MACON — Were it not for eHarmony, the online matchmaking service for single adults, Stephen and Jennifer Folker might not be up for appointment with the International Mission Board to the Czech Republic.
“Stephen’s profile on eHarmony was about missions and ministry,” Jennifer said. “That piqued our interest at the beginning.”
They soon started talking and became engaged within three months.
“Yeah, it was fast,” Jennifer said.
Raised in a California pastor’s home, Jennifer frequently heard the stories of missionaries at church. By fifth grade, she was sensing a call to missions.
Meanwhile, across the country in Georgia, Stephen was growing up at Mount Gilead Baptist Church in Griffin where he attended Mission Friends and Royal Ambassadors. Then as a child, he faced some trauma.
“I really think the biggest thing that shaped my life was when my dad passed away when I was eleven,” Stephen said. “I could have become very angry and bitter, but there were some vital men that were a part of my life, one being my grandfather who was a Baptist pastor for about 30 years.”
The stability those men brought to his life, plus the family’s engagement at Mount Gilead, kept Stephen centered. The Georgia Baptist Convention’s (GBC) student Impact Camps also had a huge impact, he said.
After high school, Stephen enrolled at Truett McConnell College (TMC) with the intention of staying two years before transferring to the University of Georgia. His plan changed during a spiritual emphasis week at TMC.
“I felt God calling me to full-time ministry,” Stephen said.
So he stayed at TMC and majored in church music with emphasis in voice. Afterward, he earned an MDiv from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Poland mission trips
As a TMC sophomore, Stephen volunteered for a Poland mission trip. While there, he sensed a call to cross-cultural service. Since then, he has led eight volunteer teams to Poland during the last 10 years.
While in Poland, Stephen often worked with Steven Reece, who now lives in Doraville. Reece leads the Matzevah Foundation, which provides services to the Jewish community in Poland.
“It’s a fulfillment of a lifelong dream they’ve had to serve across cultures,” Reece said. “They are willing to leave everything they know to go serve God in the Czech Republic.”
What they currently know is a good life in Macon where Stephen serves as the worship and missions pastor at Lawrence Drive Baptist Church (LDBC). They have two children under the age of three, and a nice home.
“We came to Georgia with the intention of starting a family and putting down some roots,” Stephen said. “We were happy where we were.”
Stephen’s responsibilities at LDBC included planning an annual missions conference. In September 2013, one of their guests was a couple serving in the Czech Republic. During the conference, Jennifer came home with something to say.
“God is putting it on my heart for us to consider going to the mission field,” Jennifer said.
Managing the conference had Stephen so busy that he didn’t have the same impression.
“A week later, I had a similar leading through the Holy Spirit,” he said.
After an 18-month process, they are preparing to move to the Czech Republic, which borders Poland.
Their stage of life makes them a good fit for a country that has a number of “mom’s groups.” The fertility rate there is low, and limited childcare provisions make it difficult for mothers to work. The government gives families a grant of about $510 upon the birth of their first child and up to $27.48 per month child allowance, according to a report by the European Union.
The nation also has a shortage of childcare facilities for children under age three as the number of nurseries dropped by nearly a 1,000 over 20 years when many buildings were rendered unsafe.
Jennifer earned an elementary school degree from Liberty University and plans to home school her children. She’s anxious to meet young mothers in the Czech Republic.
The Folkers encourage other young adults not to fear overseas service. Even with small children, they are going with confidence.
“God loves your kids more than you do,” Jennifer said.
The Folkers know this opportunity would not be happening without the Cooperative Program (CP).
“CP paid part of my tuition to go to TMC and SEBTS, and it allows me to accomplish the calling of God in my life,” Stephen said. “I am vastly thankful.”