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FIRST PERSON (Ava Thomas): From horse lover to missionary

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ava Thomas recently arrived at her field of service after being appointed through the International Mission Board earlier this year. She joins 5,200 missionaries currently serving overseas, supported by the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program. Though economic constraints have led the IMB to reduce the number of missionaries being sent, new missionaries continue to be appointed to fill the most strategic needs. The IMB’s next appointment services for 57 missionaries are scheduled for Nov. 10 at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Nov. 16 at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee.

EUROPE (BP)–I never would’ve told you I was made for this.

I was meant to be a rodeo queen.

I have a hot-pink lasso to prove it, not to mention an encyclopedic brain on horse-isms, thanks to The Black Stallion books and Horse Illustrated magazine.

For years I went to bed at night with barrel-racing dreams.

Thank goodness reading all those horse stories made me love words as much as horses. The dreams eventually turned to being a writer or editor, maybe for a magazine. Maybe of Horse Illustrated.

But absolutely, positively, not a missionary.

To me, missionaries had one definition — people who went to the other side of the world to evangelize on a grand scale, probably in front of large numbers of people.

And that was not me.

I’m a story lover, not a Billy Graham. I want the excuse of a newspaper interview to be able to meet people one-on-one and ask them to tell me their stories. Then I want to tell them to other people.

So I majored in journalism. I got a good job offer and felt my heart was content to stay indefinitely at my home state’s major daily newspaper. It seemed an endless avenue of great stories, with a spread of good local churches and great ministries nearby to boot.

I was set.

But He found me anyway.

It wasn’t long before I started realizing maybe I wasn’t so set after all. Happy, yes. Content, no. Maybe He had in mind trimming away the stories on hospital picket lines, Paso Fino horses and mosquito conventions and instead asking of me a different kind of story.

The kind that had purpose.

Soon I was working at a Southern Baptist publication, hearing and relaying the stories of how God was advancing the Gospel around the world.

Well drilling. Goat herding. Coffee making. Football coaching. Bookkeeping.

All these were stories of how He was actively pursuing the lost through His workers on the other side of the world in dark places — places where I had never considered visiting, much less living.

All of those job descriptions — they were filled by missionaries.

No Billy Graham in the list, just normal people doing normal work.

I knew He had placed me at my desk at the publication where I was. But my own stories were getting to me. There was something else, something next that He was asking.

And it was to move myself. To go be a missionary — the journalist kind, not the Billy Graham kind. So I did.

I won’t say it was easy. I was happy where I was, seasoned at my job after a number of years, one year of graduate studies under my belt with thoughts of maybe teaching college one day. I had an amazing church and amazing friends.

It didn’t seem logical, but logic didn’t cover the gnawing I felt inside.

So a year later, I fell on my face before Him and told Him that He could have it all. I’d even try to be Billy Graham if He wanted.

I meant it.

But He just asked me to be who I was — to tell His stories and to love people and their stories.

And to tell them His story in the process.

Now I live overseas, working as a writer for Southern Baptist missions, seeing firsthand how He’s at work and telling the stories to Baptists back in the States — telling people about God’s story of salvation in the process.

That way, Baptists can know how the darkness is being pushed back by the money they give through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program and by the people they send and the prayers they pray.

That way, they can see the faces and hear the voices of real people, redeemed people who have met Christ.

That way, hopefully they will see. And give. And go.
Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the IMB in Europe.

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  • Ava Thomas