“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” We’ve likely all heard this saying before, but it still takes us by surprise when things don’t go the way we expected. We so often have the best of intentions for our family, lives, and ministry and it throws us for a loop when God takes us in a different direction.
Jon and Tammy Junker, TEAM global workers in Japan, know what that feels like. Jon was a missionary kid, born and raised in Japan. Tammy grew up in California, and served as an English teacher and with TEAM’s Operation Helping Hands in Japan before she met Jon. The two married and built a life together, serving in Azumino and Matsumoto, two communities in Nagano, Japan. In 1999 they welcomed son Jon Luc, and three years later his brother, Peter. Jon worked in a church planting ministry while Tammy homeschooled the boys and also served in women’s ministry and outreach at the church.
As the boys got older and more independent in their learning, Jon and Tammy began to think about the next stage of life. Tammy would have more time to join Jon in ministry, and they looked forward to the opportunities that might open up as they entered this new season.
And then God laughed.
An Unexpected Surprise
Tammy was 46 and Jon 58 when they realized, much to their surprise, that they were expecting another baby!
When she first began to suspect that she might be pregnant, Tammy says her first reaction was not exactly excitement. “I thought, If I’m pregnant, I’m going to be so depressed. But then it was so interesting because when [the pregnancy was confirmed], I had a total peace that was just unexplainable. I thought, ‘OK, you know what? I’m in God’s hand.’ He gave me that peace.”
And so the family adjusted to the surprising news that their family would be expanding and a few months later they welcomed their baby girl, Meigan. The Junkers believed that Meigan’s arrival was the only change in their vision of what future ministry might look like. “Our plan was to stay as long as possible in the rural area, doing homeschooling and continuing the ministry,” remembers Tammy.
But then once again God revealed a new and different plan.
A New Assignment from the Lord
When Meigan was a toddler, her older brother Peter was entering his high school years. Around that same time, the Junker family came back to the U.S. for a year of home assignment. Peter attended a Christian school in the States. He thrived in the school setting – so much so that when the family was ready to return to Japan, they began to rethink what would be best for Peter’s education.
Homeschooling and online school didn’t seem to be great options for Peter at that time, but there is no international Christian school in the Nagano area where the Junker family had been in ministry for so many years. The Junkers found that God was calling the family to the Tokyo area – a place that would be ideal for Peter’s education but that was NOT in their “plans” for ministry.
“I’ll be honest,” Jon admits. “The last thing I wanted to do was come to Tokyo. There are lots of people here, lots of Christians, lots of churches.” He goes on, “My concern was always ‘we need to get the missionaries OUT of Tokyo’…and then God brought us here!”
Tammy adds, “We loved where we were, and God was doing great things there. We were looking forward to what He was going to do and then realized [God was calling us] to Tokyo.”
So the family said goodbye to their church and ministry in Nagano and settled in a suburban neighborhood near Tokyo. Soon they noticed a few things about their new location. Because Tokyo tends to have a lot of people who come from different areas, the Junkers noticed that the people were more outgoing than in their previous ministry communities. “The culture is so open and friendly, probably because everyone else is from other places too,” says Tammy.
This openness allowed the Junkers to get to know their neighbors who are often out and about. The family also had two great conversation starters that God would use in ways they had not seen in Nagano.
Meigan and “Lady” Open Doors for Ministry
Enter Meigan and “Lady,” the Junkers’ dachshund! Tammy found that whenever she took walks with Meigan and Lady, people always wanted to stop and talk to them. Meigan was a bit of a curiosity with her reddish-auburn hair and bubbly personality, and Lady is a sweet, friendly dog who loves attention. The pair began to open doors for Jon and Tammy to build relationships in their new community. “I think that God just arranged it all,” says Tammy. “He brought us to a house that’s in a community that is ideal.”
As time went on, Tammy befriended the neighbor across the street whose daughters played with Meigan. That friendship grew into regular times of fellowship and interaction with both moms and kids. Tammy hosted several different club-type groups in her home, including a “Kids’ Bible Time” with kids from a variety of faith backgrounds.
“The parents are all for them learning the Bible,” Tammy says, “So I’m just joining in the work God is already doing in the hearts of these kids and moms.” The pandemic also opened a door for Tammy to study the Bible with junior high girls in the neighborhood. Tammy teaches them about the creator God who loves them and cares about their choices. The pandemic was hard on them and Tammy had the opportunity to walk through some of those difficulties with them.
Jon also sees the Lord’s purposes in the family’s move. As an ORR (Organizational Relations Representative) for TEAM, Jon’s job is to work as a “bridge” between TEAM and local churches and pastors. And with 40% of Japan’s churches being in the Tokyo area, there is no shortage of work to be done. He explains that getting churches to work together to advance the Gospel isn’t always easy.
“Japan is a very group-oriented culture, but it’s very separate as far as individual churches,” Tammy explains. “They don’t work together. It’s sad to see little struggling churches all around, scattered here and there and they don’t pool resources.”
Jon, who grew up as a missionary kid in Japan, understands this well. His extensive experience in connecting churches is a blessing to many. “God has really brought in quality people and quality churches for us to work with,” he says.
“God always has a better plan.”
Now as Jon and Tammy look back, they can give testimony to how important it is to trust God’s plan, even when it doesn’t line up with ours. They marvel at how much their family is blessed to have Meigan, and how their move to Tokyo has benefited not only Peter’s education, but also their family and ministry as a whole. Jon and Tammy encourage others to remember to trust God’s plan in their own lives as well.
“It happens to everyone!” says Tammy. “You’ve got examples in the Bible, too. Look at Joseph…what was his plan? What about Moses? Everybody has these ideas and then it’s like, ‘Oh man, look, what’s going on. God doesn’t know what he’s doing.’ But no, there was a better plan. God always has a better plan. And you can’t see it when you’re just bummed because what you wanted didn’t happen.”
Jon adds that COVID has put us all in that position – there isn’t anyone who has not experienced plans changing. And yet God is not limited in any way by what’s happened. Jon goes on to say that the pandemic has been good for the Japanese church because challenged the way they do things. “They never did anything digitally, nothing online,” he says. “The pandemic has forced them to be more open about that.”
Experiencing changes like a surprise baby, relocation, and the pandemic helped the Junkers to trust God at a deeper level. For others going through unexpected changes, Tammy confidently offers this encouragement: “God’s got better plans, just hang in there and wait and see what He’s going to do.”