Shannon here: Drumroll please. Reader Favorite # 2 is Jennifer Rogers Spinola’s story of how she met her husband on the mission field. The story originally ran on Feb 14. All comments will go in the drawing for a copy of Lena Nelson Dooley’s Love Finds You in Golden New Mexico or Catherine West’s Yesterday’s Tomorrow. Deadline: midnight central time March 26. Here’s Jennifer:
The story of how I met my husband, Athos, goes back farther than our meeting place. Farther, even, than my missionary service in Japan. If I wagered a guess, I think it goes all the way back to the summer of 2000—a full year before I even knew of Athos’ existence, or he of mine.
I climbed off a plane into the sweaty heat of Corumbá, a small wetland city in southwestern Brazil along the Bolivian border, to write news feature stories for the International Mission Board. There in the heart of jungle trees, swampland, and red dirt roads, Baptist volunteers—including doctors, dentists, medical specialists, and builders—had come to treat the physical needs of displaced people formed into groups called “alianças.” Thousands of the people had come west when the Brazilian government opened up free land, but they lived now in wooden shacks nailed with crooked cardboard and corrugated metal, with little access to amenities like medical care, plumbing, and running water.
While interviewing the American Baptist volunteers and speaking to Brazilians through interpreters, I felt something come alive in my heart. Something amazing, bold, beautiful that I’d only hinted at in my dreams. What if? What if? I began to wonder, as I put down my notebook scribbled with notes and interviews, and linked dirt-smudged hands with settlers’ brown-skinned children. What it would be like to say yes? To take a step further? To leave my job and comfortable American surroundings behind and set foot in foreign soil, committing years of my life to serving God through international missions?
I went out on the flat hotel roof, overlooking orange adobe tile roofs and houses fading in the twinkling golden sunset, and sat with God. His presence heavy, like blue twilight. So close I felt, as I looked up into the glimmering hints of stars, that I could almost see Him. The open roof was still warm from the sun, like fresh-baked flatbread, and I pressed my hand into the brick and concrete, wanting this heavy “God-ness” that descended over me to stay. To linger, and not to leave when I boarded the plane for Virginia.
“Yes?” I felt Him whisper.
“Yes,” I said back in my silence.
No words spoken. Just an understanding passed from one heart to another.
When I got back to Richmond, Virginia, my next few months flew into chaos as I traveled to Australia for the International Mission Board. Went forward, heart bursting with fear and dread and joy, at a missionary commissioning ceremony. And spilled the news of my job resignation to serve as a missionary to my beloved boss and editor, Anita. She cried.
As I began to sort through the now-open boxes in my life, packing and questioning and praying and saying good-bye, the tables shifted suddenly. Instead of sending me back to Brazil as I’d hoped, God seemed to be opening the way to… Japan? Yes, Japan. Through past relationships, coincidences, thoughts, and prayers. Chance meetings with Japanese Christians who urged me to tell the Japanese people about Christ.
So instead of boarding the plane for Brazil, I waited anxiously in the cold terminal of Newark Airport for a plane bound for Tokyo. Shivering with fear and nerves, and wondering if I’d ever find my way back to the country of my dreams. The country where God called me. Where smiles ran in our veins like blood. Hand clasps and kisses and hugs and tears.
In Tokyo I marveled at skyscrapers and udon noodle shops and millions of people crossing the street under concrete high-rises that stretched into a million sparkling lights, and then after orientation I flew to cold, snowy Sapporo in the north—where I’d spend my two-year term. Leaving behind the internationals and merged countries of urban Japan.
I buckled into work in Sapporo, unpacking my suitcases and my books. My Bible and photos from home. My green-yellow-and-blue Brazilian flag, which I hung on the back of my bedroom door with a pang—right over the verse from Job: “I know that You can do all things. No one plan of Yours can be thwarted.”
If God wanted to send me back to Brazil, He could do it. As certainly as He parted the Red Sea and consumed Elijah’s sacrifice, He could part my impossible way and consume my hidden longings with His glorious provision.
I’ll never forget the day I sat there at my computer, staring at a blinking row of text: “I want you to meet someone there in Sapporo,” an acquaintance from Tokyo had written, knowing nothing about my past or my secret plans. “He’s a really wonderful Christian! You’ll like him. And he’s from Brazil! I’ve told him about you, and he’s waiting for you to call!”
My heart stood still.
About Jennifer: Jennifer has wanted to write fiction all her life, ever since age 5 or 6. She has a B.A. in English (writing/journalism concentration) from Gardner-Webb University, and has served as a summer National Park Service volunteer, as a Southern Baptist missionary to Sapporo, Japan, as a staff writer for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, and as an English/Language Arts teacher of junior high and high school at Brasilia International School. She now works as a private English teacher and fiction author.
Jennifer is married to Athos, her Brazilian husband, who she met while serving as a missionary in Japan. Athos studied politics and law at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, where he met Jennifer, and is a political analyst at the Embassy of South Korea in Brasilia. She’s lived in Brazil since 2004. They have one son, Ethan, who they’re in the process of adopting from Brazil. Athos and Jennifer are active in Brasilia International Church, where they’ve been members since 2005.
Jennifer’s first book, “Southern Fried Sushi,” a contemporary women’s fiction novel in a series of three published by Barbour Publishing, will be released October 2011. Jenny will also be writing for Barbour’s “Romancing America” series to be released in 2012.
Jennifer was born in Florence, South Carolina, and grew up in Harrisonburg, Clifton Forge, and Staunton, Virginia—most of her years spent in Staunton, which forms the setting for her “Southern Fried Sushi” series. She has also lived in Atlanta, Richmond, Japan, and Brazil. Jenny has one sister, Winter, and her father, Larry, a retired U.S. Forest Service worker. Learn more at www.jenniferrogersspinola.com.
Come back March 28 for Mary Ellis’ real life romance and a chance to win her book: Abigail’s New Hope.