by Emmy Duddles
For several years, Joe and Kate lived in Bangkok, Thailand, and had a thriving mushroom business with Kate’s mother, Mrs. Jaan. However, their marriage was contentious, and the whole family was in despair, eventually believing that life was not worth living.
When a man tried to take advantage of the couple, Joe and Kate decided it was time to move away from Bangkok to a city in northeast Thailand. Their new home was across the street from a church, and Joe and Kate developed a friendship with the pastor because the church yard was a safe place for their children to play. Joe and Kate saw an opportunity to make some money by selling vegetables and fruit at the front gate of the church, and soon they began to follow Christ and attend services every Sunday while selling their wares. Within three months, Mrs. Jaan noticed a change in them. “They went from arguing and not speaking when they were upset to forgiving each other,” Mrs. Jaan says. “It made me curious, ‘Why is this God so good? Why is it that Buddhism can’t change us but this God, Jesus, can?’”
As Mrs. Jaan stepped inside their church, she felt a warmth and love she hadn’t felt before. “I found true happiness surrounded by followers of Jesus,” Mrs. Jaan says. At the end of the service, the pastor asked if anyone wanted to give their lives to Jesus, and Mrs. Jaan immediately responded.
The family dug deep into God’s Word, ravenous to know more of Him, especially Joe. He would study his Bible late into the night, taking extensive notes and asking the pastor questions.
Soon, the family met Mark and Kitiya Murphy, Alliance international workers in Thailand. Joe and Kate needed jobs, so Mark and Kitiya connected them with their Moringa tree project, a business that makes medicinal products, soap, and cosmetics from the leaves and seeds of the Moringa tree. The two couples grew close as they worked together and chatted over lunch, and Mark started discipling Joe. He asked so many questions, always wanting to know and understand God better, and showed interest in being trained to be a church leader.
“He had a heart to share the gospel with the lost,” says Kitiya. “He would often go to his home village and stay there to work and share the gospel. If one person came to Christ, it was worth it to him.”
“Any time somebody has that kind of hunger and desire,” Mark adds, “it’s easy to invest in them and have that deeper connection. It was that genuine desire to seek God and know His Word that really drew us together. He was becoming one of my best friends. We were dreaming of the days when we would serve God together.”
One night, the family was having their regular time of worship together, like they did any other Friday. As they prayed, sang songs, and studied the Word together, Joe felt compelled to pray over his family. He laid his hands on each of his children to pray over them and tell them how much he cared for them individually. Joe thought he would be around for a long time, but he gave Mrs. Jaan the extensive notes he had taken as he studied Scripture, telling her, “These notes are for you to use to lead our family in case I’m gone. If I am not here, you hold on to Jesus.”
At about 4 o’clock the next morning, Mark and Kitiya got a call—Joe was not breathing and was being taken to the hospital. “We prayed together,” Kitiya says. “Prayed and prayed and prayed. It broke my heart. Joe dreamed of many things.”
“He was the foundation of our family,” Mrs. Jaan adds. “Before we went to the hospital, my daughter and I cried together because we didn’t want to lose our loved one who was the pillar of our family.”
Mark rushed to the hospital to pray with the family and comfort them as they asked for a miracle. The doctors performed CPR on Joe for a long time, but eventually they pronounced him dead. “When the family found out he had died, they were crying profusely, which is unusual for Thai people,” says Mark. “Kate was inconsolable.”
“The family was like broken glass,” says Kitiya.
The Only Way Through
“At their very lowest point, in their brokenness, Jesus was their only way through,” Mark says. Despite her grief, Mrs. Jaan did not lose hope and took up the call she felt to continue Joe’s legacy and be the head of her family. She took in her grandchildren and started intensely studying Joe’s notes, asking the pastor questions whenever she didn’t understand something Joe had written down.
Even before Joe died, Mrs. Jaan would push her cart through the streets, selling her vegetables and fruit and sharing the gospel. She was a natural at striking up conversations with people and telling them about Jesus’ love for them as they purchased produce.
“Mrs. Jaan realized there were other people who were suffering and that she could be a voice and a witness to how Jesus changed her,” says Mark.
The more Mrs. Jaan saw people put their faith in Christ beside her vegetable cart, the more hunger she developed for evangelism. Joe had been interested in the Center for Leadership Development (CLD), a program that was started by C&MA missionaries 20 years ago to help train lay leaders in their local churches. He had filled out an application to join the CLD program and had even given Mrs. Jaan an application. “He built the foundation for my desire to study Scripture,” Mrs. Jaan says.
After he passed, she chose to go through the program, and now helps lead multiple house church groups in rural villages outside her city. These groups are filled with believers who want to be raised up in leadership and lost people who are still seeking out the hope Mrs. Jaan has found. Though many people are moving to Bangkok to find work, Mrs. Jaan is committed to creating gospel access in northeast Thailand so that local people and the poor can know Jesus without leaving their homes.
“I am concerned for the lost because they do not have the same opportunity to hear the gospel as I did, so they haven’t received this new life,” says Mrs. Jaan. “Even if only one person responds, it is worth it. My service won’t be done until I go to be with the Lord.”
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