Calling, Commitment, and Cambodia

LOOKING AT THE FIELDS

Working alongside her father in the Kansas wheatfields was a daily chore for my wife, Carmen, during her childhood. When she was 13, riding in the family work truck and gazing at the crops, it seemed like another summer’s day as her mind shifted toward the upcoming months and the necessary chores of the harvest.

words + photograph JOSH LOVELACE

Although work was a necessary component of her mindset, she felt the Lord stir her heart about the spiritual harvest of lost souls around the world. Carmen quietly began to pray for those yet to hear the name of Jesus. A vision suddenly entered her mind. She saw herself seated under a tree with dark-skinned children on her lap, listening to her stories about Jesus. Immediately, a single word shook Carmen’s tender heart: Cambodia. Being a young teenager and living in rural Kansas, Carmen had no idea what “Cambodia” was, yet she quickly began studying everything she could about this unique country in Asia.

READING ABOUT THE LOST

After graduating high school, I was uncertain of my next steps and considered studying close to home. My first year of college included a geography class, requiring reports about countries and people groups. Sitting alone at my desk and typing about faraway places, I had an encounter with the Lord.

A voice surged through me and said, “I’m calling you to serve as a missionary to people like this.” My eyes filled with tears, and I bowed my head. Rather than willingly surrendering at that moment, I replied, “Lord, send someone else. I know many others who could do something like that. Please send one of them.” The Lord spoke once again in a very calm, gentle way. He said, “Josh, I’m calling you.”

SERVING ACCORDING TO THE CALLING

We talked a lot about missions during our first date. Carmen even asked if we could go to a Thai restaurant because she wanted to see if I could handle Asian food. She had previously visited Cambodia, Thailand, and the Philippines on short-term trips. She spoke a lot about her experiences and her plans for returning to Cambodia. Because both of us majored in missions during our college years, we were both focused on serving as missionaries. We knew the Lord had already directed us toward fulltime missions, and we were making the necessary preparations to receive the official appointment with the Assemblies of God. Neither of us had any hesitation. We knew the Lord would provide the right opportunities at the right time.

We married on Sept. 2, 2006. After a year of marriage, we began our application for fulltime missionary service. We received our missionary appointment with the Assemblies of God in November 2008. After months of itinerating and raising our missions budget, we arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in September 2010, along with our 2-year-old daughter, Emma. Our first term included Khmer language studies, serving with a ministry for at-risk children, and teaching at Cambodia Bible Institute.

After language studies in Phnom Penh, our family relocated to the northwestern part of the country to serve in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The transition included living in a rural village near a provincial capital while working with youth and young adults. While hoping to add to our family, Carmen suffered multiple miscarriages in the early months of 2012.

Each day, we had to combat discouragement by remembering the Lord’s calling on our lives. We knew Cambodia was the place of living and serving as a family, and we did our best by encouraging each other and remaining faithful in ministry.

Even more so, we leaned on the Lord, trusting His divine plan, as we walked through family life, ministry and grief. We learned firsthand about perseverance and remaining dedicated to the missionary calling we each received during our teenaged years. We also continued to pray for another child.

The Lord heard our prayers and gave us a son, Jude, who was born in Bangkok, Thailand.

Our second and third missionary terms included a move back to Phnom Penh for serving at Cambodia Bible Institute. The Lord graciously gave opportunities for training young leaders and teaching discipleship classes in urban churches. Although these years saw many triumphs, numerous challenges stretched us as we continually surrendered to the Lord’s will and missionary calling. These areas were especially heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic, which included lockdowns, curfews and closures under military supervision in Phnom Penh.

Yet, I was encouraged by watching Cambodian brothers and sisters continually gather for short services and fellowship. Some groups met in somewhat secretive conditions because of the mandates. They wanted to remain diligent by representing Christ among believers and unbelievers. It was a witness about having faith in Christ rather than fear of the virus.

THE NEXT GENERATION

Cambodia and missionary service remain deeply embedded in the hearts of the Lovelace family.

We currently live in southwest Missouri, as we minister at supporting churches during a furlough, and we are looking forward in anticipation as we receive new opportunities for recruiting future missionaries. Part of our home assignment includes teaching at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, as missionaries-in-residence beginning in 2023 within the intercultural studies program.

My wife and I see this upcoming role as an opportune season for not only teaching about intercultural studies but also mentoring college students who feel compelled to missionary service. Our attention will focus on bringing more awareness to overseas needs and the importance of taking the Gospel to unreached people groups. JL

Josh and Carmen Lovelace are Assemblies of God missionaries to Cambodia. Their family is currently staying in southwest Missouri and speaking at churches for the next several months during a required itineration. After May 2023, Josh will be on loan from Cambodia to Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, serving as a missionary in residence with Evangel’s intercultural studies program.

COVER The Lovelace family


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