By Laura McKillip Wood
Phil and Michelle Parker met in the cafeteria at Johnson University in Knoxville, Tennessee. Phil had just transferred there and didn’t know many people yet. Both he and Michelle arrived late to dinner and saw each other for the first time in the food line. He invited her to sit with him, and she regaled him with stories from her recent summer internship in Japan. When she told him that only a tiny percent of the population in Japan was Christian, he was shocked. “I was amazed and didn’t realize there was an entire world out there that didn’t know Jesus.”
That conversation began both a relationship that would lead to marriage and a desire to take God’s Word to people who don’t know it. After their wedding in 1996, the Parkers studied Teaching English as a Second Language in graduate school and led a successful Bible study for international students.
By 2002, Phil and Michelle had an 11-month-old son and made a big move to Chiang Mai, Thailand. There they dove into studying Thai and began a ministry with an organization that focused on using business as a way to do ministry. They helped start Powerhouse Fitness Center to help improve the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the Thai Buddhist people. They served in this ministry for the next five years.
In 2008 Phil and Michelle transitioned into a new ministry. They started Victory44 International, Inc. with the purpose of reaching the Thai people with the gospel. “Ninety-seven percent of the Thai people follow the Buddhist religion, with most knowing very little about the saving grace of Jesus Christ,” Phil said. He and Michelle are serving God in the areas of church planting, discipleship, community relief and development, leadership training, prison outreach, and children’s ministry.
Five years ago, the Parkers helped start Sila Christian Church in Chiang Mai. The church is reaching out to the community, and the minister, Kim Kaewokoei, received his Master of Divinity degree last year.
One of Phil’s favorite parts of ministry involves watching the way that God changes people’s lives. “God changes bitterness, anger, and hopelessness to peace, joy, and victory,” he said.
He told a story of one man, Jinda. Pastor Kim visited Jinda in his home several years ago. When Jinda heard that Kim wanted to talk about Jesus, he kicked the preacher out. However, God began to work in Jinda’s heart. Jinda saw Pastor Kim three years later and asked him to come back to his house and teach him about Jesus. At 83 years old, Jinda began to believe and was baptized. Phil said, “The change in him was instant. He went from bitterness to joy and immediately began attending and serving the Lord at Sila Christian Church.”
One challenge that faces the Parkers comes from the Buddhist worldview of the people in Thailand. Working with Buddhists takes patience and time. When Thai people do decide to follow Christ, they sometimes have a difficult time relating to their family members, who often disagree with their new commitment. In such cases, people sometimes struggle in their faith as a result. Some turn away from Christianity, but some grow and their faith becomes stronger. “Prayer and obedience to the Lord are so important during these first years of Christian life,” the Parkers said. The support of their family in Christ is crucial.
The Parkers themselves have faced difficulty in their own calling. They’ve made decisions to leave family and friends, to switch gears in their ministry, to raise their children in a country different from the one where they were raised. All along they have learned that no matter what, they must follow their calling. Their advice to those facing difficult decisions: “Remember your calling. God called you for a special mission, and even though things may be going badly, your calling still applies. God will carry you through the trials and make you stronger.”
Find out more about Phil and Michelle’s ministry on their website (victory44.org).
Laura McKillip Wood formerly taught missionary children in Ukraine and now works in the academic office of Nebraska Christian College in Papillion, Nebraska. She and her husband, Andrew, have three children (lauramckillipwood.com).