When Laura Nelson, director of the Partners in Prayer CAUSE ministry, invited Chris and Kellie Cole to come speak at the ministry’s first meeting, she knew very little about the new missionaries in residence.
As they began to share, they impressed Nelson not only with their compelling story, but also their humility.
“They are quiet servants of Christ who are living out Christ’s call to be ambassadors wherever they are,” Nelson said.
The couple originally met at John Brown University when Chris was a junior and Kellie was a freshman.
“The first time I saw her walking across campus, I was smitten,” Chris described, who played soccer for the University. Kellie, a volleyball player, was not as quickly enthralled, but the two became friends, and frequently played racquetball together.
After a while they began dating, and were later married in 1988.
“God had his hand on us,” Chris declared.
The Coles lived half of their married lives in Denver, where Chris coached men’s soccer for seven years.
Things began to change during their ninth year together, when Chris joined a missions council at their church. He felt God’s pull in another direction. He resigned from his coaching job and decided to pursue a master’s degree in education.
When Chris first mentioned pursuing work in overseas missions, Kellie was skeptical.
“I was just thinking, you’ve got to be kidding me,” she said. “I just didn’t have this same feeling.”
Over the next three or four years, the couple continued to be faithful as the Lord sorted things out. God used lots of little situations to work in them both.
One day, Kellie was talking with the children’s minister at their home church about the biblical characters Abraham and Sarah. They spoke specifically about how Sarah followed Abraham. Kellie’s mind flashed back to her wedding vows, and the lines they quoted from the book of Ruth: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”
She knew what she had to do. “I love the Lord, and wanted to do what he wants,” Kellie explained.
Soon after, the couple began intense missionary training and signed up to take a Perspectives class, which taught them about what God is doing in different parts of the world.
Their search for somewhere to serve suddenly narrowed down to Turkey and Thailand when Chris simply wrote Turkey across the top of Kellie’s notes one Sunday morning.
The Coles then moved to Ankara, the capital city in Turkey, where Chris taught at a small school for Christian families working in Turkey. They operated in English, but learned enough Turkish to get by.
Just before the end of the couple’s second school year, over a four-day weekend, the school was shut down, and the teachers arrested and deported. Although Turkish law promises freedom of religion, in reality the government is wary of anything it considers extreme. In recent years, Christians have been facing increased harassment, Chris said.
By closing the school, “they were trying to undermine the church and make it look like we’re doing something illegal,” Chris speculated.
Even after a trial that resulted in everyone’s exoneration, the school remains closed.
This sudden change led the Coles back to the U.S. for a year while Chris searched for other schools. He wrote three letters, and received one back from Grace International School in Chiang Mai, Thailand saying, “please come.”
Thailand was both different and similar to Turkey. The Coles were once again working on the administrative side of the mission field, teaching missionary kids. But this group, from all over Asia, was much larger. The school served 300 to 400 when they began and has now blossomed to 500 or 600.
The initial sense of community was also different. After investing so much in Turkey and being forced to leave, the Coles struggled their first year in Thailand to be open to new connections. Now, however, they have many stories of how they connected with and invested in both their students and Thai neighbors.
At the end of their year as the University’s missionaries in residence, the Coles plan to move back to Thailand to continue serving at Grace. “We believe our primary role is to teach and disciple missionary children,” Chris said.