also put all of it together and just throw it into the lives of those I will be seeking counsel from.”

And thus my story continues. Tonight, I feel like Adam, waking up from his sleep and turning to observe this incredible work that God has done for him. And now, I wait to see what God will do to complete His work...

May 25, 2008...
It is only a couple more weeks before I leave Mexico and return home. Brother Randy has asked me if I could stay through July to help out with the last of the church groups that will be coming down this year, but I told him that I have to get back to work, so I can keep up paying the rent for my apartment in Illinois. Well, then he mentions to me that during one week, there will be two church groups coming on the same week and they could use someone who speaks Spanish well enough to take one of the groups, if we do different things that week. So I told him that I would check my finances when I get home and see if I can make it back for that week.

A month or so earlier, Abby and I had been talking about foreign missions trips. She told me she had never been out of the country, but that she and her best friend Kaylee were talking about taking a missions trip together sometime. She then writes, "So today the college pastor at Cedar Creek just randomly came up to Kaylee and me and asked if we would like to go to Mexico with them this summer." I didn't know when or where they were going but said, "Yeah, you should definitely go on that, if you can." As time went by, she and Kaylee prayed through that decision and both of them decided that they would be going on the trip.

As we got talking a bit more about her trip, we realized that Cedar Creek was one of those two churches coming during the week in July when I was praying about coming back. I would have the chance to meet Abby face to face! I remember telling the Ashcrafts, "This doesn't just depend on money anymore. I'm gonna need to see what my parents and Abby's parents think about all of this before I decide if I can come back that week."

June 10-25, 2008...
I return from Mexico and fly to Pennsylvania to spend two weeks with my family. I begin by checking my bank account expecting not to have much there for my possible return trip to Mexico. Much to my surprise, there is money there! I check my records only to find an unexpected $600 tax return deposited directly into my checking account. God used the U.S. government to pay for my trip back!

I talk with Mom and Dad about Abby, share my journal with them, and they counsel me to write her parents. So I begin to write Abby's dad. I ask him if he approves of Abby and me writing each other and what he thinks about what's going on between us. Here is what he wrote to me: "I would like you to know that Mrs.Temple and I are both very comfortable with you and Abby continuing to communicate and I look forward to meeting you in person soon. I also hope
you are able to return to Mexico while Abby is on the mission trip there in July...let me say that some of the desires expressed below are going to sound presumptuous and/or premature, but I share these because they are very important to me...It seems to me that God has introduced you and Abby to each other in this unusual method for something special, likely something more than just as friends..."

A few days later, Abby's mom shared another story with me through Facebook. Here is what she told me: "One day back in April, Abby walked into my room and shared with me a renewed call to missions. She first felt called to missions when she was 12, but God had been working on her again that day. She had so many questions about how and when and where and am I going alone? Then a few days later she came into my room again with questions about guys. After a lengthy discussion about how all the guys she knows are very shallow and unfocused on God's will, I told her something that I just really felt God wanted me to say: 'Abby, I don't think your husband lives here in Aiken. In fact, I don't believe you've met your husband yet. And I certainly don't think you'll have to go looking for him. God is going to bring him along and just drop him into your life.' " Then get this - later on THAT SAME DAY, Erika Klipa (Laura's best friend), just back from her trip to Mexico, walked in to the Temple's kitchen with Laura and Abby and says: "Say, Abby, I've met the cutest guy! He's a missionary in Mexico. You should write him..." Laura told me that she didn't realize the significance of those two conversations they'd just had until later.

This is what I prayed for; this is what I asked God for - that if this were His will, He would confirm that through our parents, our authorities. Now I knew. God created Abby and me to be together. He had led us both into His will for us individually, and now He was leading us into our life together. I hadn't met her yet! But I knew.

July 10, 2008...
I fly out of Chicago at 5:45 AM. At By 8:30, I arrive in Houston and head to my gate to meet up with the group from Cedar Creek. As God would have it, He allowed Erika Klipa, the one who introduced me to Abby, to be there for the trip as well and to capture on video the moment I first met my bride-to-be. It was an incredible day!

The week was just as amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with my brothers and sisters of Iglesia Bautista La Fe as well as spending time with the Ashcrafts, Cedar Creek, and Abby and Kaylee and Erika.

July 17, 2008...
We are back in the States and back at our homes. I wrote Abby's dad to tell him my view of Abby after spending a week finally together with her: "Tom, I know that we've done a lot of talking about Abby and I did have a really good idea of what she was like before meeting her, but to meet her face to face and spend time with her, especially discussing different aspects of her life and spending time together in the Word and prayer, was just unbelievable. I mean that quite literally. I had a hard time believing that I was actually there with her, that she was really as wonderful and deeply spiritual as I'd thought. Here is my perception of what I saw in Abby last week. She has such a dynamic personality. She finds so much joy in the little things of life. She encourages and inspires everyone around. She spreads a smile to every face she sees. She is a hard worker and she enjoys that work as well. Barely a meal went by that I didn't see her and Kaylee in the kitchen, helping to prepare the meals or clean up afterwards. She has a heart for children. She was often with the Ashcraft kids, helping care for them, or with the kids in the villages or the church. She has a heart for God. It was so beautiful to hear her read and discuss the Bible. It is obvious that she has had a lot of practice in that before. And to hear her pray - wow, that was just incredible. Needless to say, I was not mislead or let down... But I'll tell you what "sealed the deal" for me, so to speak. This one afternoon, we were sitting in the dining room at the ranch with Klipa, Kaylee, Eric, Miss Gwen, and I think Jordan or Meredith or someone. And I just started firing questions at Abby. I mean I asked her about her sisters and what they're like, her family and the times you guys have spent together, the places she's lived, the friends she has, the churches she goes to, the place she works, and just anything else I could think to ask. And even though I've heard her talk about some of those things through messages and stuff on Facebook, it was completely different to hear her actually speak of them. You know how they say 90% of communication is non-verbal, or something like that? That's the idea of all this. It just hit me as I was sitting there listening to her talk. It hit me how grown up and mature she is, how deeply she feels for her sisters, her family, and the things of God, how much time she has really spent in prayer, how well she really knows God's Word. I just sat there listening. I didn't talk much at all. We were all there together for probably 2 hours or so. It was like God just sat right down there beside me and was going, "Look at this girl. Isn't she incredible? Can't you see how much she loves me? Listen to her talk about what's important to her..." and on and on. I've said it before (I'm not sure if I said it to you or someone else) that I don't deserve Abby, but after hearing her open up her heart that day, I knew I don't. To think that this could be God's gift to me as a life's partner overwhelms my heart with gratefulness. That afternoon confirmed a lot of things for me. And then the rest of things were confirmed in the times we spent together in prayer and the Bible. Laura told me about the strength of her prayer life. I could tell from Abby's own words that she has a solid grasp on the Scriptures because of spending so much time in them. And when I could hear her read God's Word and talk to her Father in prayer, it was so real. Bottom line, you have a wonderful daughter. I know that God gets all the praise and glory for making her into that beautiful treasure, but you and Laura have done a fine job modeling Christianity and godliness for her. She is so special to me."

August 2, 2008...
I am talking to Abby on Facebook when she says, "So, I've got an early birthday present for you. Do you wanna know what it is?" So I said, "Well, I don't know. How am I gonna get it? Mail? Email? Phone?" She says, "Well... in person." "What?!?" Abby says, "My mom just walked in the room and my parents want to pay for you to come see us for your birthday. Would you wanna do that?" What do you think I said?

August 5, 2008...
I called my parents and told them all about Abby and the trip. My dad told me this: "Well, son..." He paused for a long time. I could tell he was trying not to cry (just like me!) "This may sound really strange to you, coming from me.... but if you get back from that week with her family and her parents don't have any hesitations, Mom and I don't think you need to drag this out with some long engagement." Again, God was confirming this through my parents.

August 9-17, 2008...

Abby's family is wonderful! She has two older brothers and three younger sisters, all three adopted from China. Her family was like family to me right from the day we met.

The second night I was there, Tom sat down with me and Laura and Abby and we talked through everything that was going on and what we believed God was directing for our future. After a few questions, Tom shared his heart with us through tears: "Ever since our children were born, I have been praying for their future spouses. And I have prayed two things for them. One, that they would come from a strong, Christian family, like yours is Jonathan. And two, that they would have the kind of relationship that her mother and I have had all of our lives. Our relationship is just fun, relaxed, caring, Christ-centered, loving, and a delight to be together. And we can see already that that is the type of relationship that you and Abby have. I can't ask for anything more. So we want you two to know that we bless your relationship. You have our full blessing to pursue marriage, and praise the Lord!" God confirmed His will for us through our parents.

August 31, 2008...
Where God guides, He provides. I have been working long hours trying to save up for an engagement ring, while paying bills and everything else. Today, I got a message from Jane Stephens, a lady I met at Abby's church in Aiken. She shared with me how much Abby means to her and her family, being friends with their daughter for most of her life. Then she says this: "Now to get to the point of this email. I am really writing for my wonderful husband, Greg. He feels led by God to offer to assist you in obtaining the funds needed to buy the engagement ring for Abby that you are wanting to give her. It would be a blessing for us to be used of God in this way. If you will accept our help, please email me with the details of the amount of money you need in order to buy the ring." They did help me and I bought the ring.

September 19, 2008...
Today my family will meet the Temple's. My sister Tiffany is living in Greenville, SC and will be performing in the musical Annie tonight. After much secretive planning, my family, the Temple's, and I will all be meeting up and going to the play tonight. My brother and sisters don't know I'm coming; Abby doesn't know her brothers are coming up from Charleston; and only my parents and her parents know that I'll be proposing tonight!
My sister tells me of a beautiful park right next to the theater where I could pop the question. So we get the plan all set. We'll send my brother Christopher ahead to the park with a video camera and he'll hide next to this swing beside the river and waterfalls where I'll take Abby off for a walk and ask her to marry me at the river's edge.

So we meet my family. My brother and sisters are surprised. Dad tells them I'm proposing tonight. I tell Christopher to follow me to the bathroom when we get to Chili's for dinner. Abby's brothers show up at the mall before dinner. Abby is surprised. We go to Chili's with both families and everyone meets each other. I sneak off to the bathroom and tell Christopher the plan. "...Across the bridge, down concrete steps on the left, down the stone steps, across the footbridge, to the swing, to the river's edge, to one knee and propose..."

After dinner, Abby's brothers "have to drive home" so we all say goodbye to them and head to the theater. We get there and I whisper to Abby, "Oh this is really pretty! I wanna go for a walk." So I ask Dad, "Hey is it ok if Abby and I go for a walk before the play starts?" So we walk off. But Abby goes down the wrong steps to the river. I have to think fast: "Oh no, now I've gotta find those stone steps!" We calmly walk around along the river, as I'm frantically looking for those stone steps. Then I saw them, "Hey look, stone steps!" (Oops, I was just thinking outloud). We head across the footbridge and I see our empty swing. Just then, two people head over and take it. Oh no! Now what! There is an empty bench a little further along. We head over there and sit for a while. I've got to give Christopher time to move over to where we are. I'm looking around but can't see him anywhere. Soon, the swing is empty. "Hey let's go sit on the swing. Those people finally left." As we walk there, Abby spots Christopher hiding behing a trashcan nearby! Oh no, think, think, think... She says, "Did they send someone to spy on us?" She'd helped me out. A few minutes later I said, "Is that the girls over there? Are they really spying on us?" We walk to the river's edge. I say completely casually, "Baby... will you marry me?" She kinda froze and looked at me, a little confused. She smiled, "What do you think?" I pulled the ring from my pocket and said, "No... Abby Michele... will you marry me?", kneeling in the muddy grass. She said yes! So I sent my parents a text message that read: "She said yes! Y'all get over here!" Soon we heard them all coming through the park, down the stone steps, yelling, whistling the wedding march, and letting the whole park know we'd just gotten engaged. Smiles, laughs, and tears came when Abby realized that her brothers hadn't left yet, but came back to congratulate her...

This whole time has been a real journey - but it's only the beginning. This is our journey to the beginning. Our life together will begin on May 16th of next year, but our story will continue in obedience to God's call to Mexico and through a life of service to Him for as long as He leaves us on the earth. This is what happens when God writes a love story - a beautiful beginning and an even more beautiful ending!

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