Small Steps Lead to Big Journey
Big decisions often involve many small steps. This is definitely true for Sterling College alumni Bryan '94 and Misty '95 Elliott, who have decided to go to Cardiff, Wales, in the spring of 2011 as missionaries. The Elliotts say they can look even as far back as their college years and see that God was leading them one small step at a time.
They may be able to see that now, but this decision was not one they planned for in college, where they met and married, or even for several years after. Misty was a music education major at Sterling who realized she didn't enjoy the classroom when she did her student teaching. What she did enjoy was cutting hair-a hobby that earned her spending money while at the College-and she went to cosmetology school after graduating from Sterling. She did so well that the school hired her as an instructor when she finished her coursework. Bryan majored in communications at Sterling and got a job in the radio industry after he finished school, working his way up to the sales department, a steady job that provided a good income for their growing family.
The money may have been good, but the Elliotts felt unfulfilled and uncertain until God presented the next step. "Our pastor approached us about taking the college-age ministry at our church," said Bryan. "We said, ‘no,' but then he asked again. Misty and I said we would do it ‘for the short run,' until they got someone else."
The "short run" lasted ten years and led Bryan and Misty from youth leadership at their local Assemblies of God (AG) church to the AG campus ministry at Kansas State University and finally to Bryan being the coordinator of all the AG campus ministries in Kansas.
But then came a "stirring in (their) hearts," which was intensified when the couple took some college students to the AG World Missions Summit. During one of the optional meeting times, they decided to attend the session on Europe. Misty was delayed, so Bryan went ahead. "As I walked down this long hallway to the session room, I began weeping for the spiritual darkness in Europe," he said. After a few minutes he was able to enter the room, and Misty joined him later. When the session ended, Misty told Bryan that she had been overcome with grief for Europe as she had walked down the hallway to the session, and Bryan shared his own experience. They knew God was leading, so they began praying.
About a year later, a young woman from London came to Kansas State. A self-proclaimed "angry atheist," she began attending the Elliotts' campus ministry and was transformed by the love of Christ. When she returned to England, she tried to find a home church that she could invite other "young angry atheists" to, but she couldn't find one. She began e-mailing the Elliotts, asking for help in answering her friends' questions.
"We put the two together," said Bryan, "the hunger from young people and the dearth of worship ministries in the United Kingdom pointed toward them. We saw both a need and an opportunity. God had already moved in us emotionally; now He was giving us direction."
But the means seemed to be missing. "The AG church was not sending missionaries to the United Kingdom. We didn't know what to do."
Finally Misty called the director of AG Northern Europe missions. "She basically said, ‘Tell us we can't go so we can stop thinking about this,'" said Bryan.
"But then the director told her, ‘Interesting you called today. A church just informed us that they have a need. We decided to wait and have God bring someone to us.'"
That was in January 2009. That year, as Bryan and Misty continued to work with AG's Kansas campus ministries, they also finalized a destination-Wales; formed a team-with four full-time members; and learned about their mission field. "The average church in Wales has nineteen people attending, and the average age of those people is 65. Wales is known as one of the most secularized nations in Europe. Only four percent of the population attend church," said Bryan.
In January 2010 Bryan resigned from his campus ministries position, and the family-which includes Samuel, 13; Olivia, 10; Audrey, 7; and Will, 5-began full-time fundraising. They plan to be in Wales in the spring of 2011. "We will be living in Cardiff, an area of about a half million people. There are two major universities in the town and very little college outreach," said Bryan. "Many in Wales see the church as an icon of British history. We aim to change that. We won't be emphasizing ‘church,' we'll be emphasizing Christ."
As they learn more about the people of Cardiff, the Elliotts can see how God has led them into this work-even back in their days at Sterling College. For example, Misty's hair-cutting hobby at the College led to a ministry with Muslim women. "They can't uncover their heads in public, so they needed someone to come to their homes to cut their hair. Misty was more than willing to do that. The relationships she formed with this community of women allowed her to share her faith in Christ with them."
And how does that lead to Wales? "Cardiff has the highest concentration of Muslims in the United Kingdom-and the oldest mosque," said Bryan. "Misty will be able to use her background to reach out to the Muslim women."
What about Bryan's own journey? "God used Sterling to bring me to where I am," he said. "I was well-prepared for many different jobs-and well-prepared for ministry. I'll be eternally grateful for that.
My only regret," he reflected, "was that I never went on a mission trip while I was at Sterling."
It is a regret that God has transformed, as step by step He has led the Elliotts to Wales, on a "mission trip" that may last a lifetime.