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April-May 2024

Generation NOW?


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She Didn't Come Back the Same

By Jennifer Thomsen


I’ve had the privilege of working with ETEAM in some capacity for the past ten years. ETEAM is
IM’s mission program for high school students. Students spend a week in training and close to
two weeks serving on a mission field. It has been a joy to work with this program. I have worked
at registration, presented seminars, taken notes, answered questions from parents and students,
and prayed. But my greatest role in the program was as the parent of an ETEAMer.

My daughter Tori spent three summers participating in mission trips. Those experiences changed
her life and mine as well.

Every year Tori applied to ETEAM, I asked God to send her where she needed to go. I was never involved in selecting where she was sent, but God sure was. Every country molded and shaped her for serving God as an adult. Her first year, she went to Tokyo, Japan. This was Tori’s first time out of the country without her parents. I was a little nervous, but I knew the missionaries she was visiting (Donnie and Ruth McDonald) would take good care of her. Tori and their daughter Caroline had attended school together during one of the McDonald’s stateside assignments. It was good for Tori to see her friend serving in Japan. That summer, Tori learned the Japanese people did not have physical needs, but their spiritual needs were great.

The next year, Tori went to France with Jerry and Barb Gibbs. My daughter would never tell you, but she is musically talented. She can play the piano well and sings beautifully. The France ETEAM was a musical team, and they spent their time singing in various areas of France. When Tori returned, she had a new confidence in her musical abilities. My reserved and sometimes timid daughter came back ready to sing at church. I really think this trip gave her the confidence to try out for (and make) a singing group when she was in college.

During her final summer, Tori traveled to Haiti, and the trip rocked her world. She grew up in Middle Tennessee. Her comfortable life had not prepared her for the poverty she experienced in Haiti. She had to adjust to the tropical heat, unusual smells, and riding for hours in a vehicle without air conditioning on unpaved and winding backroads. This trip was the most physically grueling, but I think it also changed her the most. She taught herself how to play the ukulele, made lifelong friendships, and had her eyes opened to the extreme poverty in the world. She also experienced God’s hand of protection when riots broke out around them.

Was everything perfect and wonderful on these trips? No. Teams experienced the drama that happens anytime you put a group of teenagers together. She encountered missed flights, lost luggage (that took forever to get back), and violence. One summer, she returned home with nightmares that kept our family up many nights. We were unsure what to do, but God used our pastor when he visited our home and prayed with us all. His simple act of kindness demonstrated to my daughter she mattered to our pastor and church. ETEAM also changed my own prayer life.

For years, I heard Neil Gilliland share a warning with parents before dismissing the opening program of ETEAM. He told them to hug their children and say goodbye well; the student they said goodbye to would not be the same child who returned. His statement is so true. After each trip, Tori returned a different person. Did she still have normal teen issues and struggles? Of course! But she came back each summer closer to God and changed in wonderful ways only attributable to God’s work in her.

I always thought Tori would become a missionary. As the years passed, I began to think I was mistaken. But God’s timing isn’t my timing. Just a few months ago, my daughter and her husband Cody (Matlock) became church planters (missionaries) for Free Will Baptist North American Ministries. As they begin their exciting new adventure, I look back and see ETEAM was an instrumental part of my daughter’s journey to this point.

If you are a parent struggling with letting your children participate in ETEAM, please let them go. Yes, you will shed some tears, perhaps endure some long and sleepless nights, and pray a ton of prayers on your child’s behalf. But it is all worth it. Please let them go, give them to God, and watch Him show up big in their lives…and yours.

If you have any questions, or maybe just need to talk to a former ETEAM parent, please call the IM office. I am happy to talk or just to listen.

About the Writer: Jen Thomsen has worked with IM since 2012 and serves as assistant to both the general director and the director of field ministry personnel. She and her husband Eric attend Bethel FWB Church in Ashland City, Tennessee. Jen enjoys dark chocolate, baking, shopping, exploring new places, quilting, and walking her dogs — Wrigley and Honey.

©2024 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists