So, how did you end up here?
That’s the most natural question I get after telling people I’m originally from Illinois. And, no, I’m not in the military; nor did I go to school here. The short answer is simple: the Lord – He brought me here. The long answer is the same, but the details reveal His consistent faithfulness and provision in my life.
I usually start this story at age 22, but the story really begins at age 15, where the key question I was asking myself was “what’s the purpose of life?” The Lord started revealing pieces of that question to me on my first mission trip. After that, I wanted to know the Lord more and grow in sharing Him with others. I felt like this was my purpose in life. Eventually, I went to college and studied missions. When it came time for an internship, I stumbled upon an organization called Global Frontier Missions (GFM) – a missionary training organization based out of Clarkston, GA, a small town outside of Atlanta with about 10,000 refugees.
My time at GFM felt like a missions buffet! Monday afternoon I’d be in a Nepali home, Tuesday afternoon in an Iraqi home, Wednesday afternoon in a Burmese home, Thursday in an Afghan home, and Friday in an Ethiopian home. It was awesome! I love different cultures, and this town is filled with them! But, in the midst of this diversity, the Lord specifically broke my heart for one particular people. When I say “broke my heart,” I mean that out of all of the people I was interacting with, there was one group in particular that brought me to tears when thinking about their lack of the gospel. Therefore, as I finished the internship and entered my senior year of college, I began praying that the Lord would allow me to live among these people after college and share the gospel with them.
After graduating college, I wasn’t sure what to do, so I went back to GFM for a second summer internship. During the last week, we hosted a short-term team from a church in Virginia called Peninsula Community Chapel. Perhaps, you’ve heard of them. To be honest, I wasn’t too excited about this team coming, because it was the last week of the internship, meaning it would be the last time I’d see the international friends I’d made. I knew this team was a group of high school students, so I was a little worried about getting some punk kid that would be culturally insensitive and not eat the food placed in front of them. I distinctly remember signing up for one of my ministry partners for the week, and as I was writing her name down, I said, “I don’t know who this Chelsea girl is, but she better be good!” I wonder if the Lord chuckled at that comment.
It turns out, I had a great week with that Chelsea girl, and I even tried to convince her to move to Nashville with me. She graciously declined, the week ended, and we parted ways saying, “well, I guess I’ll see you in heaven!”
College is over. Now what?
Meanwhile, I moved back home and continued to pray for the Lord to make a way for me to live among the people He placed on my heart. And, thankfully, He started putting a team together in Chicago! Two of my friends from college had a similar vision, so we started making our plans to head to Chicago. We even had a “vision” trip together. We got connected to a local ministry, found temporary housing, and started applying for jobs. In February of 2016, this Chelsea girl reached out to me somewhat out of the blue.
“You should come intern at our church this summer,” she said.
“Oh that sounds awesome, but I kind of have these other plans,” I told her, and began filling her in on how God was putting all the pieces in place for me to move to Chicago.
“That’s awesome!” Chelsea replied. “Since going to Clarkston, I’ve gotten involved with the refugee ministry at my church and now I really want to move into a refugee apartment complex.”
“Wow! I’m excited for you! I’ll be praying the Lord sends you a roommate!” I responded as we finished up our conversation. Perhaps, the Lord chuckled at that comment, as well.
A few weeks after that conversation, my plans to move to Chicago quickly unraveled. One of my potential roommates ended up not being able to move, our temporary housing fell through, and after applying to about 20 (literally) different jobs, I had no job offers. Everything was changing so quickly, but at the same time I was planning a trip with two of my friends to the Outer Banks, because we’re from the Midwest, so we don’t know that you don’t plan a trip to the Outer Banks in March.
However, it proved to be one of the best trips of my life. I told my two friends about this Chelsea girl, and that I was maybe planning to ask her if it would be okay if I just move to Virginia and we try to live together in a refugee apartment complex. This plan sounded ridiculous, even to me, so I asked them to spy on Chelsea for me to let me know if I had gone off the deep end. Shockingly, after making a quick stop in the 757 on our way to the OBX, both of my friends affirmed my plan. “It is crazy,” they said, “but I think it could work!”
The next day I sent a message to Chelsea.
“So, is your church still looking for summer interns?”
“Yes. Oh my gosh! Do you want to apply?”
“Well, what would you think about me just moving to Virginia and the two of us moving into a refugee apartment complex?”
“What?!?! Are you serious? This would be an answer to prayer! If you’re in, I’m in!”
And just like that, within a month, all of my plans to move to Chicago had crumbled, and I had a roommate, housing, and a job set for me to move to Virginia in June 2016. The Lord clearly put all of the pieces of the puzzle together, and I stood back in pure, joyful amazement at the ridiculous details that I knew I could not have dreamed up on my own.
Side Note: Parents’ Support
Throughout this whole process one of the greatest gifts from the Lord was my parents’ support. They encouraged my first mission trip, and consistently showed support, even when I began processing that I felt like the Lord was leading me to a people that aren’t known to be the most peaceful. It was a true blessing that allowed me to honestly process with my mom. She continually pointed me back to the Lord, trusted that He was the best guide for my life, and that I was seeking to follow Him. My parents never pressured me to question the path I believed He was laying out for me. This meant I got to share the joys and struggles of the process, and my parents got to mourn and rejoice alongside me.
When I got home after my trip to the Outer Banks, I shared all of the details with my mom and said, “Mom, I think I’m moving to Virginia!”
"I just knew something like this was going to fall into place, and the Lord would guide all the pieces,” she graciously replied.
She could have been fearful – that would have been reasonable – but she chose to trust the Lord with my life. And that, has been one of the biggest blessings.
Thankfully, the process of picking an apartment complex to move into was easy; actually moving in was not. But the Lord was faithful to remove obstacles and we found ourselves in Regency Square. In fact, just as we moved in, so did a whole group of people from the people group I loved. It felt like the Lord had literally just picked all of us up and moved us into this same area together at the same time!
The whole first year, Chelsea and I were so excited and easily just laughed off the bug problems, plumbing problems, heating problems, etc. We were just excited that the plan worked – we were really living right next door to a ton of refugees.
After about a month I came home from work one day in November, and I smelled something. I walked into the kitchen and Chelsea promptly opened the oven door and showed me the pumpkin pies she was baking.
“How do you know if they’re done?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t really like pumpkin pie”
“Yeah, neither do I.”
“Ummm…,” I started to say with a confused look, “you do know that the likelihood of us getting served whatever we take to someone is very high, right?”
Well, thankfully, we didn’t get the pies served to us, but I also don’t think we ever got invited into that house again, so maybe our new friend didn’t like the pies either. No hard feelings though; we were happy for the trial-and-error process of our relationship building to begin!
There was a lady in Regency named Nor. One day I saw her taking her trash out, and I felt like the Lord was telling me to go talk to her. I wasn’t feeling especially social that day, and just didn’t want to, so I started bargaining with God and eventually said, “Fine, I’ll go out and prayer walk one lap around our half of the complex. If I see her, I’ll talk to her. If not, I won’t.” Nor wasn’t out, but that’s when I met Diana, who became my closest, and only consistent refugee friend while at Regency.
Eventually, Diana and I started meeting weekly. I told her I’d teach her English if she taught me Arabic. That was a little bit of a joke because what developed was much sweeter than language lessons. Eventually, we would talk about real things. I remember the day we grieved together as she told me about a friend of hers back home who committed suicide, and I remember her talking about how much pain and anger her sister had because her husband was taking a second wife. “The husband loves each consecutive wife more,” she explained to me. This was a great time to talk about how Jesus tells husbands to take only one wife and to love them like they love their own bodies. Also, Jesus loves us so much that He gave His life for His followers and husbands are supposed to love their wives like that. She liked the words and character of Jesus. These conversations gave me incredible joy; they were the reason we were there.
Eventually, the first year drew to an end, and a lot of the newness wore off. Many of our friends started moving out of Regency as their contract drew to an end, including Diana. Also, I was having a pretty tough time. I had inconsistent employment for the first three years I lived here, and that resulted in me being consistently discouraged and poor. I was not doing a whole lot, because many activities cost money, and many people spend their days at work, so I ended up isolating myself. I learned quickly that isolation is a breeding ground for sin.
I dove headfirst into sin and got wrapped up in things I never imagined would be a struggle for me. After two years of this, nothing was changing for the better. Therefore, I decided circumstances needed to change. I either needed to move away and start over, or it was simply time to move out of Regency. Chelsea and I decided to try a new location and invite another person into our lives. We began praying for a third roommate.
Thankfully, a few months before we started praying, the Lord moved a physical therapist from Texas here for a 9-month work contract. Rachel was someone who we had begun spending a lot of time with, at first because she was the new girl, who lived all the way in Williamsburg, and we thought she needed more friends. But, as we spent time with her, we learned that she was trustworthy and full of grace – a good friend to have.
I distinctly remember discussing a hot issue within the global Church, and she simply said, “Our sin should never shock us. We should never be shocked by others’ sins.” As someone who was struggling with the shame of my own sin, these words were a balm to my soul, and this friend made me feel safe and reminded me of the grace of my Redeemer.
Eventually, we asked Rachel to move into a house with us, and we shared with her in detail how life had been going for the past couple of years. We wanted her to know what sort of battles she would be joining. Again, she responded with grace and shared some of her own battles, as well. With that, the house hunt began.
Moving onto Selden Road began a season of restoration for me. I am in a new living environment, with faithful, God-loving roommates who know the details of my story and will lovingly point me back to Christ. The Lord gave me steady employment. Additionally, the desire to share the gospel with internationals never left, and the Lord has recently been creating a new way to do that.
The last two years have been a season of turning back to the Lord and learning to seek Him first. One main thing the Lord has impressed upon me in this season is a new sense of relief in His grace and forgiveness that covers all of my sins – past, present, and future. He paid for everything when I accepted Him as a 10-year-old. The day I accepted Christ, I didn’t fully know what Jesus was forgiving, but He did. He took all of my sin and shame – 10-year-old Abby sin and shame, 25-year-old Abby sin and shame, 70-year-old Abby sin and shame – and He gave me His righteousness, and there is nothing I can do to lessen that. He has redeemed me and called me righteous, even though I will continue to struggle with sin in this life. Praise God for His faithful grace and mercy!
So, that is how I got here – by following the seemingly ridiculous leading of our faithful God who puts together all the details. He writes a much better story than I could ever imagine.
Here you can read perspectives on life, ministry and God's Word from a variety of PCC's female leaders.