The I in PIPSY stands for International.
About 15 years ago, while I was in college, my family took a class together called Perspectives. I think my Mom signed us up for it. It was me, my sister, my Mom & my Dad that took the class. The class was all about catching God’s heart for the nations. It was transformational for our entire family.
We had always supported missionaries as a family, but this class encouraged us to be even more involved in what God was doing around the world. We just weren’t sure how.
Soon after the class ended, my Mom was contacted by a tennis friend & was asked if we would be interested in hosting an exchange student from Thailand named Kate. None of us really knew much about exchange & we didn’t have any friends that had done that before. My Mom thought it might be an answer to our prayers about how to be more involved in the nations. She brought the family together & asked if we wanted to host this student. We all felt that it could be a practical next step from Perspectives & could allow us to be more a part of what God is doing in the nations.
Little did we know that this experience would change our lives forever.
Kate came to live with us & we all fell in love with her. She was a year younger than my sister. Kate was 17 and my sister Kimberly was 18. I was around 20 at the time & living at home going to college.
We found out early on that Kate was Buddhist. In fact, most people in her country were Buddhists. We didn’t know much about Buddhism & so we asked Kate a lot of questions. What we realized is that most Buddhists don’t know a lot about Buddhism either. It’s just the religion of their country & not everyone is fully devoted to it, especially the young people. They’d call themselves Buddhists, bow to the golden statues, visit the temples, take care of the monks, and all of that, but many aren’t seriously committed to it.
Kate started coming to church with us & she was fascinated by the experience. In the youth group at our church she found kids that were on fire for Jesus. It wasn’t that way with Buddhism in her country. She was drawn to their love for her, their love for one another & most of all, their love for Jesus.
Me & my sister started sharing Bible passages with her at home. What was unbelievable is that she’d never heard most of this in her entire life. How can there be people in the world that have never heard of Jesus or really any of the stories in the Bible?
One night Kate was at an event called “Saw You at the Pole.” It was an evening rally following the “See You At the Pole” gathering in the morning. She said she saw students worshiping Jesus with their hands in the air & that it was a very powerful experience. I remember her telling us that. Internally, she wanted what those students had. She also had a powerful experience at an event in town where a former Muslim spoke about how he came to faith in Christ. And then she got to visit with a Chinese man who had also become a Christian.
Over time, people would start to ask Kate if she had become a Christian. Her regular response was, “No, but I’m about to be.”
One night Kate was having a long conversation with my Mom and sister. She said, “I don’t even know God but I love him.” My sister asked her if she believed in God now. She responded, “It’s unbelievable but it’s true.”
Later that night, Kate asked my Mom how she could become a Christian. My Mom shared the gospel with her & then encouraged her to go up to her room & talk to God about it. My Mom didn’t want her parents to think we pressured her to do it, so she encouraged Kate to commit her life to Christ without our involvement. She came back out of that room a changed person. Saved by Jesus & on fire to follow him.
She got baptized soon after committing her life to Christ & she & my sister chased after Jesus together.
My sister wrote a letter to Kate at the end of her exchange year. She described the transformation that took place in Kate’s life after committing her life to Christ. My sister said to Kate, “You told everything that breathed that you were a Christian. You were so proud to wear the Name of Jesus. I saw immediate change in you. Your outward appearance became so much more joyful, and your insides were bursting with Good News. People were drawn to you. You immediately started serving in the church and going every time the doors were open. You wanted to tell your parents you were a Christian right away, but you knew they weren’t supposed to call for another couple of weeks. So at youth one night, we prayed and prayed that your parents would call. And so they did, as we were praying. God answers prayer! I remember at Hot Hearts you knew God was calling you to missions in Thailand. You weren’t sure exactly what that meant, but you were ready to do whatever it took to obey. You want to win your nation for
Jesus, and we’re all right behind you. I have never had the privilege of being part of a more incredible salvation experience than yours. Praise God!”
We were so sad to see her leave at the end of her exchange year but we were thrilled when we heard she had led one of her sisters to Christ.
Years later Kate married an American boy that she met during her exchange year & they now have 2 beautiful kids together. She continues to walk with Jesus & God continues to use her to tell others about him.
Fast forward about 10 years.
eLife is about 6 years old at this point. One of our former Youth Ministers just returned from a missions training center where he and his wife were preparing to go to the nations. Instead of immediately going overseas, they felt God leading them to come back to our church & spend a few years mobilizing more people to go before they went themselves.
Of course we were thrilled to have them back but I didn’t understand much about the mobilization process. Essentially he told me that there was an organization called Launch Global that he’d raise his support through & that he’d come back on staff for free to help me excite people about the nations.
Our church had always supported missionaries, but we definitely didn’t have a process for sending our own people to the nations. Since I trusted him, I was excited to see what ideas he had to mobilize people.
One of the most remarkable things happened when they returned.
He & his wife moved into a rough apartment complex near the local university where they heard many internationals lived. They could’ve afforded to live in a nice neighborhood but they chose to move in among internationals to look for opportunities to get to know them & see them come to faith in Christ.
He and his wife started meeting internationals, inviting them to do Discovery Bible Studies (DBS), and started to see some of them trust in Christ. Launch Global, the organization they worked with, talked much about implementing movement strategies overseas and this was another influence for us on our road toward DMM.
As a pastor, this was totally amazing & inspiring to watch.
I gave him free rein in our church to recruit whoever he wanted & they started Phase One Goer Groups where they would help people catch God’s heart for the nations & then begin to pursue internationals that went to the local university in our town.
What we found is that the internationals are SO receptive. They are in an unfamiliar place, a long way from home, and they’re so eager for someone to reach out to them to develop a friendship. They are PIPSY, after all.
He & the people that he recruited from our church began “fishing for people” among internationals and the stories they would tell were inspiring to our entire team.
Here’s an example. I asked one of our staff members at the time, who was involved with this story, to share it in her own words.
2-3 years ago, an Experience Life Mobilizer, met Yin at an event on the Texas Tech Campus. She sowed seeds with Yin & read the Bible with her a couple of times, but Yin wasn’t very interested. Fast forward a year or so later, Yin became interested in reading the Bible regularly with us (I was in Phase 2 at this time). We used DBS & went through Creation-to-Christ passages. Every week, we could tell Yin was becoming more interested in Jesus. At one point, she began texting us every day before she went to sleep — telling us that she was praying to Jesus & asking if there was anything we needed prayer for that we didn’t mention that week. Every single day.
One day, she called me & had been reading the Bible on her own. She wanted to tell me about the Tower of Babel. We realized that Yin is obedient to her “action step” every week we read the Bible & she’s always faithful to share what we read with her friends from back home in her country, even though they would not read the Bible with her yet. On top of obeying God’s Word & sharing it, she was reading it without us & praying daily. Yin followed Jesus & she had no idea!
We, along with our Phase 2, began praying for Yin 6 mornings a week at our Phase 2 prayer time, begging that Jesus would open her eyes to following Him. After about 3 months of consistent reading, obeying, & sharing, Yin and some of our team members read John 3 together. Yin was mesmerized by Nicodemus’s conversation with Jesus, that we had to be born again & follow Jesus to have Him. All Yin could say was, “I want to be born again & follow Jesus.” So, Yin followed Jesus that day. We then began reading Scriptures about foundations of faith along with Creation to Christ. Three months later, Yin came to us & said she wanted to be baptized. A couple weeks later, it happened in a bathtub, ha!
Yin has been following Jesus for over a year now & has been multiplying her life in every area. She reads the Bible with other international students & employees she knows through Texas Tech, & she FaceTimes her friends & family back home to read the Bible with them, challenging them to know Jesus, obey, & share the same way we did. The Experience Life Mobilizer one day had a conversation with her about the unreached & showed her the stats on her home country. Yin’s heart was broken to see that her country is considered reached because 3% of her country is considered evangelical. She had to come to America to learn about Jesus, so she is passionate about further reaching her own people group, so that people from her country don’t have to travel thousands of miles to hear about Jesus the way she did.
Somewhere along the way, God really spoke to me about leading our church to not just pursue a vision of seeing West Texas come to Christ, but also to pursue a vision of seeing Thailand come to Christ.
I was drawn to Thailand for obvious reasons. Kate was from there. We had another international from Tech, named Monsicha, that had lived with our family for 6 years after Kate left. She was pursuing her PhD at Texas Tech & we became her home away from home. She’s a part of our family to this day just like Kate is.
I really sensed God leading me to lead our church to mobilize & send as many workers to Thailand as we could. At the time, we had about 5,000 people coming to our church & we announced that we wanted to offer to God a “tithe” of our church to send to the nations. We started praying that 500 people from eLife would be mobilized to the nations long-term. In the last few years, we’ve sent 3 long-term teams to Thailand & plan to send many more.
About 5 years ago, as we began to prepare to send teams to Thailand, we were all convinced that the strategy needed to reach the Thai people was DMM. There were millions of Thais that had never heard of Jesus and only about .5% of the country were followers of Jesus. We knew that doing church the “American way” by building buildings, raising money, hiring staff, putting on weekend services, and so on, could not scale to reach millions. DMM was the solution. After all, DMM was being used in that part of the world to reach millions already.
I remember one day, John, eLife’s Executive Pastor said to me, “Isn’t it sad that we can’t encourage Thai pastors to look at what we are doing in America & imitate us? Clearly we don’t want them to do what we’re doing. They need to reach millions. We’re content with far less.”
As a Senior Pastor of an American church, that really stung.
I need to encourage my friends in Thailand NOT to do what we’ve done. I need to tell them, “Whatever you do, don’t follow me. What I’m doing will never reach your people group.”
It begged the question.
Why don’t we need DMM in America too? Why does Thailand need DMM & but we’re content in America to not see movements of God? We’re content to build traditional American churches that reach very few people & grow mostly by transfer, whereas we want our Thai friends not to be content unless they execute a strategy that could reach their entire people group.
This was long before we began the DMM transition as a church, but I remember thinking at that point, “I want to model for my friends in Thailand what they should do. America needs DMM too. We have millions of people who are lost. Why would we settle for less than a movement? It’s not just Thailand that needs DMM. We need DMM. Why are we satisfied without it? Why am I satisfied with a traditional American church when I could be raising the sails for a movement that could reach millions?”
This conversation with John would be one of the influences years later in our decision as a church to pursue DMM. We need movements TOO!
One more story.
With our church now excited about the nations & mobilizing many people to be a part, I had to ask myself the question, “What’s my role?” I had been preaching to our church that we’re not all called to do the SAME thing but we’re all called to do SOMEthing. What was my “something?”
As I prayed about it, the thought came to mind, “Why not host another exchange student?” And even further, “Why not see if you can recruit many eLife families to host exchange students?”
Then my family & these other families could experience what our family experienced with Kate & Monsicha.
Perhaps life-long relationships will be built that will provide families on the ground in Thailand that would be willing to help our long-term Thai teams when they arrived. We’d already know many people in the country through our exchange program & perhaps those families would want to be involved with the long-term teams.
I felt this was from the Lord & began the process of trying to host a student.
Turns out that I couldn’t find any agency in town that was bringing Thai students to Lubbock. I contacted Kate’s agency & some other agencies until I found one that was willing. They said they couldn’t send students to us, though, until we had 3 International Exchange Coordinators in the area. I told them that I’d find the 3. So, me & my wife & 2 other couples became certified as IECs & that allowed the agency to start sending students here.
We knew that our family would take a student & after doing some recruiting, it turns out that 9 other eLife families wanted students as well.
We brought 10 Thai exchange students to America that first year & what happened was unbelievable!
I’ll just tell you our story.
After looking at pictures & profiles of Thai students we could choose, we picked a girl named Lukkaew. Pronounced Luke-Gow. That was kind of hard for our family to say, so we asked if we could call her Lucy. She loved that name.
We were able to FaceTime with her before she came to America & begin getting to know her. I remember meeting her, her Mom, her Dad, her brother & her sister all over video. They were such a sweet family & I could tell them were so excited for Lucy to come to America.
A month or so before coming, while we were talking to her on the phone, she asked me & my wife, “Do you mind if I call you Mom & Dad?” That question melted our hearts. Of course she could. We knew in that moment that she would be an integral part of our family for the rest of our lives.
She arrived in America & although her English was good, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the English being spoken & takes awhile to get acclimated. We immediately took her to a Thai food restaurant so she’d feel comfortable & we started asking her questions to get to know her.
She was very friendly & a little shy. Most Thais are when you first meet them. Thais are very respectful and would never want to come across rude or overbearing.
We got her settled into her new room & she began school soon as she got here.
She, like Kate, told us she was a Buddhist. I figured she was since most Thais are. This time I knew a little more about Buddhism from when Kate had stayed with our family years ago. Lucy told us more about how her family practiced Buddhism & she even showed me a worship/idol room that they have in their own house. It’s a little room with tons of golden statues that they can bow down at right in their house. Seeing it was heartbreaking, as you might imagine.
We didn’t want to put any pressure on Lucy, but since our family read the Bible together in the evenings, we asked if she’d be interested in joining us. She always was. Our approach with Lucy was a little different than our approach with Kate.
I didn’t know anything about DMM when Kate was here, so we just taught her the Bible, hoped she believed it & didn’t encourage her to bring her family along for the journey.
Whereas with Lucy, in DMM fashion, we wanted her to “discover” these truths for herself through a DBS process & immediately begin sharing with her family so they could come along the journey as well.
We did DBS several nights a week as a family & Lucy would read the passage with us, we’d all retell it in our own words, and then we’d ask the DBS questions. Lucy was always eager to participate.
Because we knew she was new to the Bible, we started in Genesis 1 & we went through our Creation to Christ sequence. After reading about Adam & Eve, I asked Lucy, “Have you ever heard of them?” She replied, “Never.”
How is that there are people in this world that don’t know about Adam & Eve? She didn’t know who Noah was either. Or Abraham. Or David. Or Peter. Or Paul. She had heard of Jesus only because she went to a private Catholic school in Thailand for a few years. But she didn’t know hardly anything about Jesus or anything else in the Bible. It just broke our hearts to think that there are so many people that haven’t heard any of this. Jesus said the problem is that “the workers are few” (Matt 9:37). Why have so few workers been willing to go? Should we go? Our family definitely started wrestling with all of this.
Over time, Lucy participated more & more in the DBS time. In fact, when we’d ask the question, “What should we OBEY from this passage?” Lucy would pick something to obey. When we’d ask, “Who should you SHARE this with?” Lucy would tell us someone she was going to share with. It was amazing! She was beginning to test out following Jesus long before she became a committed FOLLOWER of Jesus.
After finishing the Old Testament passages & moving to the New Testament ones, we finally arrived at John 3 where Jesus talks about needing to be born again. We read this passage, asked the questions, and discovered that we all need a spiritual birthday in addition to a physical birthday. We need to be born again spiritually. I went around the table & asked everyone when their spiritual birthday was. My wife shared hers. Then my daughters shared theirs. I shared mine. And when it came to Lucy, she said, “My spiritual birthday happened when I came to live with your family.”
WHOA! Now, I was pretty sure she didn’t yet fully understand what she was saying but she was definitely seeking God. She had come to love Jesus as she met him through reading the Scriptures with us. To the extent that she understood, she was definitely trying to follow him. I could still tell, though, that there was reservation in her.
As the school year was approaching its end, I decided to take her to dinner & have a serious spiritual conversation with her about whether or not she was ready to commit her life to Jesus.
As we ate Thai food, I poured out my heart to her about how much we loved her, why we had invited her to come & live with our family, and how we longed that one day she’d commit her life to Jesus. We told her we’d never put pressure on her but that I was just curious where she felt like she was with Jesus. She understood the gospel by this point & she was really having to count the cost of becoming a disciple of Jesus. After all, what would her family say? Would they kick her out? Would they want anything to do with her anymore?
She said, “Dad, I’ve fallen in love with Jesus. I loved reading the Bible with the family. I’ve learned so much. But, Dad, remember, my family is Buddhist. I grew up Buddhist. That’s all I’ve ever known. I just don’t think I’m ready to commit my life to Christ yet.”
I was devastated. I tried not to let her see it though. I told her I totally understood & that we’d always love her & be her family whether she ever became a Christian or not.
We finished dinner & a week or two later, we hugged at the airport & sent her home.
We knew we had planted a seed. It was now time for someone else to water the seed & for God to make it grow (1 Cor 3:6-7).
When she returned to Thailand, we all missed her. In fact, we even became closer when she was away than when she was here. We texted & talked almost daily.
I encouraged her to try out Nexus Church in Thailand sometime. We had become good friends with the pastors there. She loved going to Experience Life while she was here & I told her she’d like Nexus too, as it was very similar to Experience Life. She said she would. I didn’t know if she was serious, though, because I figured her family wouldn’t want to take her.
Well, you can imagine how shocked I was when a month or two later, one of my short-term mission teams that was in Thailand took a picture of her & her Mom attending Nexus that Sunday morning. The short-term team was attending Nexus & they happened to see them. They knew her because they had met her at eLife during her exchange year.
I was ecstatic.
I knew her Mom had never even stepped foot in a church before. I started praying with all of my might that God would touch them while they were there. I was so excited that the entire service would be in Thai, their heart language. I couldn’t imagine how powerful the gospel might sound to them in their own language!
At the end of the service, the pastor invited people who wanted to follow Jesus to come to the front & both she AND her Mom went forward. Oh my!
They took them aside into a room where they could talk to them further. One of the pastors shared more with them, told them how they could get more involved in the church, & prayed with them.
While I don’t think Lucy & her Mom were choosing to commit their lives to Christ at that point, they were definitely spiritually hungry & interested & so they went forward. They were moved by the Holy Spirit through that service & they responded accordingly.
Then, about a month later, I got one of the best calls of my life.
I even remember where I was. I was playing soccer in our front yard with my girls.
The call was from Lucy. I answered & she was so excited.
She said, “Daddy, daddy!!!” I was like, “What?” She said, “I’m a Christian. I know I am. I committed my life to Christ & I want to follow him forever. I want my country to know about him, Daddy! Daddy! I’m so excited! I’m a Christian!”
I about fell over.
She and I had continued to read the Bible together after she left & between her experience with our family, her time at Nexus Church, her time reading the Bible, and perhaps some Christian Thais she met, these influences brought her to faith in Christ.
Since then, we’ve continued to talk almost daily. We share powerful Bible verses with each other. She’s begun sharing even more with her family. One day she sent me a screen shot of something she had sent to her family. She said that each morning her Mom will send out a picture of Buddha to the family wishing them good luck for that day.
Her family probably thinks she’s crazy but I know they’ve observed transformation in her life. I continue to encourage her to share with them so that she might see all of them come to know Jesus eventually too.
I say all of this to say that Internationals are often very open & receptive to the gospel & excited when an American family befriends them. Jesus said that when we invite the stranger in, we’re inviting him in (Matt 25:37-39).
Will you “go out among the lost” in places where internationals are & consider inviting them into your home? Perhaps if you do, you’ll get to be a part of “making disciples of ALL the nations” (Matt 28:19)!
Part 4 – Prisoner