I had the pleasure of a Facebook call with the always awesome Ryan and Randi Brewer a couple of weeks ago. They are great friends of ours who live in Chiang Rai, Thailand, carrying the gospel message of love and power to its people.
Their greatest hope is to see people encounter the love of God and be changed in the process. They’re doing this uniquely through a 2-part system: planting organic multipliable churches in homes and hosting a house of prayer that serves as a worship center for these home churches to come together in unity for worship.
When I was brainstorming content for this month themed “selfless,” my first thought naturally went to this couple. You don’t get to meet people that often who are so full of love, compassion and fiery zest all at the same time.
We hope you’ll enjoy their story and a slice of their experience overseas.
A.S. Tell us how you guys met…the love story…
Ryan: We met at Christ for the Nations Institute as students. Randi finished and was waiting to do a semester abroad. I had gotten behind on my school bills and had to take some time off, so I was working at the school in the maintenance department. One day, I see Randi coming into my office because she had just gotten a job there too, and I was like Woah, who’s this chick? She looked so different to me because the Randi I had seen before seemed to be really shy and reserved, but this time I saw a confidence in her that was attractive.
Randi: I think the maintenance department is probably the most unlikely place to meet. God just orchestrated it. The guy who ran the department was a leader on many of my mission trips and offered me a job. Both Ryan and I were coming out of a season of bad, disappointing relationships and into a place of contentment. It was great to watch the Lord weave together our stories and bring us together for a common purpose.
A.S. What is this season of life about for you guys?
Ryan: Right now, we have 3 kids and one on the way. Most of the time it’s crazy and noisy…organized chaos.
Randi: Agreed. There’s lots of excitement and anticipation with the coming of another baby. Ministry-wise, we feel like there are so many things stirring and on the horizon. Ryan teaches at a school here, and last year, he felt the Lord say he would have the opportunity to share the gospel with people. This year, he feels he’ll have the opportunity to go much deeper with people. We’ve started a house of prayer and a house church in our home that we feel will be the place where that happens. It’s exciting!
A.S. When did you feel “called” into full-time mission work?
Ryan: When I was 8 years old, my family went to my grandmother’s house, and she had invited a missionary friend over for dinner. We were sitting at the dining room table eating taco salad, and I was listening to this guy talk about Malaysia and his experiences in ministry. I told my grandmother that night I wanted to be a missionary.
And she reminded me all of the time growing up, even to the point I started to resent her for it during a time I was running from the Lord. As I came back to Him and embraced what it meant to be a Christ-follower, He reawakened the desire for missions in my heart. Randi didn’t know that and we were sitting in a lecture about unreached people groups…
Randi: I had been on mission trips and had a burden for people who were impoverished and a heart for going to them, but in that lecture, something big happened in me, specifically for the people in Asia. Hearing there were millions of people and groups of people who hadn’t heard the name of Jesus…How could I not go?
A.S. We imagine the role of a missionary to be a sort of other-worldly, superhero call. What is the human experience of living in another country and were your expectations let down in your experience? If so, how did you overcome that?
Ryan: For anyone who becomes a missionary, they typically have some short-term experiences that drive their desire to go full-time. Maybe the exception would be kids born and raised on the mission field. Short-term trips are exciting and fast-paced, and you’re surrounded by a team that’s excited; there’s an adventure in experiencing a new culture. When you move to the field and start to set your life up, that exciting feeling can fade quickly. Like it could take a whole day to buy light bulbs because you can’t figure out where to go or who to ask.
I did full-time language school for a year with the expectation that I’d learn the language in a year. But after a year, when I was outside of the classroom, I couldn’t understand people or converse. Realizing the process was going to take longer and my impact pushed further back was hard and frustrating.
At that same time, Keeva, our daughter, was 2 and trying to tell me something. She was learning to talk and I couldn’t understand what she was saying. The Lord spoke to me clearly and said, “you’re a 2-year-old in the Thai language. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself. You wouldn’t get frustrated with Keeva for learning. Relax and enjoy this time.” Around the same time, a friend was praying for me and told me that I was about to turn a corner in language and people would start complimenting my Thai. That week and since then, people have complimented me consistently. That’s been an encouragement.
Randi: I did have expectations that were unmet. There’s so much initial passion and zeal, a starry-eyed mindset. There’s a very real fire in your heart, and because that’s so intense, you can almost overlook the potential of challenges. Then months down the road, you still don’t understand language or why people do certain things, and it can be frustrating when you move into the reality of that. You know the statistics of people who need to experience the love of God and you want so badly to communicate His love to them. So there’s not an instant impact.
It’s slow work building relationships with people who don’t have a grid for God. I still have moments of frustration around making an impact, but we’ve had so much revelation around the grace of God. As I receive God’s grace in my life and remain confident that he brought us here, I’m empowered and it’s easier to handle the hard things.
A.S. What do you miss about “normal” life, if there is such a thing?
Both in unison: Chickfila. Carpet. Central Air conditioning. A dryer. Ant-less existence.
A.S. What are the biggest struggles you face day to day? What are the biggest victories you see?
Ryan: When you’re dreaming of being a missionary, a lot of the dreams you have are seeing deep things take place, and it can be hard not to be able to communicate deeply in order to see them take place. But we are seeing our language mature, so it’s encouraging to have moments of depth with people in our city.
Randi: I’m at home with kids most of the time, so most of my struggles are the typical stay at home mom struggles: my desire to lovingly parent my kids and failing sometimes. The heat can be really trying for me. But we are so thankful to see moments of relationship take root with those around us. Seeing God’s love transform hearts is what we want so desperately.
A.S. Do you ever feel the pressure to perform for those supporting you?
Ryan: Yes, but not from the people supporting us. It’s an internal pressure that we can easily fall into. Missionaries tend to compare themselves to each other. When you first meet another missionary, you ask them where they’re from and what they’re doing. There’s a lot of pressure to be doing something great. Especially in the beginning when you’re not able to do anything super well. It’s easy to allow yourself to put expectations on yourself. With the pressure to perform, you can have an amazing, intimate experience with someone, and you feel the urge to tell everyone about it on social media. It’s easy to fall into exploiting yourself in that way.
Randi: People are supporting your life, so you put on yourself the pressure to perform. So many believe in us and support us, but we have to remember that ultimately we’re serving the Lord, so we are doing our best to steward the gifts and trust of our supporters.
A.S. Any funny/encouraging/gut-wrenching/beautiful God-moment stories that come to mind of your time in Thailand?
Ryan: One of my 7th-grade students was hit by a tour van last year while she was on her motorcycle, and she was in ICU. That day at school in her class, there was so much heaviness. I told the class, “My Buddhist friends say if something bad happens, there’s no one to pray to for help, but as a Christian, I can pray to the God who created the universe.” I canceled class and told students if you don’t want to pray, you don’t have to, but if you want to join me in prayer, I will be praying. The whole class stayed and prayed.
After the class, I went to visit her in the hospital. It wasn’t during visiting hours, so I asked doctors and they let me in. I didn’t even recognize her; she was in a coma. Something rose up in me, and I prayed in faith over her. I just knew she would pull through, even though doctors had told her mom she wouldn’t make it. After a few days, she woke up; a few more days, she was more aware, and eventually she was released from the hospital. That experience was an honor for me to be a part of and a true testimony to God’s love and power to my Thai students.
Randi: There was a season we were youth leaders at a church here, and we had a youth retreat. I was leading the worship set. I had learned No Longer Slaves in Thai and was introducing it that night. So after the song, I could feel the Lord doing so much in the atmosphere, and people were getting emotional. There was an altar call. One girl in particular that I had seen around was standing at the altar looking down. I felt like I needed to put my arms around her. And when I did, she just held on and started sobbing. I knew God was healing her and breaking things off.
The next day, the group was sharing testimonies from the retreat. I didn’t really know her background, but she shared with the group that her dad didn’t want her when she was little and she didn’t know her mom. But that night at the altar, she knew she was no longer an orphan.
It’s so common in Thailand for kids to live with a grandparent or have both parents working in another country. It’s beautiful to see God’s love adopt them into His family, despite broken family units seen here.
A.S. What are you currently working on and what are your goals for your future ministry?
Randi: I’m learning so much through the house church we’ve started with a group of Buddhists from the school Ryan teaches at. Now he’s in a new semester so we’re excited for it to become more established. We want to build ongoing relationships with students and ultimately become something that’s multiplying across the school and city, disciple-ing students and teaching them to disciple others.
We also focus our time on experiencing the Lord through our house of prayer. God has shifted my perspective from it not just being a building location but more of a movement. We want to see it become even more consistent with people encountering the Lord.
Ryan: We want to see the believers already in the community more united among churches and ministries. Division is apparent, but God has been doing a lot of healing in the local church leadership and the missionary community.
A.S. What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a foreign missionary?
Randi: If in any way your identity is wrapped up in when and where you go or what you do when you get there, heed that motivation and recognize that you need to know who you are in Christ. There are so many ways that the enemy can battle against your identity when you’re in a place where idolatry has basically happened for hundreds of years. If you’re not rooted in Christ, it’s so much easier to get frustrated and forget why you’re there in the first place.
Ryan: In Luke 6, Jesus tells the parable of 2 house builders. Jesus says if you hear my teaching and do it, you’re like a person who digs deep down to lay a proper foundation for his house. And if you hear His words and don’t do them, you’re like someone who builds his house on top of the ground without a foundation.
When you are stripped away from your context, you don’t realize how much of your identity is wrapped in it. Learning intimacy with God and putting into action the words He speaks to you is so important for anyone considering missions or anyone period. At the same time, there’s so much grace from God on your journey of growth. Just be growing.
Sometimes we can get into this mindset, of “I want to do God’s will so bad. If I just knew what it was, I’d do it.” I’m saying just start.
I took Keeva on a daddy-daughter date, so naturally, she put on a princess dress. She looked up at me and asked where we were going to go. I said anywhere in this city that you want to go. Her eyes got so big and full of excitement, and she said, “I want to go to McDonald’s!” We had so much fun. And later the Lord said that’s the kind of Father I am. I’ve put things in you that I want you to discover. And I want to discover with you! I think no matter what you do or who you are, simply realize God has put things in you to discover, and He wants to discover with you.
A.S. How can readers/church/America better help you personally or your work abroad?
Ryan: Pray for us. I’ve seen how prayer has affected us. I’ve had friends pray and give us words that were so timely. If God speaks something to you for us, please reach out and share. Human connection is our favorite – being connected to what God is doing at home and other places in the world is life-giving for us.
Of course, you can give or partner monthly…that’s huge!