A Miraculous Match
But the match had almost been scuttled a year earlier, when they first met. Nayomia had been backpacking around the world with her sister, Myrtle. Always living on next to nothing, to save money, Nayomia and her sister, who attended a Salvation Army church in Brisbane, Australia, decided to work at the Army’s Camp Gifford in Loon Lake, Wash., just north of Spokane.
The last week of camp, three new staffers arrived. One of them, Austin, came to relieve her on paddleboat duty.
Feeling sorry for him, she began explaining the camp rules, including those for working on the waterfront.
“I stopped her in mid–sentence,” Austin remembers. “I said, ‘I was a lifeguard here—I wrote the rules!’ ”
“I felt sorry for the guy, and he was rude to me!” Nayomia says.
She wrote Austin off; at 21, she wasn’t looking for a man anyway. Then, the last day of camp, she heard a very loud laugh, and it was him.
“God said to me, ‘If you knew him, you would love him.’ I thought, Good thing I won’t get to know him!”
When camp ended, Nayomia and Myrtle resumed their travels and, after a few months in Europe, returned to Canada. Nayomia planned to go back to Camp Gifford. It was around Thanksgiving, and she needed a ride from Seattle to Spokane. She remembered that Austin, who lived in Seattle, might be visiting his family in Spokane for the holiday and contacted him. Not wanting to look like the free ride was the only reason to get back in touch, Nayomia began chatting with him electronically after that. They kept communicating via the Internet and Skype until Austin invited Nayomia to be his date at a wedding in Bali.
An Outback girl
The two come from very different backgrounds. Nayomia grew up in the Outback, “miles from anywhere.” Her dad was a crop
“We grew up in drought,” Nayomia remembers. The family caught any rainwater that fell, and used it sparingly. Her parents would take a shower and leave the water in the tub for the kids’ baths. Then the water would be used again for flushing the toilet.
“It was different from the way most kids grew up, but we didn’t think it was different,” Nayomia says.
Her mom couldn’t drive, and her dad would be gone for weeks on end for his job.
“We would just go play outside, and I read a lot of books,” Nayomia says.
The town of 1,500 provided far from an idyllic childhood for Nayomia.
“I grew up with a lot of racism,” she says. Because her mom is Filipino, Nayomia was called “Blackie” at school—even though her skin is very light. Other kids considered her ugly, and teachers treated her differently, downplaying her accomplishments.
“I still have trouble accepting compliments today,” she says.
Nayomia’s home life was complicated too. She grew up with her only full sibling, Myrtle, and a sister from her mother’s previous marriage, but she also has eight other half–siblings from her parents’ previous marriages.
“When I was 5, I remember wondering how long my dad was going to stay with us,” Nayomia says.
The marriage to her mother lasted 18 years; the couple separated when Nayomia was 16.
But three years earlier, the family had moved from the outback to the “Big Smoke,” Brisbane. Her dad had gotten sick and couldn’t work, so her mom went back to college to get a degree in social work.
In the big city, Nayomia didn’t experience the same prejudice she had in the country. Teachers praised her for her work, and she flourished in school.
Her dad was a member of The Salvation Army, so the family began attending an Army church there, the Inala Corps.
Nayomia had done “postal” Sunday school lessons in the Outback and had gone to a Presbyterian church in town, but she had developed an independent streak. Her mother had to drag Nayomia to church.
Then one Sunday when someone was reading Scripture, something happened.
“I suddenly realized that what the Bible said was true. I don’t have a dramatic testimony—just that. It started me on a path that God wanted for me.”
A Spokane guy
Austin came from a nuclear family. When he was young, his grandparents would pile Austin, his two brothers, and his four cousins into the back of a VW Beetle to go to a Presbyterian church. Austin started going to The Salvation Army in Spokane when his mother was hired as the nursery attendant.
“One Sunday, my mom volunteered me to work at Camp Gifford. It was better than what I had been doing—cleaning horse stalls.”
Austin was 14. By the next summer, he was paid staff at the camp.
“It was through the ministry of the camp director and the other staff that I saw God’s love,” Austin says. “I turned from knowledge about God to a relationship with Him.”
From that point on, Austin developed as a youth leader. For a profession, he saw two choices: graphic design or full–time ministry.
He chose graphic design and went to work in Seattle developing interactive product demos and websites. At the Renton, Wash., Corps, he played guitar with the worship team and helped with youth programs as well as working on a corps website and brochures.
Then he got a message.
“Now I want you to go down this other path you saw,” Austin heard God say.
Stubborn about listening
If God was speaking to Nayomia, she wasn’t listening. At the Inala Corps, she became the bandmaster and led the teen group and Corps Cadets. But she was determined to pursue a career to become a foreign diplomat, something a friend had done.
In the midst of her studies, she heard God say, “You might help people, but how will you show them Jesus?” Now a committed Salvationist, Nayomia had an answer. “I thought, Well, there’s an economic development department at International Headquarters. I could work there.”
But, she admits, “I was still not listening; I was just deciding on my own.”
For a time, Nayomia did very well at school. Then suddenly, her grades plummeted, and her choices were cut off.
“Education was everything,” she says. “It was a big blow. It was huge.”
She turned to God.
“ ‘So what do you want me to do?’ I asked God. He answered, ‘I want you to be a corps officer [pastor].’ ”
“It was the first time I asked and just listened,” Nayomia says. This time, she responded with obedience.
“I said to myself, I believe in God; His will is perfect. If I’m serious about my relationship with Him, I have to do it. I said to God, ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea, but I’ll do what you say.’ ”
She filled out the preliminary application.
The word came back that she would have to wait a year to go into officer training school. She kept being drawn to a passage in the Bible—she can’t remember now what it was—that spoke about moving and going. She couldn’t imagine what that meant.
“I didn’t like traveling; I hated even an hour’s car trip,” Nayomia says.
Just about that time, Myrtle, who had just finished discipleship school, said to her sister, “Nayomia, God is telling me to travel around the world.” She cited the same passage Nayomia had found.
“Wow!” Nayomia said. “That’s amazing!” That’s how the two ended up traveling, with Nayomia finding her way to Camp Gifford.
After her first date with Austin on Bali, Nayomia asked God, “Is this the guy you want me to marry?”
When Nayomia was 16, she had described her ideal man as a cello player named Bob. Her friends even wrote a novel about her quest to find him.
But now, Nayomia had a more mature concern: God had called her to be a Salvation Army officer, and she knew she couldn’t marry a man who wasn’t also called.
One day as she and Austin were chatting over the Internet, he said casually, “By the way, I haven’t told you this. I want to be a Salvation Army officer.”
In that same conversation, Austin revealed that his middle name was Robert—and he played the cello.
“To my friends,” she says, “that was the funniest thing ever!”
She says it was also an “awesome testimony” to those friends, who are all atheists.
“It’s hard to argue with it because it’s something that really happened,” Nayomia says. “Your testimony is something no one can deny.”
While her friends saw the marriage as a good match, Nayomia’s mom didn’t.
She told Austin: “You seem like a really nice young man. You shouldn’t marry Nayomia. She’s really hard to live with; she’s very stubborn. She says, ‘I always do what I want.’ ”
But Austin’s parents thought their son had found a great partner in Nayomia. His mom was so sold on the match that she booked the wedding chapel just a month after the two started dating.
Nayomia and Austin joked about getting married on a significant “triple” date, like 9/9/09 or 8/8/08. But it happened even sooner than that, on 7/7/07. They entered training to become officers in 2009.
Serving in far–flung places
The Andersons, now lieutenants, spent their fifth anniversary, 7/7/12, in Hanapepe, on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, where they are still serving.
They were told the corps there would be a difficult one in a remote location. The couple had just come from their first appointment in Haines, Alaska. Austin just laughed.
“I said, ‘This isn’t remote! We just came from a corps in Alaska, where we had to make a four–and–a–half hour boat ride to Juneau for meetings. This isn’t roughing it!”
The Andersons have found that they can’t rely on technology to communicate with their congregation.
“One corps member has email but only checks it every two weeks,” Austin says. But he and Nayomia enjoy their work here.
“We are blessed with Hanapepe. It’s a welcoming place,” he says. They’ve found help and camaraderie in a local ministerial association. And they run a soup kitchen, supported by local vendors, that serves 120 people every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. They have services on Sunday, first in Koloa, an outpost about 15 miles away (See 117 Years Ago, p. 48), then in Hanapepe.
For the future, the Andersons have a passion to serve overseas. Both Austin and Nayomia have studied Korean and made trips to South Korea, so they would love to minister there.
But they know it’s not up to them.
One of Austin’s favorite Bible passages is 1 Samuel 15:22, which says, “To obey is better than sacrifice … ” “Seeking what God wants you to do is better than just working for God on your own,” Austin says.
Nayomia learned that lesson the hard way. As a couple, the Andersons will keep listening to the God who brought a girl from the Outback and a guy from Spokane together—to serve Him.
by Linda D. Johnson