By Marv Knox
When guests drop in at Brooke and Mike’s home in Southeast Asia—and that possibility on any given day is better than 55 percent—they’re likely to find a place at the table for the next meal. That’s because Brooke, Mike and their children provide hospitality to students across Asia and around the world who flock to their city.
“Our doors are always open, because we have no air conditioning,” Brooke explained. “There will be times when one of our young adults will just show up, needing to borrow something, wanting to talk, wanting to use our Internet. If it is around a mealtime, without a doubt, one of our children will say, ‘Can (this person) stay for lunch? Can (this person) stay for dinner?’ Well, of course, we are always open. We always have room at our table.”
That table sits in the middle of 17,000 islands which extend from the Indian to the Pacific oceans, between the Asian mainland and Australia. Their city is home to more than 100 universities, colleges, technical schools and training centers. Students comprise 400,000 of the residents—10 percent of the population of four million people.
Brooke’s and Mike’s affection for Southeast Asia began when Brooke spent two years there immediately following college graduation. “From the moment I met her, she was talking about Southeast Asia,” Mike recalled, after Brooke returned to America. “I realized before she would love me, I had to love this place.”
That love triangle charted the course for their lives. “Ministry for me is a third career,” Mike said. As he pondered vocational possibilities, he knew he was going somewhere and doing something involving Muslim-Christian relations. They reside in a country where 90 percent of 276 million residents embrace Islam, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.
The family connected to their calling in 2014, when they became ministers and educators supporting churches, schools and universities. They primarily serve young adults and university students through their interdenominational congregation. Mike is sponsored by Baylor University as a visiting lecturer at a consortium composed of Christian, Muslim and state universities. He teaches and conducts research on topics such as inter-religious literacy and combating extremism among youth.
Their church and education connections encourage the flow of young adults through their home and around their table. “Almost everything we do involves food,” Brooke noted. “Think back to when you were a college student or young adult and had an opportunity to go to someone’s house and eat with friends. It was an important time, when we could gather, we could eat, we could talk about life, and we could have our Bible study.”
“We welcome not only Christian students from our congregation, but atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Hindus—people from around the world coming to our universities to study,” Mike added. “They’re all welcome at our table. And not only are they welcome; they also are active participants.”
That’s because relationships are reciprocal. Every Thursday night, a crowd gathers to chow down on American cuisine. Brooke and Mike also provide Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts, as well as a Passover seder. But oftentimes, students prepare their favorite meals. “We’re trying different culinary treats from all around the world as different students bring the blessings of their cuisines to our table,” Mike said.
Meals around the table also offer food for the soul, since their commitment to hospitality means more than eating. “We have Thursday night Bible studies where we have dinner. But we also have women’s groups and men’s groups,” Brooke said. “We have a few retreats during the year when we go to the beach or to the mountains. We have game nights and karaoke nights. We’ve had yoga classes at our house. Most of our ministry, I’d say, is at our house. So, our kids are actually involved in the stuff we do.”
A place at the family’s table and in their home is a gift, insisted Meta, a seminary graduate and editor who got invited to their house when she was an undergrad attending their church. “It’s really wonderful that Mike and Brooke give us this safe space for us to just be ourselves and talk openly about our faith and our struggles,” she said. “It’s kind of like you are part of a family. It’s very nice to have this small, close community together.”
Because Brooke and Mike thrive on relationships, their open table has become a moveable feast. During their early days, a translator from Sumba, a majority Christian island, told Mike, “You must come to my island to preach to my people.” Mike eventually did research for his Ph.D. dissertation on Sumba and neighboring Timor. He has had an ongoing ministry there, preaching, leading conferences and now training pastors. They have also collaborated on a project to install solar panels, providing light to churches on Sumba and Timor.
In communities seeking to overcome centuries of poverty, renewable energy fuels transformation and hope. “Many villages do not have infrastructure,” Mike explained. “There would be no water. You would sometimes have to walk 10 kilometers just to get water from the nearest source. There’s no electricity. So, in the evenings, to cook, you need kerosene lamps; but kerosene costs money, maybe more than your daily wage. Food is scarce as well, causing most of the children to grow up stunted.”
Sustainable energy supplied by those solar panels strengthens both the congregations and their communities. For the first time, churches could worship in the evenings, and pastors can prepare their sermons after dark. Members of a community often congregate at a church where children can see to do their homework, and adults can do jobs to supplement their meager farm incomes.
Solar panel installation projects provide opportunities for other kinds of ministry. Supplemented by volunteers—sometimes students, sometimes people from the United States—teams do not just install the panels and hook up lights. They also teach families how to establish renewable energy in their homes. Some volunteers focus on the children, offering fun and education, as well as training local church members on how to organize and run ministries for children.
“Mike’s and Brooke’s role has had a huge impact; it’s very big,” said Alfons, a pastor who teaches at a seminary on Sumba and helps steer solar energy projects to churches. “They opened up different perspectives. Children can read, and mothers can weave. So, I am very happy for the help they provide.”
“Mike and Brooke not only care about our spiritual things, they also care about the things that happen in our lives,” added Eve, a kindergarten teacher who supports a Bible college on Timor, works with solar panel installation and with the children in Sumba. “They care about whether we are okay and about our jobs, our health. That’s the thing that makes me feel really special and in a healthy community.”
As Mike says, “The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s commitment to long-term presence makes the greatest impact on how effectively we work and serve. One of the things that has shocked some of the pastors here is the fact that I come back. We don’t just show up one time, do a short-term service project and leave, and they never see us again. They see us many times a year.”
“They’re seeing us come to their island to work alongside them, to struggle alongside them, to hope alongside them,” Mike said. “This is something I love about CBF—the cooperative nature of our Fellowship in serving alongside the people to whom we are called to minister.”
“CBF’s Offering for Global Missions and Encourager Churches make such presence possible,” Brooke and Mike said, noting every dollar that comes their way continues to fund their presence and programming in Southeast Asia.
Their presence at the table with locals is life-giving for Brooke and Mike. “This ministry fills me with life. And it fills me with joy,” Brooke explained. “Sometimes, we wonder, ‘What are we doing here? Why are we here? What’s the point?’ And then I get to go be with the young ladies in our home and hear their stories, hear their backgrounds, hear their questions, share their struggles, share their joys. And then I know that we are where we’re supposed to be.”
This article first appeared in the Winter 2022-2023 issue of fellowship! magazine. Check out the issue and subscribe for free at www.cbf.net/fellowship.