Church Planter / Coordinator - Southeast Asia
Matt graduated from Union University in 2004. Two years later, he began working with HeartCry as the Missions Coordinator for Asia. In July of 2011, Matt, his wife Amanda, and their family moved to Southeast Asia to serve as missionary/church planters and to oversee the indigenous missionaries sponsored by HeartCry.
Testimony of Conversion
I was born into a Christian family who has lived in Southern Illinois for nine generations. When I was about seven years old, like many children raised in a similar setting, I went forward at my church during a “revival service” and made a profession of faith. Afterwards, my life sometimes showed evidence of that profession, most likely because my conscience was in some measure informed by God’s word, but there was still no reality of the new birth. Looking back on my life then, it seems clear that I wasn’t truly converted until my senior year in high school. Before that time, I seemed to enjoy sin, even though I was often convicted for what I was doing. I knew right from wrong, but had no ability to deny sin and live in a way pleasing to God.
As I got older, my sin became increasingly visible and increasingly severe. While in high school, it seems that God gave me over to sin and the fruit of its ways. After a long time of living this way, the Lord began to work in subtle ways that would ultimately lead me to repentance and true saving faith in Christ. After many months, I began to be greatly burdened by the weight of my sin. God began to convict me of the way I was living, but I still continued to ignore Him and “kick against the goads.” One day, during my senior year in high school, my youth minister and my brother confronted me about the sin that was in my life. I remember lying in bed that night weeping because I knew the things they had said were true and I knew that my life was offensive to a holy God. Over the next few months, I became increasingly aware of my sinfulness and guilt, but still there was no change because I did not have the power to do so. One night while I was alone in my thoughts, I felt that God spoke to me, saying, “I am right here and I’ve been with you all along; you must turn to me.”
The turning point did not come until later in December of the same year. On a Wednesday night, my youth minister had gone out of town on vacation, but before leaving had arranged for someone from a sister church to come speak to the youth. Brother Paul Washer had recently moved back to the United States from Peru and providentially was able to come when invited. I had heard Paul preach several times before as a child; when he’d come home from Peru for short visits, he’d usually preach at churches in Southern Illinois and my home church was one of those. In fact, the only sermon I remember from childhood was a sermon he had preached from Isaiah 6 on God’s holiness. I think, in part, the truths of that sermon helped form in my childhood consciousness the truth that God is holy and he expects us to be holy. That night, however, he spoke clearly and plainly about the gospel, and for me it was powerful. Although I had heard the gospel hundreds of times as a child, I felt like I understood it for the first time. It wasn’t just new information – even though I heard things I’d never heard before – but the gospel came to me as it had come to the Thessalonians nearly 2,000 years ago, “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
Call to Ministry
Soon after that night I began to sense God calling me not only to ministry, but to be a missionary. I also began to read the Bible regularly, and since that time God has given me a great love for his word and a desire to understand it more. During the Spring of my senior year in high school, the way opened for me to go to Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, the following Fall. It was at Union that God continued to teach me his word and he continued to affirm the missionary calling I had sensed earlier. Through a few different experiences, my eyes were opened to the blindness and lostness of the world and I was given a growing desire to see God glorified throughout the world.
One experience is still particularly vivid. After my junior year at Union, I traveled to Myanmar, in Southeast Asia, in order to teach English and evangelize the Burmese people. Myanmar, as a country where Buddhism flourishes, is filled with idolatry. After arriving in the country and only being there a few weeks, I was really bothered by the idolatry I saw everywhere. I remember standing on a balcony that overlooked the capital city (at that time) Yangon. As I looked out on the city I could see people bowing before their household idols; they were worshiping statues of Buddha that have eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear. This led me to fervent times of prayer, asking God what he was doing for his Name’s sake among Myanmar’s Buddhists. God did not answer my prayers in a dramatic way, but he did answer in due time. About halfway through my time there, I was able to travel upcountry to a house church in another city. As I worshiped with the believers in that church, one man particularly stood out. He was an old Burmese trishaw driver (the Burmese are the largest unreached people group in Myanmar; a trishaw is a bicycle rickshaw). As we worshiped, this little old man began to dance before the Lord in the traditional Burmese way which carefully emphasizes form. It was clear from the joy in his face and his reverent posture that like King David before the ark of the covenant, he was dancing in worship of the living God. Afterwards I was able to hear the story of how God had saved this man from living in Buddhism’s darkness for more than 60 years. Through his testimony, I felt as if God had quietly but emphatically answered my prayers, saying, “This is what I’m doing for my Name’s sake among Myanmar’s Buddhists!”
In May 2004, I graduated from Union and moved back to Illinois. Soon afterwards I began working as a custodian at the church where I grew up. This job, although keeping me busy physically, was not very demanding intellectually. So, it gave me a lot of time to pray and meditate on the Scriptures. I also had the chance to start teaching a weekly Bible study in someone’s home, along with going into the local correctional facility in order to evangelize the prisoners. God taught me many things in those two years that were foundational to the ministry that I currently have in Southeast Asia. It was also at that time that my wife, Amanda, and I were married.
Soon after we were married, Amanda began working for HeartCry as the secretary. Although we didn’t know it at the time, God was opening the door for us to be more involved with HeartCry. At the time, we had plans to move to another city so that I could go to graduate school. But, our desire to serve God in missions outweighed the desire to go to graduate school, and we began to feel that the Lord wanted us to labor indefinitely with HeartCry. In October 2006, I started working with HeartCry as the coordinator for Asia. In the years since, I’ve had the opportunity to co-labor with HeartCry’s indigenous partners in seventeen states in India, as well as in Nepal, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Japan. Again and again, God has reiterated the lesson I learned in that house church in Myanmar. He has shown me a mosaic of ways that he is working to glorify his Name among the nations – from the Ghorwalis in the Himalayas of North India to Fuau tribesmen in Papua’s jungles, I have seen how Christ is building his church just as he promised (Matthew 16:16).
In 2009, I began to feel that God was calling my family to move to Southeast Asia. Over the next two years, my wife and I prayed about this possibility as we also attempted to familiarize ourselves with where we were thinking about moving. Then, in July 2011 we took the plunge and moved. We’ve now been in Southeast Asia for two years and we’ve continued to see the blessing of God and more of the ways in which he is working throughout this world.