Six bags were all they had to fit their life in. They were leaving in the morning for Cambodia, and Jacob and Noelle had to make some difficult decisions about what to take with them and what to leave behind. The most difficult decision, though, had been made over a year ago when they decided they were going to move to Cambodia. But the truth is the journey began years before even that.
Noelle had been going on short-term mission trips since she was fourteen but had always been glad to return to America. But in 2005, in her mid-twenties, she took a trip to Nepal with theMILL, New Life Church’s college/twentysomething ministry, and everything began to change. I could live overseas, she thought to herself. Still she returned, took a job as pastoral counselor to the young women in theMILL, and wondered when the day would come.
Jacob, in a similar way, had developed a heart for ministry overseas through several short-term trips but never envisioned himself living anywhere but America. I could support missionaries, he thought. I’ll have a big house and provide a haven for missionaries on furlough. As the IT manager for Compassion International, Jacob was content to facilitate someone else’s work overseas. But the more trips he took with theMILL, particularly in the summers of ’05 and ’06, the more he began to consider actually becoming a missionary.
When Jacob and Noelle started an unlikely dating relationship, neither spoke initially of their desire to do ministry overseas. At times it might even have seemed that they had different visions of their future. Yet quietly the burden for long-term missions work—particularly in Asia—began to grow in each of them. In the spring of 2007, they had dinner with Eric and Ginny Hanson, the directors of an international ministry called In His Steps International and founders of In His Steps Cambodia (www.ihsionline.org), which I mentioned in chapter 3. Eric and Ginny had come to the States on furlough, and since Noelle was leading a team from theMILL to Cambodia that summer and would be working with their ministry, it was a chance to connect. They had no idea the seeds that would be planted in their hearts that night. They learned that Eric and Ginny had started In His Steps International in 2004 and launched In His Steps Cambodia as a local NGO that would train and empower locals to reach other locals with the gospel. Through daily English classes for hundreds of children, weekend youth and children’s programs, and a church plant, they are beginning to rescue and redeem Cambodia from the desolation of a wicked past dictator and the present horrors of human trafficking. One of the most beautiful things In His Steps Cambodia does is a ministry called Sak Saum, which I also mentioned earlier. Sak Saum is a ministry to vulnerable and exploited women, women who have escaped or been rescued from human trafficking. Through Sak Saum they receive counseling, education, training in job skills, health care, and ongoing discipleship. As Jacob and Noelle listened to Eric and Ginny that night in the spring of 2007, something was coming alive inside them.
That summer, while Jacob led a team of Air Force cadets to Thailand and Noelle led a team to Cambodia, their burden for Asia began to grow. While Noelle was in Cambodia, sitting in a devotional time with Cambodian girls, listening to them pray in Khmer, it became clear that she would live there some day. One piece of the picture was coming into focus. The other pieces were soon to follow. It also became clear that their futures belonged together. And so, on January 6, 2008, Jacob and Noelle laid all their hopes and fears at the feet of Christ and covenanted their lives to each other in marriage. A year later they took a brief scouting trip to Cambodia to confirm their decision. It was settled. Jacob and Noelle announced their plan to move to Cambodia. By the opening weeks of March 2010, it was time to decide what to put in the six bags they were taking with them.
When they got to Cambodia, they met a woman named Theavy. Theavy’s story is heavy. Trafficked twice as a young girl, she somehow managed to escape both times, though not without deep damage to her fragile heart. “Fear, a low self-worth, and a deep hunger to be loved and safe” is how Noelle described the condition of Theavy’s heart. Theavy eventually got married and looked forward to the day that she would have her own child, a child to nurture and love the way she had longed to be loved. It took nine years for that day to come. And when it miraculously did, she named her son Sokun, which means “a gift from God.” Rather than marking the end of her troubles, the birth of their son somehow triggered something destructive in Theavy’s husband. Shortly after Sokun’s birth, Theavy discovered that her husband was in debt-bondage to prostitutes. He then abandoned them and went off to pursue a different life.
But because of Eric and Ginny Hanson, Theavy was not alone. Just as they had helped Theavy through earlier struggles, they were there for her in her abandonment. Ginny walked with Theavy in her grief, providing love and counsel and comfort. Hope began to flicker in the darkness. When Jacob and Noelle met Theavy, she had just become the new national director of Sak Saum and of In His Steps Cambodia. She is now giving her life to help other girls find the same hope and healing that she did more than five years ago.
It’s easy to see Theavy’s story replaying in the young girls that are now in Sak Saum. They are fragile and damaged and afraid. But comfort has come. Hope has already begun. As Jacob and Noelle sit and pray and counsel and walk with the girls in Sak Saum and the orphans and children in the Foundation Center and SafeHouse in Saang, they can’t help but think of the redemption that Jesus is bringing to them, a rescue that they are carrying to them. What Ginny did for Theavy, they are doing for these little ones. Jacob and Noelle are bringing comfort to those who mourn, making the mourners lucky for the comfort that is now theirs.
But Jacob and Noelle are carrying a comfort they themselves have received. You see, a little over ten years ago, Noelle’s mother died of cancer. Two years before leaving for Cambodia, Jacob’s stepmom was tragically killed in a horse-riding accident. They have both tasted bitter grief. And while there are no answers or easy solutions, they have found a comfort that is deep and eternal, one that rests on the fact that Jesus has risen from the grave. Death itself will be swallowed up in victory. Death is not the last word. The final stanza of the song is one of new life, new heaven, new earth. And it has already begun. There is a minor key motif in this ending movement, but it breaks into a triumphant strain in the final bars. The comfort that Jacob and Noelle have tasted and the comfort that they carry is the hope—rooted in Christ’s resurrection—that what’s coming, what has already begun to come, is better than what is and even what was.
Lucky are those whose best life is not now, for what is coming is better than what is.
Read the FOREWORD by Eugene Peterson HERE.
Read ALL of CHAPTER 1 HERE.
Read an excerpt from CHAPTER 2 HERE.
Read an excerpt from CHAPTER 3 HERE.
Read an excerpt from CHAPTER 4 HERE.
Read an excerpt from CHAPTER 6 HERE.
Read an excerpt from CHAPTER 7 HERE.
Buy LUCKY HERE.