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Relentless Pursuit

S3E4: When a Missionary Loses Her Voice

54 minutes

Just before Koko and her family moved to Southeast Asia, she was diagnosed with medical condition that she was told would eventually cost her the ability to speak. As someone with a calling to teach, this news upended her expectations of what ministry overseas would look like, and it drove her to explore how suffering can shape our perspective on God.

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Show Notes

Just before Koko and her family moved to Southeast Asia, she was diagnosed with medical condition that she was told would eventually cost her the ability to speak. As someone with a calling to teach, this news upended her expectations of what ministry overseas would look like, and it drove her to explore how suffering can shape our perspective on God.

Prefer to watch the discussion? Check it out on YouTube and don't forget to subscribe and ring that bell!

**Bonus Content** When Koko’s family needed to renew their visas, it included both navigating a treacherous flood and the equally challenging cultural and bureaucratic pitfalls of getting their documents signed during Ramadan. Sometimes it pays to play dumb.

The Spiritual Survival Handbook for Cross-Cultural Workers is a book Pioneers published that has been used by countless missionaries to prepare themselves spiritually for the challenges of cross-cultural ministry.

Sojourner’s Workbook: A Guide to Thriving Cross-Culturally is a book Pioneers developed for missionaries during their first year of ministry.

Check out our Multiply video series, which gives a glimpse of what church-planting ministry around the Pioneers world looks like.

Ready to take the next step, but not sure what it looks like? Schedule a call with our team at, or chat today at

Bonus Content

When Koko’s family needed to renew their visas, it included both navigating a treacherous flood and the equally challenging cultural and bureaucratic pitfalls of getting their documents signed during Ramadan. Sometimes it pays to play dumb.

Playing Dumb During Ramadan

Episode Transcription

Koko (00:01):

We think about suffering as something bad, I have to get away. It doesn't feel good. But actually a little bit of suffering creates resilience and helps us be stronger.

Matt (00:12):

This is the Relentless Pursuit podcast where we hear stories from cross-cultural workers on what it's really like to be a missionary, the good, the bad, and the ugly. So most of our guests on this podcast can only be interviewed in audio format because of security reasons. This time is different. We have a guest named Coco, who served in Southeast Asia with her family for many years and now serves here in Orlando on our member development team. But we in this special episode, conducted the interview on both video and audio. So if you would like to see this interview, be sure to check out our YouTube channel at pioneers s a. And you will see not only this interview, but many other resources and videos that we have

Jess (01:00):

There. I think what's really great about Coco's story is that she doesn't just share about spiritual formation and suffering as this theoretical objective sort of third person observer. But she has been in the midst of it herself, just really experiencing some incredible hardship. And one of her stories actually comes on just as she and her family we're preparing to go overseas to Southeast Asia.

Koko (01:25):

So we're going to open up with that story today. In 2006, we went overseas to do a survey trip, which is what people do when they're thinking about doing mission work. So we went over, we visited a team, we had a great time. I was actually pregnant at the time. I was about five months pregnant and we were out in the village setting, and I would even have to sleep on the wooden SLA floor over the ocean sometimes those nights. And it was just a really awesome trip. It was a beautiful experience and we really fell in love with that location and we ended up living there eventually. But when we came back from that survey trip, I started having trouble with my voice. And at first it was, it was just sore, maybe like laryngitis, and it kept going and it kept going.


And I went to my doctor and he was like, oh, let's try this antibiotic. Oh, that didn't work. Let's try it again. Oh, that's weird. That still didn't work. And eventually I was diagnosed with a catastrophic vocal cord injury that is very rare. And I was actually blessed by getting into a really high level auto laryngologist in Boston where they were able to, basically they put this small machine in your mouth and they run sound waves into your vocal cords so you're not speaking at all, and they can watch your vocal cords while they're moving so they can see what the dysfunction is. And so this is in 2006 and that technology was brand new. So I was really thankful that I was able to get that. But it was really hard because I was actually at that appointment alone and I was pregnant and I didn't expect there to be bad news, so I didn't bring with me.


And when the doctor came in, he brought a counselor with him and he said, never. Good news. Yeah. He said, I am so sorry. I have to tell you that you have a catastrophic vocal cord injury. And when we see this injury, we know that you're only going to have a handful of years left with your voice and it will degenerate over the course of some time. We don't know how long. And eventually you're going to have to use a vocal computer to speak. It was devastating, as you can imagine. I was actually a singer, so I was a national champion singer in high school and led worship, and that was a huge part of my spirituality. So it was a deeply painful, shocking experience. I did not have any clue. I was just going in thinking maybe it was like a nodule or something more normal or that they could do surgery or something.


So over the course of the next 10 years, I had very severe vocal cord pain every day of my life. And I knew that it was degenerating. I didn't know how long I would have it. And every day that I used my voice, I felt like I was spending currency that I could never get back. So it was so hard because I had little kids. So even if I had to, one of my little ones was running out in the street, I would be so scared to even yell at them because I was terrified I was going to rupture it further. And we ended up having to homeschool. So I had to figure out how to homeschool without really being able to speak very much. I couldn't read any books allowed to my children. There were certain things that were much more painful than others.


I couldn't do any ministry that I felt called to do or gifted to do. I couldn't teach, I couldn't speak from the front. I couldn't lead worship. And it was just such a painful experience. I think the hardest part was I kind of felt trapped in my body because I looked normal, but I couldn't, couldn't get out sound without being in pain. And also just the knowledge of what was coming down the road that it would be gone eventually. And so during that time, there was a real deepening that happened inside where it felt like learning to commune with the Lord in a one-on-one way because I'm a real extrovert. So up until that point, I'd always go for people, talk to people. And during that time, it really taught me to move inward to the Lord. And it was a deep internal sense of coming to Jesus as my only companion.


He was like a sheep that was led to this slaughter, a sheep who was silent. And so I had a lot of union with him in that, but it was still so painful to know that one day, yeah, this is coming. And it felt so threatening and I had to weigh every opportunity, should I use my voice for this or not? Because this could damage it further. But it didn't really continue to get worse. And then in 20 16, 1 of our supporters was a child auto laryngologist, and he had really high level connections from when he was in medical school, and he figured out our whole home assignment schedule, and he planned, figured out the best vocal place for me to get a checkup and scheduled it for me. So it was amazing. So he looked at our schedule and we got me into this place called Lion's Voice Center in Minneapolis.


And I was just there to visit our supporters and people that cared about us. And my supporters were like, we need to make sure they took care of my kids because they thought I was going to get bad news. I would need to have my husband with me. So he came with me and we go in and they had my records from Boston in 2006, and they had the same machine. This is 10 years later. They did the test and then they brought all these doctors in and they were like, look at this. And you could see the two panels and the old scar on the top, the top third of my vocal cords could not touch at all. And the new picture was actually, I had complete full, perfect vocal cords, and the scar was much farther off to the side where it was on the flesh. And they said, back when we first were discovering this injury, when our technology was newer, we thought that nobody's vocal cords could ever heal from this. We thought that this was damage that was permanent, but now we know some people actually get their vocal chords actually going to regrow. And I was like, well, why has it been hurting so much? Why is it still hurting? They said, well, you've been using. These muscles to push your voice together, which is what you had to do because your vocal cords weren't working, but now you need to learn to speak normally again. So I went back to physical therapy, and since that was right after that was when I went back to seminary and was able to go into my own full-time ministry and take on a lot more work that I feel called to do. But I think that as I look back on that, that's when I became really passionate about how God uses suffering in our lives to form us. And that's led me to where I am now in my academic work and studying people from the past and how God has formed them through their suffering, and what practices did they use to bolster their courage in the midst of their suffering. And for me, I know it was a hollowing out. It was hollowing out the container of my soul to make more space for God through losing so much capacity. It was in my weakness that he brought me to himself.

Jess (08:11):

Right. Wow, that's an amazing story. So just to back up a little bit, so you went on your vision trip to Southeast Asia, you came back and you discovered you had this catastrophic, life-changing injury that not only is just terrible in and of itself, but also affects your particular giftings and callings that the Lord has put on you. And then you decided to go to Southeast Asia anyway, So tell me a little bit about that and how you guys made that decision.

Koko (08:38):

Yeah, I mean for me it was a lot. It actually really just crystallized what my role had to be in a way. It was like it limited what my options were. And my husband is a very gifted, and he was working with the local church in that area, and he had a visa to work among the local church and to work in seminaries and train local pastors. And so what it did was it just really crystallized my role and I ended up being able to really stabilize our family in the midst of multiple moves. We lived on three different islands. We had two different teams over the course of those 11 years. And I was able to provide a really stable space for the family and provide a lot of continuity for our kids while my husband ended up traveling. And I had to reconcile to myself, I feel called to be doing this work, and somehow I had to appropriate the job of being the stable person, anchor in the home as being actually real mission work. And that I was able to do that. I was able to make a shift mentally to it's okay, and this is what I'm able to do now. And I think our kids really did well because they did have one person who was really dedicated to that space and that I kind of just had to make the best of it.

Jess (09:49):

Right. I could imagine. I mean, I've definitely heard of a lot of women who they go overseas and that's a real struggle for them when they kind of have to be doing homeschool and taking care of the family and the home and doing sort of all these more traditional roles than a lot of American women are not used to anymore, and then seeing their husband get to go and do all the glorious sort of stuff. So I mean, that must have been a little bit of a transition for you.

Koko (10:12):

Yeah, it was hard because I mean, since I was a camp in eighth grade, I felt called to be an ministry. And so for me, I actually think it was almost a gift of grace because by removing the possibility, it just made it like, well, this is the option that I have. If we want to be doing this work, this is the way it's going to have to look.


And I was able to really find ways to work around it. I was able to still do a lot of one-on-one conversation. So I did a lot of discipling with women who are college age, and I had a vibrant group of about 20 girls that I walked with through their lives. I was there when they had their first babies. I was there when they got married. And so I probably wasn't taking on the front person the way I might naturally want to be up in front teaching or something like that. But I was able to grow in that one on one discipleship mode. And then I made my home much more of a hospitable space and learned how to do that and make that a welcoming space and provide opportunities for people to meet together there. And then I also did a large ministry where I taught women how to study the Bible on their own.


And so I wasn't leading from the front, but I taught them how to read the Bible in a way where they could go deeper with it and we would meet together in community and talk as a group. So they weren't relying on me because I couldn't be at the front. I would probably want to do, but I was still able to teach them a method for learning to read the Bible and study it on their own. So I feel like in a way it kind of directed me on this side path that I would've never gone down, that both formed me spiritually, but also grew gifts that I probably would've never invested in on my own.

Jess (11:47):

That opportunity just to invest so much in those individual lives in such a way, especially during this period of your life when you were going through a lot of other stuff, traumatic stuff in your life. I mean, that's such an incredible opportunity that you're given. And I can imagine just the fruit that will come that you'll maybe get to hear about more of in the future one day and heaven or whatever.

Koko (12:11):

Yeah, it's cool. You can actually keep up with people now on

Jess (12:13):

Yeah, that's true.

Koko (12:14):

Facebook, and I'm still friends with them. We still connect. That's all so cool about it is I think back in the day once you moved, you would have to break that relationship. But now I am kind of journeying with them still on WhatsApp. So it's pretty cool. It's cool.

Matt (12:29):

So now you're back here in the US and working on our member development team, and your work is focused on caring for people that were in your shoes, maybe not dealing with the exact same challenges that you were as far as suffering, but their own suffering that they are bringing with them. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do here now with our field workers?

Koko (12:53):

Sure. Yeah. We have a really vibrant team of about 20 people in member development here, and our whole job is to help our missionaries thrive on the field. My particular role is to care for the adult missionaries that live in certain regions. And so I walk with them, I journey with them, we check in, we talk as needed, care for them, and I provide a lot of resources. I also develop and run our component of the launch, which is our preparation for the outgoing missionaries. So I'm in charge of making sure our trainers have what they need, developing their curriculum. I'm very passionate about preparing new missionaries, and so I've put a lot of time and energy with my team into developing a more robust curriculum for new missionaries that matches what the field wanted here with pioneers. So our department is just so passionate about helping people thrive, and it's a huge asset if you're thinking about coming with pioneers, know that we are not just about getting you on the field, we're about helping you stay and thrive.

Matt (13:54):

Now, one phrase that you've mentioned several times is spiritual formation. Can you maybe define what you mean by that for us?

Koko (14:03):

That's a good question. Yes. I think of spiritual formation as the activity with God of discipleship, of growth, of change and transformation over the course of your life. I think about that one little phrase in Romans 12 that says, be transformed the same root formed. What does it mean? How are we transformed? It is actually a divine passive. It is something that God is, it's imperative. God is telling you you have to do it, but you can't do it yourself. Be transformed. So a lot for me of spiritual formation is providing practices and resources to get in this space for God to do his work. You're not going to be formed if you're out here always working, always doing stuff. You have to sit down. You have to get in communities where you're going to grow. You have to sit with your Bible and be in certain spaces where it's going to actually cultivate that growth. So that's kind of how I think of spiritual formation is being in the pathway of transformation.

Jess (14:58):

Yeah, that's so interesting because you would think, right, obviously you're doing this kind of work and training and providing resources for people who are on the field for current workers, missionaries, but from the average person's standpoint, missionaries should already be pretty high up there on the spiritual level scale, so to speak. So it's sort of like how much further do they have to go? And then on top of that, they are working, and so they're busy doing stuff all the time. So when they're busy evangelizing and planning churches and learning the language and all that, I mean, how did they find time to get away from that and do kind of this quiet, you pull yourself away and meditate on the Lord or whatever it is that it takes? So I mean, speaking a little bit of that kind of, yeah, missionaries already should be up there, shouldn't they?

Koko (15:47):

Well, we absolutely want our missionaries to be godly, mature people, and yet we're all human beings and we all come and we're launched in the season of life where we're at. So we're all growing. We don't expect our missionaries to be perfect. We don't expect them to already have it all. I think a lot of times when you read about missionary biographies and you get ready to become a missionary, you're like, I'm going to get on the plane and I'm going to walk out and I'm going to be like Amy Carmichael, and the moment I step on the field, I will be able to convert the masses. But you're still your same person with all your same sin, your same temptation. You carry your story with you and you only know what you know now. God takes us to different layers at different seasons in our lives. So you might come to a season in your thirties that's different than it was in your twenties when you left for the field and in your thirties and you have a child and you look in the eyes of your four year old and you realize, wow, I was really wounded when I was four years old by this experience that I had, but I didn't really work on that until I had a four-year-old. So those kinds of things are the layers and the depths that God works on. You're not ever arrived in your spiritual life. We all need to constantly be working on internal transformation with Jesus. And so in the second part about how does that work when we have so much to do on the field, we want to go, we need to plant our churches, we need to do these things. That's absolutely true. But one of the classic metaphors that you see in scripture about abiding is that concept that growth only happens when you're planted and your roots are down deep in soil that's nourishing you. And so for me, it's more about cultivating rich soil and providing opportunities for the soil for growth. And as I'm in those opportunities where I am going to grow because I have a faithful community or I'm spending time with the Lord in prayer or journaling and reading my Bible, then I can expect to grow and to bear fruit because I am doing both. I am out and practicing in the world, and I'm also going deep in my time alone with the Lord and in my community, just like Jesus, how whenever the crowd started pressing in, sometimes he went away. And it's so surprising when he did that. But he had that relationship with his spirit where he and the father, where he knew, he knew I need to step away and I need to deepen and go internal for a while and refill my tanks with the Father.

Jess (18:05):

Right. I'm going back to your story of when you lost your voice and when you're in Southeast Asia and you were talking about how you kind of had to be hollowed out for the Holy Spirit to come and basically rebuild you, I suppose, right? So is that kind of what you did at that time? How did the spiritual formation, the whole creating this fertile ground, so to speak, how did that happen when you were in Southeast Asia and you're also dealing with your vocal chords and everything?

Koko (18:33):

I really think with all spiritual formation, it's very dynamic. That's why it's be transformed. It's the concept of you are doing something, but in another way you're not. So you're making yourself available for God to do the work. You're putting yourself in the pathway for growth. So for me, one of the biggest things that I did was go in deep with a mentor who could really walk with me in my pain. So there were layers and depths of pain that I was going through as I was on the field. So it wasn't like just right at the beginning I grieved and then I was done. When you have a major loss or you're suffering with chronic illness, you feel that suffering again in cycles of grief where you're going deeper, really almost like a spiraling depth that God is allowing deeper unfurling inside of yourself of realizing some of the losses. As my children got older, they weren't babies anymore. It was a new loss in the sense that I couldn't have long conversations with them. I couldn't sing loud in the car with them, so there would be new losses that I would have. And this is something that we love all of our missionaries to do. I had a really close relationship with a couple of mentors that I would talk with once a month or email. If I was really struggling with my voice and I couldn't talk, we'd have to email


And they would give me new pathways. They would say, Hey, it looks like you're thinking about this. How about this book? They would offer new opportunities and new resources to me that I wouldn't have had if I hadn't asked them. And that's actually part of my job in my role now when I'm talking with the missionaries on the field as they experience new things to offer them things that they don't know about. So they might be struggling with, they can't get their visa. So then I could tell them a story about my life and then I offer them a new resource of what to do when there's no pathway open for you or something like that. So I think one of the biggest things is involving yourself with other people and sharing and being open in community with other people. And that was what I did, and she's still with me now. So it's been a really powerful relationship, a transformational relationship for me to go to those deepest levels with her over time.

Matt (20:39):

I think one of the things you mentioned the people that you had in your life that were mentors within the mission world or your church world back home, you served in a place that has many unreached people groups, but also there is a vibrant church there, growing bodies of believers that are local there. Are there things that you learned from them in terms of facing suffering and enduring and spiritual formation that maybe you wouldn't have gotten elsewhere?

Koko (21:11):

Absolutely. Yeah, that's a great question. For us, there was two things that really come to mind that I learned about suffering from the country and the people that I live with. And one of the main things that I learned was through the process of what it meant to go through grief


In America, my experience, typically, it's very private. When a person dies, we go private, we are alone, we're away. We kind of want our space and we're alone. And even the way that we celebrate our funerals are very detached from the person often. And in the location where we were, there was no distance from the person. So they would lay out the dead body of the beloved person and you would come close and you would touch them and you would speak to that person, and then they would quickly bury it and we would do it together. And you would be singing songs. You would be walking through the whole village together with this body, and then you go and walk to the communal burial ground and place the body in the ground.

Jess (22:13):

So you could also be a part of this walking through, even if it's not necessarily a best.

Koko (22:17):

I was much more a part of it than I wanted to be held, honestly. So if you were a woman, you were invited in to prepare the body. And so I was a part of that process as well. And so I think it really helped me understand the disconnect we have a little bit with the process of dying, but also how much grief is a more powerful, and it's actually almost more efficient in a community experience, not in a way of trying to push through it faster, but in a sense of going deeper together because you're not alone in your private world all by yourself, but you're able to share together. And some of my friends, they would get together, we'd be at the funerals, they would just be throwing themselves in my arms weeping out loud, which was important to do because it actually honored the person who had passed away by wailing and weeping in a very loud way. It was honoring of the dead,


But it also, I could see what a benefit it gave to her to be able to do that in community and to just be free with the loss that she was experiencing. So that's one thing. And then the other thing about suffering in general that I learned living overseas is just how protected we are here from suffering. I mean, we obviously live in a very prosperous country with so much just infrastructure available to so many of us. Of course, not everyone, but most of us have access to medical care. Most of us have access to our basic needs. And just seeing what it was like for my close friends to live off of two or $300 a month and to do so with joy and to share freely with one another, and they would try to share with me. And it was just something that kind of blew my mind of how just connected they were with their reality and how much bigger capacity they had to suffer, honestly. And have you guys ever heard of the Biodome two? This is an analogy we talk about a little bit in my role, there's this biodome where they created the perfect atmosphere for all plants to thrive.

Jess (24:15):

Oh, I think I have.

Koko (24:16):

And they found out through this biodome that trees need wind in order to grow because the trees that were inside the biodome were just collapsing under the fact that they were not receiving wind. The wind actually creates a certain kind of resistance in the bark and an enzyme that helps the bark get firm. And I think that's an example of we think about suffering as something bad. I have to get away. It doesn't feel good, but actually a little bit of suffering creates resilience and helps us be stronger. And I think that's what I learned from my friends there in that country was that they had suffered a lot, but they didn't see it all as suffering the way I did just because they lived with a dirt floor, they didn't even see that as a bad thing that was normal to them. And they had created such a bigger capacity to endure and experience loss and experience lack. That just blew me out of the water. And it really, to this day, it has changed me. It's changed what I think I need to do to have in order to be happy, because I could see that they were happy with very little, they were happy to be together and they were happy to be able to worship freely.

Jess (25:25):

Right. Yeah, I mean, so what you said about how in the us yeah, we are very protected. It's a very prosperous nation. There's a lot of systems in place to help us when we are not doing well. And so I think it's often easy, especially for younger people to kind of tamp down on any suffering that they have had because they're like, oh my goodness, I should not be complaining if I compare myself to people in Southeast Asia or people in Africa or whatnot. So what would you say to people like that who just say, oh, I'm just going to ignore my suffering because really it's nothing compared to what other people have experienced?

Koko (26:01):

I think that's a missed opportunity because I think the best option is when God invites you, you think of suffering as an invitation. God doesn't cause suffering, but He allows it to be a pathway. That's the paradox. The paradox is he does not cause it, but that he makes it somehow produce resurrection in our lives. It's like built into creation that things that fall down and die come back to new life. The seed that goes into the ground and dies bears fruit for discipleship. It makes no sense. That's the kingdom that's built into the world that we live in. In the same way for us embracing the suffering that we have as an opportunity for depth to be transformed. In my perspective, that's that same pathway suffering. You produce a perseverance, perseverance, character and character hope. And so you see God actually laid that out for us. So instead of saying, oh, that's not bad, saying this is real and this is an opportunity for me to go into this pain with Jesus, you see him doing in the Garden of Gethsemane, right? He wasn't like, oh, it's no big deal guys. He was like, take this cup from me. That was his example to us was to say, please, father, not my will, but yours be done, but I will do this to the point of sweating blood. He was in agony, but he took the path of suffering and that's what bore new life and resurrection for us.

Matt (27:27):

We've seen, you've mentioned that a lot of this has driven deeper interest in you in studying this. And I know that you're working on graduate studies in the area of spiritual formation, but not necessarily what happens now, but how people in the past grew in their faith. Can you talk a little bit about what you're learning and what you're studying related to that?

Koko (27:51):

Sure. I'm still early. I'm just starting my PhD in spirituality and suffering. So it's really a theology of suffering and practical theology. And I'm very passionate about people in history who have suffered and who have endured great suffering and who continue to turn to the Lord and allow that suffering to help them grow. And it started when I was in my master's program. I didn't mean to study this just every time minded I study separately. It's just something I was so curious about. It was like, it doesn't make any sense to me. It's completely mind blowing. And to me, it's just such a example of the way that the paradox of new life is built into the world, that this is somehow the path of growth that God has for us. And so I am so curious to see that unfold in people's lives. So every paper that I wrote for my master's, I did a master's in church history. I just ended up studying different people and how they suffered and what they did and what they learned and what can we learn from them. And it's been really cool and really actually quite practical. I know a lot of people think history, what is that? That's so boring. But I think we need to learn from the past just like we need to learn from other cultures. We need to learn from the past because God was there,


He was present in the lives of our brothers and sisters who went before us. And there's so much that we can learn from them throughout time. And so one person that I really was interested in is Julian of Norwich. A lot of people are familiar with her, but she is a woman from about the 13th century. And she went through a period of very deep suffering where she almost died. And through that process went into this very deep season of getting to know the Lord. And she was a huge inspiration for CS Lewis, which was how I got interested in her because he used a lot of her motifs in her books that she wrote that were about the ways that God revealed himself to her as he kind of unfolded Narnia. And she had this one idea that I think is just really fascinating, that she had this idea that if God came in his first time to us in the form of the incarnation, which no one expected, but in the incarnation resolved so many problems for us by dying on a cross a way no one expected, then we should believe that the time he comes again is going to be just as unbelievable, unexpected, and powerful reformation.


And so that's why in Narnia, spoiler alert, you have the Narnia within the Narnia. And because he was showing that there is something deeper that was going on here. And so she's someone that I just love to read her experience of God because she saw him as her key, knew she and experienced him both very imminent, so above more powerful than her, but also, sorry, imminent inside of her and close to her, but also transcendent and powerful over her. And in her mind, it was like the only path to think about God is that he's both near as close as could be inside your very heart, but also ruling the whole world because he has to be near enough to love us, to want to help us and powerful enough to do it. And that's a thought that I've carried with me a lot.

Matt (31:04):

Yeah. I think we have perceptions of people in that day and age that they were living in the dark ages. They didn't know the things that we know. They might not have had. All of the resources we have spiritually, the resources we have, their churches were corrupt. And so there's just all sorts of stereotypes about that. But it sounds like as you're describing it, there are people that had real deep faith and understanding that of things that we don't know that's maybe been lost to history. And so this is a process of uncovering some of these things. And I know some of the things you've talked about using this terminology like spiritual formation. There's practices that accompany this, right? I mean, I think most of us that were brought up in the church have an understanding of praying and reading your Bible every day and going to church and worshiping, and there's a few things that we all know are expected of us, but are there other things as well that maybe you've learned that practices or habits of people in ages past and even missionaries even that have helped them grow in their faith and overcome suffering and become even closer to God in the midst of whatever they're living in?

Koko (32:18):

Yeah. Well, one thing that happened that was cool because it actually intersected with my job here is that I took this class called Reformation Era Spirituality. And so it was all about the spirituality of the Reformation era. And that's not my favorite era. It just feels like it's fraught with just so much tension. So I was not looking forward to this class, and I asked, and we were supposed to write this one paper, and I was like, I don't want to write that. So I asked my professor if I could study suffering in the Reformation era and all of the strands of different types of faith within the Reformation era and how did they approach their suffering? And what I learned through that paper was that they were all praying through the Psalms when they suffered. And I basically developed a resource that we use here at our debriefing event for the missionaries. When the missionaries come back during their home assignment after two or three years for refreshment, they come here and we have this event for them. It's awesome. It's their kids get to come. It's so refreshing, and we have these different opportunities for them to connect with the Lord. And so I actually developed a workshop called Praying the Psalms, where I taught them how to do that because I think it's really accessible. You just come to the Psalms and you read through the Psalms and you see what comes up as you're reading.


Some of the Psalms are just very painful, and they bring up a lot of our negative emotion, but in a way that's very safe because it's in the safety of scripture. These are words that were inspired. So we know that it's okay to talk to God this way as we see David saying deep calls, the deep in the roar of his waterfalls, all your waves and breakers are crashing over me. We can also say, God, why are you letting this really difficult thing happen to me? That question Jesus asked on the cross, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Normalizing that kind of question and welcoming those kinds of questions in the presence of God through a journaling activity, like praying the Psalms is something that our missionaries can do anywhere that they are all around the world.

Jess (34:16):

Yeah, that's awesome. So I mean, I know you've been talking a little bit about how you've been using some of the stuff that you've studied and your experiences to minister to workers now, and you're talking with them while they're on the field after they come back from the field, all that. What kind of stuff comes up? What kind of issues kind of, are there any themes or patterns that you've noticed or, oh, these are something particularly that for this generation, for example, that we really need to pay attention to?

Koko (34:46):

Well, the number one thing that I think we need to be paying attention to is the loneliness. And I think that there's nothing wrong with being lonely. I think there are times in seasons when God calls us into places where we are alone, Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus when he went out into the wilderness. So sometimes we are in places where we're alone, and actually that is an opportunity to welcome Jesus, to be your friend, to be your companion in that moment. But I noticed that, I think because of social media, it's very hard for a lot of younger missionaries to just be alone for a while. It's not normal in our society. We're just inundated all the time with people that even sometimes that we don't know, that we feel like we're friends with celebrity people on bloggers, blogger moms, stuff like that, that we can just saturate ourselves with that. And guess what? Even in the most remote places in Southeast Asia, you can get on the internet, you can get on Facebook, you can still connect with people. And so we found that there's actually a real problem for a lot of our missionaries when they face that loneliness because it's just so easy to move into, okay, going back into my social media instead of saying, you know what? It's okay to be lonely right now. I am lonely. Of course, we're going to be lonely when we move to a new country. We don't know anyone yet. And so instead of just being patient and waiting for those relationships to come, it is very easy to just slide into what's normal for us and with social media. So that's one area where I think spiritual formation can be a benefit, because if you sit with the Lord and you just allow the feelings to settle and you say, oh, I'm feeling lonely, and actually saying that to yourself rather than just going to, you feel it, but you didn't acknowledge it, you didn't engage with God on it, but you just go then to social media. If we're able to allow those feelings to emerge and bring 'em to God and be like, this hurts. This is hard. Just like Jesus was lonely, there's a real communion with Jesus that can happen in that place. I know from my voice that is very lonely, that you can go to a place of union with Christ in your loneliness that will deepen you to a place where you can have a sense of being with him and having solidarity with him even when no one else is around. So that is one area where I think as in our organization, we talk about a lot, how can we encourage our missionaries to just sit in that place and welcome Jesus into that space?

Jess (37:16):

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think that ties in so well with what you were saying earlier about how one way or another we can try and ignore the suffering. We're trying to tap it down or say it's not a big deal. And so it's just kind of this tendency of people, especially with all the inundation of social media, to just kind of skip over it and find ways to either distract or find something else to do or whatnot. But what you're saying is to, part of what the Lord is calling us to do in our suffering is to kind of just sit in it, so to speak.

Koko (37:49):

You sit in it and you welcome him, and you say, what do you have for me here? Where are you with me here? I'm really passionate about this one Old Testament theologian, Walter Brueggemann's work on the area of what Hesed love means, which we see it often. It's translated as steadfast love and faithfulness. He's a Hebrew scholar, very well known in the area of spirituality and lament, and he would translate the word hesed loves steadfast love as tenacious solidarity. So if you went through the Old Testament every time you saw those words, steadfast love and faithfulness, and put in tenacious solidarity, what would happen? How would you see God differently in your pain when you feel alone, he's never leaving you? I think there's a lot there in suffering with the solidarity that we have in Christ that God is trying to create union with us in our suffering by being present with us. And you can't be present with them if you're on social media, you're only present here, or you're reading inappropriate material or getting on YouTube or whatever you're doing to try to fill up that space.

Matt (38:55):

And this is something I think people take for granted that missionaries struggle with these same things, and they're in context where they don't necessarily have the same support structures to help them through it. And so it's important to have that foundation of spiritual maturity and the ballast in your soul to help you get through these times because there's not going to be someone there necessarily to help you. And I think what you're saying is that this is not an opportunity to self-medicate or to try to numb it, but to sit with it and to invite Jesus


Into it as well. And I've been noticing even more and more lately, you see this in stories online of people that were in missions and they left for one reason or another, they came home and now their views on what they were involved in might've changed. They might begin to have second thoughts. Some of them might even be deconstructing from their faith or moving into a version of faith that would even look down on what they were doing. And it does seem like some of the common denominators are suffering that was maybe not dealt with or was maybe dealt with in a hurtful way by someone around them, and there wasn't an approach that allowed them the space to do that maybe. And I'm wondering if you've seen that maybe, or even the possibility of that happening even in some of the people that you've cared for and helped and how you really help people process that.

Koko (40:30):

Yeah. I mean, I'm interested in the problem of suffering because I like problems. And this problem is not going away, guys. This is the problem, the problem of evil, the problem of suffering. It's the problem of our humanity that started with the fall and will stay with us until new creation when Jesus comes again. And when I think about, I do have a lot of friends that are struggling with deconstruction or doubting or experiencing a lot of confusion in their faith. And I have a very close loved one as well who has gone through that. And I think at the core, to me, I think that we think as western Christians that we need to have an answer for every theological problem, and I need to have this exact formula. And we present our faith that way a lot of times the answer. But we're not going to have that with suffering. We have a savior who died. So there's a paradox built in that what has been asked of us is to have faith. Faith implies that we will not have an answer. So if you are trying to say, I have to have this answer in order to believe, then that's not faith. Faith, it's okay to doubt


It's okay even to have skepticism in my mind, because that implies if you're holding to Jesus that you have faith because you are saying, I actually have questions, but I'm remaining and I'm sitting with him and I'm staying with him, even though there's doubt swirling, even though people have let me down, I've been hurt. I've had leaders that have failed me. And I think those are all invitations to go back inward to the Lord with it and to be like, this person failed me. Guess what? Surprise, surprise. We're all human. There's a lot of really broken people. And I feel like the way that American leadership structure as well is very, we've set ourselves up for this in a lot of ways. And that is another thing that I learned about in Southeast Asia, was just that communal relationships really held the faith together. I didn't always have to have it together. I could rely on you and you could be like, it's okay. We're doing this together. Come to church with me. And we're so individualistic in America. It's like I have to, in my head, have everything figured out inside my brain instead of being like, Hey, help me today. Hey, I need your help. And you'd be like, we're doing this together. Let's go.


And I think that's something that we're missing, and we're also missing the space for questions to just be unresolved because there are going to be unresolved questions on planet earth. That is the problem of the fall that we can live with. So I do. I think it's really hard. It really is.

Jess (43:08):

Yeah. Yeah. So much stuff. I mean, it is funny because you're like, there is no answer a lot of times. That's almost the answer is that there is no answer. But then it's kind of amazing to think that the problem of suffering is then what the Lord uses to then create rebirth and resurrection and all those things. So just how that fits into the Lord's redemptive plan is kind of mind blowing, especially when you really start to kind of think about it. I know.

Koko (43:42):

Think about job. His friends all wanted to give him answers, right? They all were like, what about this? What about this person's fault? It's that person's fault. In the end, what does Job say? I know that my redeemer lives, and on that day, he will stand upon the earth. There had never been a resurrection before. How did he know that? And the same thing with Abraham, when God called him to sacrifice his only son, the heir of the promise, he had to walk up Mount Moriah, which completely confounded the promise of God, and he went up anyway. And it says later in the New Testament that he did it because he believed that God could create life from the dead and bring something back to life or create something that didn't exist. So he believed in resurrection too, and there had never been resurrection. So to me, it's like there has to be some kind of, that's the core is that within the mystery, we don't have the answer, and that God is calling us to faith anyway. And it's the faith that always for Abraham to count it as righteousness.


Yeah. Yeah.

Matt (44:41):

Right. Well, thank you, Coco. Thank you for that. Very encouraging. Now it is time for quick fire questions.

Koko (44:52):

Oh, okay. See what happens here.

Matt (44:55):

So you don't have to think too much about these questions. Just give us quick instinctive answers that come to your mind. And if there's some you want to pass on, just say pass and we'll move on. We've got plenty here. Ready?

Koko (45:07):


Matt (45:08):

Okay. So most cultures are either tea cultures or coffee cultures. But as a person, are you tea person or a coffee person?

Koko (45:19):

I am tea in Southeast Asia, tea in Europe, coffee in America.

Matt (45:23):


Jess (45:25):

Roman of the Romans.

Koko (45:25):

It depends on where.

Matt (45:26):

Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Koko (45:31):

I'm like a middle person.

Matt (45:33):


Koko (45:34):

Seven to 11. Let's not be crazy.

Matt (45:36):

Yeah. If you do stay up late, what is your go-to late night snack?

Koko (45:41):

Oh, salted caramel, chocolate cover salted caramels one A. I have one every night.

Jess (45:47):

Is there a specific brand that

Koko (45:48):

You like? I typically just buy the ones at Costco, cuz you can get so many, and the chocolate flavor is very good.

Jess (45:53):

Yeah. It's so funny. It's like a ritual you have before you go bed. Oh,

Koko (45:57):

Yeah. But I mean, a couple hours before bed. Let's not be crazy yet. We're not crazy. Yeah, we're not crazy.

Matt (46:02):

So winter, spring, summer or fall,

Koko (46:04):

I love the winter in my heart because I grew up going there with my family at Christmas, and I just love being in the cold. And I grew up skiing, so I love the winter, but after living in Southeast Asia, I can't be cold anymore, anymore. So I think I'll have to change now and be more like an autumn person.

Jess (46:22):


Matt (46:23):

Yeah. Window or aisle.

Koko (46:26):

The aisle. So I have to be able to get out. I don't like to feel trapped.

Matt (46:29):

Yes. And if you're traveling, what is your must pack item? You can't say Bible either. Everybody says Bible, but that's a given.

Koko (46:37):

It's on your phone. I say, I know. Well, I started doing this when I had little kids, and it's a mental thing for me now. I always travel with a little pack of Via in case I get really, really tired and I just, I don't even put it in water or just like, yeah, you can wake up. We do a lot of travel, international, really far travel, and you have jet lag and then you have to go to a meeting and you're tired, so you're just like, oh, we're fine.

Jess (47:03):

That's like street espresso.

Koko (47:05):

It's strong stuff, and I hardly ever use it, but it's just knowing that it's in my purse. I just feel like I have power.

Matt (47:13):

Yeah. What's your favorite local dish where you lived in Southeast Asia?

Koko (47:17):

I really loved a noodles with chicken and spinach and kind of a little bit of a sweet soy kind of a flavor.

Matt (47:26):

Is it spicy or?

Koko (47:28):

I don't like it, but you can always add more spice, but I didn't like it very spicy. And my kids, they were born over there, they loved it. They put on, I'd just dump it on their high chair and they'd just be like this, and they would hold it, and the noodles were just hanging,

Jess (47:44):

Going everywhere.

Matt (47:45):

Yeah, it's cool. How about a talent that you wish you had?

Koko (47:50):

I wish I could play the piano like you, Matt.

Matt (47:52):

Thanks. How about a missed comfort from home?

Koko (47:57):

From home growing up or from where I lived?

Matt (47:59):

Well, when you lived overseas, what was the comfort from here that you miss?

Koko (48:05):

Oh, that's a good question.

Matt (48:12):

Maybe you were just completely satisfied and happy.

Jess (48:14):

You're just so full. The Lord's provision. You didn't have to think about home.

Koko (48:18):

I really miss workout classes. I know that's not like a comfort from home, but it's something you could not replicate. So I love working out in groups. Wouldn't know.

Jess (48:28):

That's a good answer. So extroverted.

Koko (48:29):

Yeah, so extroverted. I can't even work out by myself.

Matt (48:33):

Is there a strange tradition that you witnessed? You described the burial. That's pretty strange.

Koko (48:38):

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, in some places there's some really interesting where they will take the ashes of the deceased and put it in a paper mache kind of a coffin and send it out into the ocean. Yeah, that's really interesting. You actually watch them burn the body inside of a paper mache, large paper mache, a large paper mache kind of structure, and then there's a lot of paper, all that. Then they gather all the ashes, and then they take it out to the ocean and send it out. Yeah, that was really interesting to see. But I wasn't really ever part of that closely.

Matt (49:16):

Any funny language mishap that you recall?

Koko (49:23):

Let's see. None I could share in this setting. I think I'm going to pass. You'll have to ask me later.

Matt (49:35):

Okay. One more question. What did you want to be when you were a kid?

Koko (49:39):

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon.

Matt (49:42):


Jess (49:42):

Yes. Oh, orthopedic surgeon. Know where I got that idea. It was very specific.

Koko (49:46):


Jess (49:46):

It not just a surgeon, but an orthopedic one.

Koko (49:48):

One. Yes. I don't even think I knew what that word meant.

Matt (49:50):

It sounds kind of fancy.

Koko (49:51):

Yeah, I think it seemed fancy and really technical. I was like, Ooh. Yeah.

Jess (49:55):

Nice. Nice.

Matt (49:56):

Well, thank you so much for joining us,

Koko (49:58):

Thanks for having me, guys. Yeah,

Jess (49:59):

No, this has been so great. Everything that you shared about suffering, I think that's just so important to the discussion on missions and especially for those who are considering missionary work. So


Thanks for joining us.

Koko (50:10):

Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.

Matt (50:12):

Every time we talk to one of our workers, there's usually some part of their story that's very painful and uncomfortable and some major of grief and loss that they had to deal with. And this one was no exception. And obviously she's long past it in terms of the chronology of the story, but you can tell that this was a major redirection in her life and in her approach and her expectations of how God was going to use her on the field. Things did not turn out necessarily how she expected, but it's really clear that God had this all planned out ahead of time and that his plan was a lot more beautiful maybe than she even expected.

Jess (51:00):

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I just love how she's just full on, not shy about butting heads with the suffering that she experienced, with the suffering that the Lord allowed into her life, but how it's not just this kind of complaining like, oh my goodness, woe is me, sort of thing. But she really has just seeing the beautiful picture that the Lord has drawn in her life through it, and that now she's going to help other people also kind of explore that a little bit more. For me personally, it's so easy for me just to be like, nah, let's just up it down and move on, get on with our lives. But she's like, no, we really are going to, she said over and over again just to sit in it and just to really invite the Lord into what he's doing in our lives through that suffering.

Matt (51:48):

And now with her role the way it is, she's able to kind of transfer her learnings and the things that she has grown into in her walk with the Lord and share that with others and empower them in their ministry. And so it's really clear that God had a plan, even though it sure didn't look like that from the beginning. And it was so cool to talk to her. Now we have many people serving in Southeast Asia where Koko and her family were serving, and therefore we have a lot of stories on our website.


We have videos, photo essays, all sorts of things that we would invite you to check out as you explore the possibility of going somewhere and doing something like Coco and her family did. So once again, as we always say, you can check out all those resources on our website as well as talk to one of our mission mentors and they are available for you to talk at Go to our contact page or just start chatting at the bottom. If you're further along, if you feel like you're ready to start taking the journey, then go ahead and check out our start form. It's the right place to start. It only takes a few minutes, and before long you will be able to schedule a conversation with one of our team.

Jess (53:10):

Hope to see you there. Thanks for following us on this episode of the Relentless Pursuit Podcast. Our goal is to make missions accessible to show that it's not just reserved for elite, super Christians. If you want to be involved, just go to and answer a few questions. We have a team who would love to help you discern your calling and what your next steps might be.

Matt (53:31):

At Pioneers, we love to partner with local churches and send teams to people groups with little or no access to the gospel. Keep up with what God is doing by following us on Instagram, Facebook, x, and YouTube, all at PioneersUSA. One word or visit Thanks for listening.