I grew up going to church, but growing up the Lord wasn’t an important part of my life. All I’d do is go to church and say prayers before bed, but that was it. The Lord used some seemingly terrible circumstances to soften my heart towards him. When I was in middle school my mom’s health started declining and it went downhill from there. We couldn’t find doctors that knew exactly what was wrong with her. Finally my freshman year of high school the diagnosis came out that my mom had Huntington’s Disease. We knew soon enough that it wasn’t an optimistic diagnosis and my mom was probably not going to get any better. Not only that, but as it was a genetic disorder my siblings and I all had a 50% chance of also having the disease.
In response to the diagnosis on my mom, I was sent into a terrible period of depression, which lasted for the rest of high school and even into college. On the outside I looked normal and continued to do well in school and athletics. But secretly I was struggling with a serious addiction to pornography, which really took root as early as late elementary school but just became much worse during high school. It got to the point when it would take up a few hours of my day each day. All of our family was greatly reeling from the news about my mom.
It was also during this time, early in high school, that I started to go to a guys’ Bible study with some of my friends. It was the first time I really started to study the Bible and think seriously about God. I started going to a Presbyterian church in high school and was pretty involved there. The leaders of the guys’ Bible study Chris and Kevin had a great impact on me. Though I was learning more about the Bible and God, my sinful lifestyle really wasn’t changing at all. It seems that at that point I really wasn’t yet a believer. I was still an object of God’s wrath. But the Lord was slowly drawing me towards him.
In college I had an older Christian Matt try to mentor me in the faith. The problem was, I don’t think I was really a true believer at that time. So he was trying to mentor me but really wasn’t getting anywhere. I was still going to church casually, but still continued to struggle with the same sins as before.
My sophomore year of college I studied abroad in Hatfield, England for the year as an exchange student. That was the first time that I started to read the Bible every day. I learned a lot about the Bible that year. Also, a guy at our school Adam, who was also from my hometown, started a Bible study for some of us. I attended that for a few months and asked him tons of very challenging questions about the Bible that I was never really able to understand. For example, I asked Adam, what happens if my mother dies or if I have the same disease as her? Can God possibly have a plan for such things? He answered my questions using the Scriptures and was able to explain everything in a way that made sense. He said that God is sovereign over my mom’s life and death; he’s sovereign over my life and death and how and when exactly I die. “I form the light and create darkness. I bring prosperity and create disaster. I, the Lord, do all these things” (Isa. 45:7).
It was sometime during this year in England that I became a believer, though I don’t know the exact date. I do know that from that time on my life actually started changing and I began to have concern about pleasing God. At the end of my junior year of college I felt the Lord calling me into missions. I spent a summer in Bangkok, then led an international Bible study at my college during my senior year.
During my senior year of college I was considering going into seminary or going abroad doing missions. A mentor-type at the time suggested that I get ‘life’ experience before I go into seminary. That was great advice, & I’m thankful that I took it. So I looked for opportunities to do missions. I was introduced to a missions’ organization out of a church in Maryland that set me up with a teaching job in Emperor City, China, in eastern China. So in August 2005 I moved to China.
During the summer of 2006 after my first year living in China, I was back home for a couple months. I was still having great struggles with overcoming lust in my life. Though I wasn’t struggling with pornography anymore, I was still a slave in a sense to my lustful passions, and it affected my life greatly. It hindered my relationship with God and my ministry in China as well. I’d prayed about these things many times and even had others pray over me, but I was convinced that those struggles would never change.
In July ’06 I was introduced by a friend to a very solid older believer named Jay. This was the beginning of a very long & amazing friendship with Jay. Maybe now I’d say he’s had the largest impact on my life spiritually of anyone else in my life. Anyways, about a week after I met Jay, he invited me to a prayer group with a few other friends. We were just praying in general fashion. I was kneeling on the ground and prayed about some things, and included praying vaguely about my struggles with lust. Jay stood up in the middle of the prayer time and stopped me while I was praying. He said to me, “Tabor, what exactly is your struggle with lust?” I was shocked, not only because I’d only known him for a week, but also that he was interrupting me in the middle of prayer time, which isn’t normally proper prayer etiquette.
Jay said, “James 5:16 says: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. Jay said that I should confess my sins specifically aloud right then & there in front of the others. So I remained kneeling and poured out my heart to God, confessing all my lustful sins and my wicked heart. Then Jay and the others put their hands on me and prayed for me. I didn’t know exactly what would happen after all this.
I was hopeful that I had been cleansed of those sins, but I wasn’t sure. That was about seven years ago, and I haven’t had any of the same struggles since then. It was like the Holy Spirit took that specific struggle and totally cleansed me from it. I had tried to control it by my own strength and found myself totally weak in doing that, but it was the Spirit who finally had to do the cleansing.
I refer to this as my ‘second conversion’, not because I was saved again on that day or that I became more saved than I was before. But it’s my ‘second conversion’ because my life and my relationship with God since that moment has been significantly different than before that. It was like previously I was dragging a huge weight on my back as I was trying to pursue God. Once the Lord removed that huge weight it was like I could so much more fully run after him. This is one moment in my life when I can see the clear power of the Holy Spirit in me. It’s not something that I could’ve done on my own, because I tried many times to control my passions on my own. Only the Holy Spirit could do it.
Call to Ministry
Growing up I had the blessing of being in a family that was pretty globally minded. In high school I took a trip to Israel and another trip to Europe. My sophomore year in college I studied abroad in England for a year.
So when I became a believer in college, it was almost natural for me that I’d have a pull towards missions, because I’d had so much international experience before that. I actually enjoyed living in other countries.
I had an engineering internship set up in Philadelphia for the ’04 summer, but during the middle of that year, my junior year of college, the Lord changed that plan. I was discussing with a friend about predestination and free will. I was supporting predestination and my friend was supporting free will. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of any related verses off the top of my head to defend my side. So the next day I stayed home all day and looked up all the verses in the Bible that supported predestination and all that supported free will. Definitely it seemed to point towards predestination but I was still a little confused on the topic.
At the time I said, “I’m still not sure on what the Scripture says on this, but I must conclude that either way we are called to reach the nations with the gospel.” So I felt like the Lord was calling me to spend the summer doing missions. I looked on Google to find missions opportunities in Southeast Asia. I found a random link on a website and eventually got in touch with a missionary-run English school in Bangkok. So I told the engineering firm in Philadelphia that I wasn’t going to be able to intern there in the summer. I instead was going to go serve the Lord in Bangkok for three months.
That was my first missions’ experience. After that during my senior year of college I started an international Bible study at my college. It was a good time doing outreach, but I didn’t see any fruit from it. I started thinking about doing missions work long-term upon my graduation. The Lord moved my heart on Christmas Day of ’04 as I completed reading Jim Elliot’s journals called Shadow of the Almighty. Through Elliot’s journals the Lord convicted me of the need for workers and the Lord confirmed me going overseas as an ambassador of Christ. So I decided to go through a missions’ agency out of a church in Maryland that would put me in a job teaching English in Emperor City, China.
So that was what I did and I moved to Emperor City, China in August ’05. I previously never had any specific burden for China, but once I stepped foot off the plane in North Capitol, I felt like the Lord was telling me that I was going to be there for a while. The Lord almost immediately gave me a huge heart for the people, the history, the culture, the food, and the language. I didn’t know exactly how long I’d live in China but after a week of being there I wrote in my journal, “I’m going to dread when I have to leave this place permanently.”
I stayed in Emperor City for three years. For those years I was the leader of our team, leading teams of 3, 17, and 25 people, respectively. At the end of my second year my friend Jay [same as mentioned above] came to visit for a few months. He slept on my couch for a whole month. During that month I learned so much from him, from his example of intense study of the Scriptures, intense commitment to prayer, and dedication to fasting. I’d never seen these things lived out so clearly right in front of me. So that month with him in Emperor City was very precious for me. I’d say that after that I strove much to follow him in these ways. I could see the intimacy that he had with Christ.
Anyways, after a couple weeks of sleeping on my couch Jay got in trouble by the Communist party at our school because he crossed some boundaries in sharing the gospel with students too boldly. So the Communist Party had a two-week long investigation and called in all our closest student friends to ask them if they’d studied the Bible with us ever or if we’d ever given them a Bible. The students of course were terrified. Many of them were strengthened in the faith, though.
The result of the investigation was that several students mentioned my friend Jay. So the school president said that I was responsible because Jay was my friend. Thus my contract with the school was to be immediately terminated. So I had to leave that school which I loved so much. At the time, I couldn’t see what the Lord’s plan in it was. I’d made so many tight relationships with the students there. Thankfully the Lord opened a door for me to stay in Emperor City for one more year, teaching at another school in the city.
I can see how the Lord used me getting kicked out of my first school in Emperor City. Paul writes, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Never could I understand Paul’s words so clearly. It was through me being kicked out of my first college that the Lord got me thinking about moving west. If I would’ve not been kicked out of the first school, I think I’d still be teaching there. I loved that place. I never wanted to leave. I can see how the Lord used even the decisions of the godless Communist party and the university president for his good, that I’d be kicked out of that school and have to move to another school. During the year in the second school in Emperor City I started to think about moving west.
One early morning in February 2008 the Lord woke me up at 2 am and sent me into prayer for several hours. I was walking around beating my drum and crying out to the Lord like Samuel in 1 Samuel 3. Finally, that morning the Lord confirmed to me that he wanted me to move west. So I told the people in western China that I’d been talking to that I was going to move there in the fall. I told my boss in Emperor City that I was going to leave Emperor City and head west. Around that time I was greatly encouraged reading the autobiography of John G. Paton. He had a successful ministry in Glasgow (like I thought I felt like I had in Emperor City), but he felt like the Lord was calling him to go to the New Hebrides islands to minister to the cannibals living there, and he ended up seeing much greater fruit there than he could’ve imagined. The Lord was calling me to do the same by going west. My heart grieved to leave my friends in Emperor City, but I was excited to see what the Lord had in store for me.
The city in western China where I ended up was a city called Precious City. Accompanying me going west were my two friends Drew and Rayleigh. We joined a team of two ladies. One of them was a young lady Lynne who had recently graduated from college. Very shortly after I moved to Precious City, Lynne and I started dating. We ended up getting married the next summer in our hometown in August ‘09. So both of us were from the same city in the U.S., but we didn’t meet each other till I moved to Precious City in western China to lead our team of 3 that she was a part of. Certainly the Lord is sovereign in everything!
Lynne and I ended up staying in Precious City for four years, leading the team there. We had our first child there in July ’12, our daughter Joy. The Lord taught us many things about leading a team during those four years in Precious City. It was a great period of the Lord pruning us, sometimes through very difficult challenges. The last couple years in Precious City the Lord really brought unity to our team, and we “glorified the Lord with one heart and mouth” (Rom. 15:6).
During this time, the Lord also put on our hearts to go further west. So we took several trips to provinces further west in China. We saw a great need for the gospel in those places, as the region was spiritually dark with many Muslim and Buddhist strongholds. So we started our own missions agency that focuses specifically on sending workers to cities in NW China. In August 2012, when Joy was only 20 days old, Lynne, Joy and I packed up all our belongings and rode a train seven hours northwest of Precious City to move to our new home, Blue Town. We led a new team in Blue Town for a year. Blue Town is on the edge of the desert. There is a large Muslim population (Hui) in Blue Town. Our team’s outreach in Blue Town is targeted mostly towards college students and house church leaders.
I want to return back to the topic of my mother’s disease. I can honestly say that I’m not sure if I would’ve become a believer if not for my mother’s disease. In high school and early college I was at my personal low point as I tried to deal with the reality of my mother’s possible death and my potential for having the same disease as her. During this time, I realized that I couldn’t rely on myself anymore, because I was in such deep depression. That was when I realized that I needed to rely on God. As the psalmist writes: “The Lord pulled me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire. He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (Ps. 40:1-3). God indeed pulled me out of the mud and mire and gave me a firm place to stand.
My mother never recovered from her disease. In late high school she was admitted into an assisted living center. In college she entered a nursing home. During my second year in China, she passed away. Praise the Lord that I was able to be home during her death and for her funeral. I was able to speak at the funeral about God’s sovereignty and purpose in disease and death.
I always thought that if I was going to get married, I’d test to see if I had the same disease as my mom. That happened when Lynne and I got engaged. I got tested for the disease in January ’09. I was tested positive. Before the test result was revealed I prayed the words of Job, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. May the name of the Lord be praised!” (Job 1:20,21) The next several months were a very challenging time for me. The next few months after we returned to Precious City I was greatly struggling. My prayer was that God would not just allow me to cope with this news that I had the disease, but that I’d be able to rejoice in the Lord’s lot for me (Ps. 16:5,6). After a few months the Lord restored my hope and joy. My prayer was like David’s: “Let me hear joy and gladness. Let the bones you have crushed rejoice” (Ps. 51:8).
I praise God that I’ve been tested to have the disease. I know that the Lord is sovereign in our death: Jeremiah says: “Those destined for death to death; those for the sword to the sword; those for starvation to starvation; those for captivity to captivity” (Jer. 15:2). The Lord knows precisely WHEN we will die: “Man’s days are determined. You have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed” (Job 14:5). Also the Lord knows exactly HOW we will die: Jesus says to Peter, “’When you are old you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go’. Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God” (Jn. 21:18,19). This verse shows that God knows exactly how we will die and he hopes to glorify himself through the death of his people.
My good friend Tom Rogstad said the other day, “The Lord can do whatever he wants to me…And I love him for it!” Tom is 60 years old and is near dying from a fatal disease. He recognizes the Lord’s sovereignty and plan for God’s glorification through Tom’s sufferings and eventual death. So like Tom I wouldn’t say that my disease is a curse. Rather in many ways it is a blessing. It has taught me how to live with URGENCY. I don’t want to waste a single minute on this earth. Paul says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor death, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39).