Updated: Feb 15, 2019
I got my first job at 16, working in a local music shop. Mostly I sold instruments and replaced broken guitar strings, but I quickly become fascinated with professional audio and video systems. That fascination would end up igniting a passionate career in contract systems engineering which would be the financial foundation on which we built our home and family. Twenty years later we were living comfortably and raising our four beautiful children in the safe and quiet family community of Boise, Idaho.
By all accounts, we were about as ordinary as a big family could be. We attended a local church where we served in music and lay ministry. We home-schooled our kids and were active in a local co-op (very common in that community). We drove a minivan and enjoyed a fenced yard, and most weekends you'd find me smoking a pork shoulder on the back patio.
If you had told me in 2014 that I'd be looking back five years later at a life overseas, working anti-trafficking and undercover rescue operations, having brought two more kids into the family, and eventually starting our own ministry, I would have laughed and called you crazy. That really doesn't sound like me at all!
I met Kimberly in our college Bible study class. Our romance lasted just a few months before we were ready to spend the rest of our lives together. This year we'll celebrate our 19th anniversary, and I couldn't be more thankful for the gift God gave me in Kimberly. My wife is a loving, talented woman. She has taught piano, dance, drama, and has home-schooled our children with excellence for more than a decade. She has contributed to our finances with her paintings and artistic decorations through her own business, Chapter & Verse Studios. She is constantly learning new things and challenging us all to move beyond our comfort zones. It was her influence that gave me the courage to follow God's leading into the unknown.
In the fall of 2015, we sold nearly all our possessions, including our home and cars, and moved the whole Wheeler Circus to Northern Thailand. I worked on the international leadership team of an anti-trafficking NGO by day, and after getting settled I began working undercover rescue at night. Kimberly worked part-time with rescued kids, teaching arts and crafts. Even our kids got involved. Our girls would learn dance and do crafts alongside the rescued girls. Our oldest daughter eventually began working with a partner ministry that operates a farm.
In 2017 we invited a wonderful young lady to join our family. At seventeen, Gunya had passed the cutoff age for legal adoption. But we don't pay much attention to technicalities like that. We asked her to be a part of our forever family, and she now lives with us in the States. Soon she will return to Thailand, where she is excited to work with our team in Chiang Mai as a house mother and mentor to the young girls in our rescue home. We couldn't be more proud of her, or more excited to see God leading her into a life of loving service to her own people.
Moving back to America was a tough decision. After three years, we knew it was time. But our hearts were still very much divided between two beloved lands. As a family, we discussed our options. We could return home and go back to our old life, or we could continue our ministry to trafficking survivors. It was clear that we were all happy to live a different kind of life in America if it meant we could keep our work moving forward. But we felt God leading us down a slightly different path than the one we had been on.
Despite the overwhelming numbers of children affected by trafficking, we believe that our true calling is to "...go therefore, and make disciples..." Making disciples would require a longer and deeper commitment to survivors than what we typically saw in other organizations. Where many go wide, we felt called to go deep. I do believe that God calls some to go "wide", reaching as many hurting souls as possible. It's just not where our burden took us.
The Phoenix Alliance was born from this desire to make disciples. To build strong, long-term mentor relationships that would endure through adulthood. Before leaving Thailand, we established a partnership with an incredible Thai woman, Mari Thomas. Mari has experience, passion, and the ability to relate to our rescued girls in a way we could never dream of. Once we had a firm foundation there, we left the country and began laying a new foundation for the USA headquarters of The Phoenix Alliance.
Today we live in North Carolina. Recently transplanted from our lifetime home in Boise, Idaho. Our ministry has three main fronts: The Thailand project, our USA administration and fundraising efforts, and our future USA trafficking rescue project. Although our Thailand project consumes the bulk of our time and resources, we are excited to be building relationships at home within the anti-trafficking community. In God's timing and by His grace, we hope to begin recruiting, training and supporting foster parents with a focus on caring for sex trafficking survivors. At the same time, we hope to establish a safe house for rescued kids and those in transition to foster care. That is our vision, and we firmly believe that God can accomplish these things according to His will through His servants.
So what happened to the ordinary family from Idaho? That's still us. We often hear nice things said about our family. And we appreciate it, but honestly we're no different from any of you. We have no special skills or unique gifts that allow us to do this. Our faith is not unflappable. We are made strong in Christ though our weakness. I am fully dependent on His grace every day. But His grace never fails. So I am humbled to be given such an incredible opportunity to serve those for whom my heart never ceases to break. They are stronger than they know. They are smarter than they imagine. They are more beautiful than they can see. In God's eyes, they are more precious than gold. When we love them the way our Father loves them, there is nothing on earth more fulfilling than to pour out our lives for them.
If you can relate to the me of 2014, are you satisfied with that? We are all called down different paths, and I would never suggest that everyone should quit their job and move overseas. But if you've made a decision to follow Christ with your whole life, it's unlikely that He will leave you alone in a comfortable place until you die of old age. There's a good chance that if you are truly willing to follow Him anywhere, He'll take you up on the challenge. For some that might mean a major life change. For others, perhaps a small shift. And some are already right where they need to be. I know I'm still not perfect in this area. I still hold back, despite knowing of His faithfulness beyond any possible doubt. I mean not to convict you, but to encourage you. You don't have to be special. I'm certainly not. You don't have to be perfect. I'm a million miles from that. You don't have to be rich or have a seminary degree or have perfect health. God will use your willing heart. He will honor your humble sacrifice and obedience to His calling. We know that He has prepared good works for us to do in advance (Ephesians 2:10). And while those works will never save us, shouldn't we do them from a position of surrender and thankfulness for what Christ has done for us?
From our ordinary family to yours, may we encourage you to step out in faith today, in whatever way God is calling you. Because He IS calling you. You will never make a better decision than the one to trust God with something you can't control. It will be incredibly hard. You'll face fears and uncertainty. Your faith will be tested to the breaking point. But in the midst of it all, you will find unspeakable joy. Not because of your circumstances, but despite them. There simply is no better place to be than wherever God has called you to be. Whether you're many journeys into the adventure or just preparing to start, I pray you find the courage to take your next step. Just as we pray for the courage to take our next step. It's ok to be ordinary. He can be extraordinary through you.