A mission to Asia to share their faith
When he graduated high school in the late 1990s, Joel Reimer never planned on spending his life preaching the gospel in Asia.
He figured he'd go to school, get a regular, nine-to-five job, and maybe volunteer as a basketball coach.
"Just like my dad," the 32-year-old said.
Same goes for Joel's wife, Avin, 31, who had a well-paying corporate job as manager of a recruiting firm in downtown Vancouver, before deciding to head to southeast Asia with a relief agency called Imagine Thailand, where she spent a year-and-a-half.
"It all happened really fast," Avin said. "But once I got there, I never planned on coming back."
Funny how things turn out.
They both did end up returning – Avin because a friend was sick, and Joel because he needed a break from what turned into a 24/7 pursuit – and met each other a few years ago, at church.
Avin, whose friend ended up passing away from cancer, soon realized that the two had similar beliefs, visions and a goal of returning to Asia.
"I always said I couldn't imagine living, single, in one of these small towns. Because there really isn't a lot to do – there's no movie theatre, no places to hang out. There's dirt roads and oxen carts going down the street. It'd just be lonely. I said I'd love to do this, but not by myself," explained Avin, an Earl Marriott Secondary grad.
"And once we started connecting, we realized this was maybe something we could do longterm, as a couple."
For his part, Joel said he never gave Asia much thought until he met a woman who predicted he would end up working as a missionary in Asia.
"She said she thought God was calling me to Asia to be a missionary. I thought she was crazy, just out of her mind, but then I thought about it, and realized she was right," he said.
"The first time I went there, to Thailand, was really just on faith."
Joel ended up spending the majority of 10 years in Thailand, first studying at a university outside Bangkok – where he earned a degree in missions theology – and later, after briefly returning to the Lower Mainland, teaching at the same school.
"My first time I went over there, I was so nervous. I thought I was going to get lost, or die of some disease. I thought Thailand was just one big jungle," he said.
As part of a school practicum, he travelled to a small village in Cambodia called Poipet, near the Cambodia-Thai border, where he set up a church. And even though no one showed up for his first church meeting, word of mouth soon spread to the point where as many as 60 villagers showed up every night.
After returning to Bangkok to teach, he soon found himself being called back to Cambodia, where eventually returned, and over a five-year span, had a hand in setting up more than 20 churches, an english school and a music school.
But after five years "working 24/7" he returned home for a break.
Now, the South Surrey couple is planning a permanent return to Cambodia, working with the Pentecoastal Assemblies of Canada.
They hope to make the move in June, and in the meantime are spending their days organizing and fundraising. Both work at local restaurants in the evening, leaving their days open to plan.
They plan to live in Phnom Phen, Cambodia's largest city. Much of their first year will be spent better learning the language – Avin cannot speak it, while Joel can speak it, but can't read or write – while volunteering with a church there. After that, they plan on working with Cambodian youth while also teaching missionaries at a mission school.
Both are excited to return to a place Joel, despite his Abbotsford roots, now considers home.
"I really does feel like where home is now," he said.
And while Avin hasn't spent nearly as much time there as her husband, she too, is looking forward to the transition.
"I'm pretty much up for any adventure," she said.