By Paige K Slighter
Chris and his wife Denise are currently principals at a small mountain school in Colorado. They both have huge hearts for young people and see public school as a ministry, “not to convert kids, but to love them where they’re at.” Chris says, “I’m still kind of a big kid myself.” But this ministry is just the latest in a string of Kingdom service that has led them literally around the world.
Denise and Chris were high school sweethearts and teenage parents. While they were getting their teaching degrees, they were also raising their daughter, Rachel. When she reached her teens, she dreamed of doing ministry. She remembers being at church camp and feeling “this overwhelming heart to push towards foreign missions.” Her parents believed this calling was important and committed to join her when the time came.
In 2005, they quit their jobs, sold their house and spent six months exploring what God had for them. In the end, they put their education to use teaching English in Southwest Asia. Chris says, “I learned I wasn’t there to convert [people] but to reflect Jesus’ love. The Holy Spirit was working in hearts and giving visions and dreams.” Rachel says their trip rocked her world, and she was never the same after that. A cousin told her she’d probably go and come right back, but that wasn’t the case. Her heart was still tied to Southwest Asia, and she’d be back again.
Two years later, while Chris and Denise moved to Colorado, 19-year-old Rachel was headed back to Southwest Asia. She says, “It was the most incredible, yet difficult time.” The weather was stifling hot, with temperatures exceeding 120 degrees, and there was a lot of spiritual warfare. But she loved learning how to share the Gospel through storytelling. Everybody loves a good story.
In 2008, Rachel returned to the US to finish college. She had promised her parents she’d get her bachelor’s degree, and she knew her education would help her with mission work in the future. Rachel graduated with a history degree and is currently getting her master’s degree in international relations and global affairs. She’s also working as a grant writer for a mission organization that provides education to children in (yes, you guessed it) Southwest Asia.
Both Rachel and her dad discovered Woodland through Greg’s books. Chris says, “What I like about WH is the stance on simply loving others and social justice, as well as openness to questions. It’s good to hear other ideas.” Rachel agreed, saying, “Woodland has answered questions I’ve had for so long and kept me spiritually healthy during a difficult time.”
She’s definitely lived through challenges: at one point, she had to take a MedFlight helicopter to receive critical care because of her failing health. She was in and out of the hospital with kidney failure and three autoimmune diseases. As of today, she’s had seven surgeries to reconstruct her right kidney. The doctors predicted that she’d never walk again and she wouldn’t live past 2017. Yet, she’s most definitely still alive, and continuing to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
When asked how they’ve remained rooted in their faith despite difficult circumstances, Chris says, “I really feel connected to Jesus in nature, specifically fly fishing.” He’s also encouraged to know that Jesus walks with him when things are hard. Rachel says it’s helpful for her to meditate on God’s truth, “I like to be still and quiet my mind in a busy world.” She’s also learned not to pick herself up by her bootstraps when she falls. Instead of becoming self-reliant, she’d rather depend on God’s goodness and wisdom.
We love hearing about the ways that God moves in people’s lives in both big and small ways through the ministry of Woodland Hills. It’s an honor to be connected to Kingdom people like Chris, Denise and Rachel who are following their callings to serve and love!