|In Brazil Jennifer's engagement ring is worn on the right hand|
What it would be like to say yes? To take a step further? To leave my job and comfortable American surroundings behind and set foot in foreign soil, committing years of my life to serving God through international missions? I went out on the flat hotel roof, still warm from the sun, overlooking orange adobe tile roofs and houses fading in the twinkling golden sunset, and sat with God.
As I began to sort through the now-open boxes in my life, packing and questioning and praying and saying good-bye, the tables shifted suddenly. Instead of sending me back to Brazil as I’d hoped, God seemed to be opening the way to… Japan? Yes, Japan. Through past relationships, coincidences, thoughts, and prayers. Chance meetings with Japanese Christians who urged me to tell the Japanese people about Christ.
So instead of boarding the plane for Brazil, I waited anxiously in the cold terminal of Newark Airport for a plane bound for Tokyo. Shivering with fear and nerves, and wondering if I’d ever find my way back to the country of my dreams. The country where God called me. Where smiles ran in our veins like blood. Hand clasps and kisses and hugs and tears.
I’ll never forget the day I sat there at my computer, staring at a blinking row of text: “I want you to meet someone there in Sapporo,” an acquaintance from Tokyo had written, knowing nothing about my past or my secret plans. “He’s a really wonderful Christian! You’ll like him. And he’s from Brazil! I’ve told him about you, and he’s waiting for you to call!” My heart stood still.
Of course it started before that, back when I was serving as a short-term missionary in Sapporo, Japan, and nearly ran smack into that nice Brazilian foreign exchange student an acquaintance from Tokyo had mentioned. Right in the middle of a (very rare, in Buddhist Japan) Christian bookstore. Athos and I had spoken on the phone a couple of times, including one talk that lasted until around five in the morning. Never, ever in my life have I talked that long to any man. Probably to any female, for that matter.
Our wonder and questions bloomed, over the following months, into something sparkly and nerve-tingling, always alive with the awareness that in my missionary program, crafted especially for young singles, dating was disallowed. Completely. No smooching, no make-out sessions, no getting engaged and making promises. We could meet, of course, in ministry or as friends, which we did with increasing frequency.
But after boarding my final flight to the U.S, suddenly, here we were: continents apart. Yet the following morning I answered the phone to Athos and we talked about this mystery called marriage. “I've been in a jewelry store,” he said. “Looking for engagement rings." I felt my heart leap into my throat, mouth too dry to speak. We had never discussed rings. Never talked about engagement. Not yet.
We had never kissed on the lips. Even once. Only on the cheek. Even the day he brought out that beautiful ring into the sunlight, glinting there in its box, and slipped it on my finger.
Why did we forgo kissing? I don’t know. I’m not such a wise or holy woman. I have made my share of mistakes and messes. But this time we wanted something new. Something different. Something neither of us had ever done, all fresh, like an unbroken path set out before us.
Which is what took us to the front of my Richmond, Virginia church on Valentine’s Day. February 14. Candles quivering, the sanctuary smelling of flowers.We had sung, prayed, joined hands, and stood before the church, presented now as a married couple in the sight of God and friends and family. A calling as glorious and heavy as the silver wedding band I slid on his finger.
“You may now,” said the pastor, “kiss the bride.”
Jennifer is married to Athos, her Brazilian husband, who she met while serving as a missionary in Japan. Athos studied politics and law at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, where he met Jennifer, and is a political analyst at the Embassy of South Korea in Brasilia. She’s lived in Brazil since 2004. They have one son, Ethan, who they’re in the process of adopting from Brazil. Athos and Jennifer are active in Brasilia International Church, where they’ve been members since 2005.