There’s something so special about a family that invites a stranger into its home, shares a meal and embraces in true fellowship. The Chandlers are this sort of family. They simply get it. Their passion for discipleship is thriving, even in the midst of a major life transition. Tony and Theresa are in the process of leaving their stable jobs and “normal” lives to dedicate two years to serving an unreached people group in the Middle East. Taking their two beautiful blue-eyed daughters with them, they are willingly opting out of the many comforts of life stateside.
Growing up as military brats from Houston, both Tony and Theresa were bitten by the travel bug many years ago, spending some time early in their marriage living in different parts of the world. It was this adventurous spirit that carried on to their children as their daughters Ashley, 17, and Jane, 12, are just as eager to explore other places. One would think that Ashley, a senior in high school, would be reluctant to leave her close-knit group of friends behind in exchange for a new and unfamiliar culture, but she’s had her bags packed since the day she found out they were moving. She can’t wait to meet new people from exciting places. In the same fashion, Jane is looking forward to learning a different language and trying new foods. At such a young age, Jane’s already discovered her heart for serving others by having gone on a recent mission trip with her youth group to build houses for flood victims in Tennessee. Tony and Theresa are thrilled that their girls are going to see a world that they’ve been telling them about their entire lives.
Theresa is convinced that God planted this desire in their hearts years ago when she and Tony were walking the streets of a city in the Middle East as newlyweds and she said to him, “One day I’d like to bring our children here.” The gospel has transformed their lives in the years since their honeymoon, going from merely head knowledge to a call action to travel great distances to share Christ’s love with others. Looking back now, they see God’s fingerprints on each step of this process, from a seemingly unconnected string of events in the past up until just two years ago, when the vision sermon series at the Austin Stone stirred deeply in their hearts.
In the fall of 2009, Tony and Theresa enrolled in a Get Trained class called Bridges and learned of ways to reach out and communicate with Muslims. During this time, Tony was laid off from his job. Holding fast to God’s provision and the support of their friends and family, they soon learned that someone they’d come in contact with months before had been praying specifically that the Lord would send the Chandlers to minister as a family in the Middle East. After a time of seeking the Lord’s will for the future of their family, Tony and Theresa knew that they needed to begin preparing for a big move east.
Understandably, Tony and Theresa are slightly anxious, considering everything that is involved in such a life-changing journey. They’ve taken on the challenge of explaining this move – and subsequent step of faith – to family and friends, truly knowing that each step has been spirit-led. “One day we’re going to be face to face with God and what do you tell him? That you didn’t have enough faith to follow Him?” asked Tony. It is that raw strength and faith, reminiscent of the determination of the Apostle Paul, that keeps this family moving forward.
The Chandlers will miss Austin terribly. Having lived here for the greater part of their marriage and having raised their girls in this city, they’ve embraced a few local favorite activities like hiking at Enchanted Rock and tubing with friends on Lake Austin. Although they know they’ll miss their traditional family outings, they couldn’t be more excited to leave behind what is familiar and immerse themselves into a new culture.
They’re headed straight to a country in which Islam is the official religion and 99% of the population is Muslim. Tony is excited to be joining a team already at work in the region and hopes for locals to see them as a group of people who love others regardless of their social status and prior religious convictions. Theresa deeply desires for the locals to see the love they have for one another as a family and wants to encourage them to not be afraid to demonstrate love and devotion to one another. She prays that she will have an opportunity to see the fruit of their labor and personally lead someone to Christ. “I know I’m just a vessel. I’m not sure if words could describe how wonderful that would feel,” she said.
The Chandlers are being sent to be a light in a place of spiritual darkness. They are a family, a unit of disciples whose intentions and convictions are pure and clear. Their greatest hope is to live out the gospel in such a way that impacts an entire nation for Jesus and changes the life of their family in the process.