Due to this couple serving in the Middle East as missionaries, the names of those involved have been changed.
James and his wife, Tracy, sat in the car on a Saturday evening in late August, waiting to arrive home after living out the “vacate” in “vacation.” While celebrating their anniversary in the Caribbean, Hurricane Irene tore through the islands, leaving behind devastation and disaster. The getaway was far from the paradise they had in mind. And it was about to get much worse.
As James’ parents chauffeured the couple from the airport to their home in South Dallas, an area very unlike the suburbs that have mushroomed around the Metroplex, James noticed something slightly odd: The couple’s Jeep was missing from the driveway.
“Maybe one of our friends came and got it,” James remembered thinking. They had a close, gospel community in the area, so it would have made sense. “In our neighborhood, it wouldn’t be highly unusual for one of our friends to borrow our car,” James explained.
He made his way to the front door. It was unlocked. He walked in and noticed several belongings that looked out of place. After making his way to the second floor, James soon realized what had happened. “I noticed where there was once a TV hanging on the wall, there were now only cables.” James and Tracy had been robbed.
James exited the home and told his family to stay outside and call the police, unsure of whether or not the perpetrator was still inside. He also wanted to find David.
David was a middle-aged homeless man the couple had befriended and taken in one year earlier. He was going to church with them and had even gotten baptized. But recently, he had been going stretches without showing up at home. James feared that David’s alcohol problem was resurfacing.
As he looked for David on the third floor, he heard his family begin to scream. The couple’s Jeep had just pulled up full of people they didn’t know. In true Texas fashion, James grabbed his shotgun and ran outside. “By the time I came out the front door, the Jeep was peeling out, taking off down the road,” said James.
“They were using our vehicle to shuttle our goods into the neighborhood to sell them,” explained James. It’s what he said next that affirms how well the couple and their home group had been living out the message of Christ. “The problem was no one around us would buy our stuff.”
James later found out through word on the street, “We knew it was all coming out of your house and we wouldn’t buy it. We knew it was coming from y’all and y’all are good to us.’”
Five days later, the police located the Jeep, abandoned and wrecked from being driven halfway off a bridge. And as for David—he was gone.
James didn’t see David again until a couple years later. It was then that he found out alcohol was not the major problem. It was actually cocaine. David had gone on a binge while James and Tracy were on vacation. He owed somebody money and began selling some of the couple’s tools to pay off his debt. It didn’t take long for people to wonder where the “honey pot” was. A group of prostitutes got David “blitzed out of his mind” and convinced him to reveal the location of the home.
David confessed this all to James and asked for forgiveness. It took God’s great work to soften the anger in James’ heart, allowing him to forgive David. This forgiveness is part of what James calls “a small series of yeses” (admittedly taken from his friend, Paul). It’s a mantra that’s guided the couple from the moment they moved to the poverty-stricken area in fall 2009.
"Basically the Lord puts something before you and you have two options: to be obedient or to not be obedient"
While the story of David is the most dramatic, it’s one of many. Over the last seven years, James and Tracy have taken in three homeless men. “Basically the Lord puts something before you and you have two options: to be obedient or to not be obedient.” said James. “As we’re faithful, the Lord grows us and stretches us, putting bigger and bigger things before us.”
A couple years before David‘s betrayal, the couple welcomed a high school student, Mikey, into their home. The boy was originally abandoned by his birth parents at the age of 2, only to be taken in by his great aunt and abandoned once more at the age of 16. He was left on the front steps of his school along with two tubs of his belongings.
Heavily involved in the South Dallas community, James and his dad worked with a team of kids from a nearby school to build a robot for a competition. James’ father passed away abruptly during that time, bringing the team even closer. Considering James’ connection to the students, the school’s principal asked James if Mikey could stay with the couple for a week. They said yes.
A week turned into a month and a month turned into a year. “We loved him like our own,” James recalled fondly. But Mikey, like David, ended up breaking the couple’s hearts. Despite the constant press of the gospel, James said Mikey “didn’t know how to receive love.” He became increasingly disruptive at school and dismissive of rules.
James recalls how he and his wife wept as Mikey made the decision to leave, packing his things and leaving with his cousin. It stung, but James and Tracy will never regret their decision to take him in. They said “yes,” knowing what might happen. They said yes to David. They said yes to Rick, the man currently living in a shed-like structure in their backyard. And now they’re saying yes to something that many would say is crazy.
Early next year, the couple and their 14-month-old son will move to a country in the Middle East to become inconspicuous missionaries, spreading the message of Christ by living out gospel-centered community.
“I always thought that if you have a strong love for a people, that’s where you’re supposed to be. This is how you know you’re where the Lord wants you,” James said.
That confused him, however. He found himself being drawn to many people groups—those in South Dallas, Ethiopia and Mexico. “I didn’t realize it was a love for the work of the gospel, going out to the places where it’s not.” He calls it an “apostolic call.”
James soon began to realize that the real hope for those people and those places was the return of Christ, which would come once the gospel was proclaimed to the ends of the earth. James and Tracy enrolled in the Perspectives class, and that’s when it started to click. “All these things started to have boxes to fall in, and in this kind of global worldview of the return of the Christ and unreached people groups.”
"It's illegal for them to go to church, it's illegal for us to tell them about God, and this is the place where God has continually pointed us."
After visiting the Middle East in 2012, James and Tracy realized God was calling them to join an organization there. A year ago, they started planning for the move. “It’s illegal for them to go to church, it’s illegal for us to tell them about God, and this is the place where God has continually pointed us.”
While James, who works in engineering, and Tracy, who is in the medical field, have already established a small team, they’re still praying for two more couples.
For whoever ends up going, the plan is simple: The team will take a year to learn the language and culture and then find jobs that will allow them to assimilate and begin living out gospel community. “You begin to develop relationships just as you would here, interjecting the gospel as much as possible,” explained James.
That’s something they know how to do well. It’s something Mikey, David and Rick can attest to, even if the first two broke their hearts.
“I look back with no regrets,” said James. “We would do it all over again.”
When asked if they have a plan in case they get caught in the Middle East, James quickly paraphrases Luke 14:28: “But you must count the cost before building the tower or you look like a fool in front of all the other kings.”
“You face a risk anywhere,” said James. “The Lord is sovereign over all things. This is what the Lord has for our life.”
Considering all the “yeses,” his response is no surprise.