“I said, ‘Would you consider it a possibility – to go to Asia?’” Evelyn says.
“It was one of the first conversations we had,” John says. “Our second date.”
“I didn’t want to say 'You have to go,' but I thought if he said it was impossible, then that would be a serious problem,” Evelyn says. She smiles. “But he didn’t say it was impossible.”
Little did they know though, that what had started off as a single migraine when Evelyn was teaching abroad in Asia, would make it impossible.
“Around the time we got married, the pain was chronic – twenty-four seven. The first year we were married I was in a lot of pain,” Evelyn says. “I was only just functioning as a person.”
“Most months would go by without even enough energy to have a conversation about going to Asia, let alone make steps in that direction,” John says. “It was a tough, tough time. And we were still getting used to being married.”
The two had met at a Bible training course in the UK. She had a PhD in biology from Cambridge, and had just returned from two and a half years serving with SIM in Asia. The son of expats, John had grown up in various parts of Asia, hopping from mainland China to Hong Kong to India throughout his childhood years. They were young and well-educated, both with experience living in Asia and a heart to teach the Bible to others.
“They had never read a Bible; they thought Jesus was the same as Santa Claus,” says Evelyn of her time as a PhD student, recalling how she was meeting international students, particularly those from Asia. “I found they were very open to hearing about Jesus and at the same time completely unfamiliar with Christianity.”
“I started to realize how beneficial the training we were receiving was,” John says, “and thinking, goodness, so many churches in so much of the world, including the UK, could really benefit from more careful handling of the Bible. Without training, we can so easily just make it say what we want it to say – I’ve done it lots of times myself.”
It made sense: go teach the Bible in Asia together. So they got married. They estimated they would be serving in Asia within the year. But the migraines had followed her back to the UK and kept surfacing, becoming less manageable and more debilitating.
And so three years drifted by; their first daughter was born, and Evelyn's health slowly started to improve. Then, their church approached John about serving as an assistant pastor at a new church plant. He accepted the role, and another two years went by; finally, over the course of those two years, the path to Asia seemed to open up again.
They had the blessing of the church plant they had invested in, which was now ready to send them out as cross-cultural workers, and John took a trip to visit Asia.
“What do you think of Westerners coming?” John asked several local pastors during his trip. “We were really questioning if there was a role for foreigners in this part of Asia.”
They responded that while they did not want Westerners coming to “take over their churches,” there was need for help with training and marriage and family mentorship.
“Those were the two areas we had already thought we might be able to serve in,” John says. “And we had no intention of ‘taking over their churches,’ so it seemed like validation of us going to Asia still.”
So five years after their original plan, the family headed off to Asia; only in retrospect can they see see how much those five years actually meant.
“It was teaching me to take each day as I was given it,” Evelyn says. “I felt like I wasn’t doing very much.
“I was realizing God asks us to be who He made us to be,” she says. “Yes, he wants us to do things, he’s prepared good works in advance for us, but he is more interested in whether we are like Christ.”
"Waiting when you don’t know, waiting for Ev’s health to get better, when God hasn’t promised that it will, was difficult," John says. Evelyn's migraines, while not as severe, are still a painful part of daily life. “The harder years were the first three years when we got married and going to Asia wasn’t really in the cards.
“I often fell into pity parties, thinking ‘I have to do so much more than normal husbands have to do,'" he laughs. "Whatever the idea of a normal husband is! God was using that to grow our marriage."
For two people who have learned – and are still learning – to wait on God, it has prepared them for the uncertainties that come with working overseas.
“We didn’t walk in knowing our role,” John says. “While we’re learning the language we want to understand the local church situation and the things that other foreigners are involved with, the needs that local leaders say there are.”
Instead of seeking out opportunities, they have waited for local pastors and Christian leaders to approach them with opportunities and needs. John has been asked to lead a Bible study, as well as lead a seminar on expository preaching. Evelyn has helped lead a Bible study with local believers, and been asked to train some women as well.
At some point, they would like to lead local Christians through a long-term training course on Bible handling, similar to what they themselves had. The Asian country they are serving in has seen a recent growth in the local church, and many young believers need mentorship and encouragement.
“I think because most of the people in the churches are first generation Christians, they don’t have examples to look up to,” Evelyn says. “They find it hard to take the truth they know from the Bible and then apply it to their lives.
“Equipping the local church is one of the strongest contributions we can see. We want to give people the confidence to read the Bible for themselves,” she continues. “If people know their Bibles well, they evangelize and if those people become Christians, then they’re able to disciple those new believers.”
“But how this will work itself out, we’re not really sure. We’re still learning.”
After years of learning to wait and see how God unfolds plans though, that’s not a bad place to be.