In August of 1991, at the invitation of a neighbor, my wife Kathy and I entered Celebration Church for the first time. We enjoyed the service and felt like this was where the Lord wanted us to be. It wasn't long before we were both serving with the staff of the church. A year and a half later, Celebration hosted a conference with a missionary speaker. During that conference, I felt God speaking to me. I wrote a note to my wife. It said, "I think we're supposed to do international missions really soon." After a few whirlwind interviews and lots of prayer, we found ourselves living in post-Soviet Central Asia, teaching in a trilingual school and desperately trying to share Christ with the people of our village and in the large city nearby.
After trying our best to make a difference, we were befriended by a group of teenagers who invited us to go snow skiing on a mountain nearby. Neither of us knew about skiing but we agreed because we wanted to make a difference for Jesus. We were supposed to catch a bus at 5am and ride with the students to the ski "resort." We were there at 5 but the students didn't show up until 5:45. When I said, "Hey, I thought we were meeting at 5. Did we hear wrong?" The students said, "Oh no, it's not like that. We meant we get up at 5 and start getting ready at that time." Later, the bus dropped us off at an ice skating rink next to a large mountain. "Oh, did we hear wrong?" we asked. "Are we going ice skating?" A student replied, "Oh no. It's not like that. We have to climb this mountain to arrive at the ski resort." So, we literally climbed 1,000 ice covered steps to the top of the mountain. Once we were at the top, my bewildered wife said, "I don't see a ski place." The students replied, "Oh no, it's not like that. We have to walk up this road before we can ski." We walked along the road and soon saw a sign that told us the ski resort was five kilometers away. We sighed and pressed forward. At noon, we finally arrived at the ski resort. I clapped my hands together and cried, "I'm ready. Where do I get my skis?" The teenagers laughed and said, "Oh no. It's not like that. We don't actually ski. We just ride the lift up and down." So, we rode the Soviet made ski lift up and down the mountain, praying they would not fall. After lunch, we made our way back down the mountain, rode the bus back to the city where we found an inexpensive dinner and finally caught a bus back to our village around 9pm. The students were having so much fun that they asked, "Can we all come over to your apartment right now for a party?" My exhausted wife turned to them and said, "Oh no! It's not like that."
Even though we didn't meet with those students that night, we still wanted to make a difference in their lives. That next week, they hosted a birthday party for my wife, decided they liked meeting together, and asked if they could meet weekly for English lessons and fellowship. It wasn't long before one single college missionary led one of the local girls to Christ. That girl led all of her sisters and eventually her parents to the Lord. That family led all of those other students to Christ and it spread from there. They grew into a church which sent missionaries around Central Asia and into western China. Not long ago, my wife and I received an invitation to attend the 25th anniversary of that church that launched in that village. Ironically, it came as we were preparing for our annual Difference Makers Conference at Celebration. I remember thinking, "I sure am glad we attended that conference so many years ago and listened to the Lord."