This month, we’re hearing a series of interviews about religious faith and cultural identity in West Virginia. John Simmons grew up on the West Side of Charleston and is now a pastor in a church there. But a few years ago he heard a calling that would take him and his family to northern Thailand for Christian missionary work for four years. In this interview, John’s wife Lisa asks him to reflect on the family’s time there and what it meant to him and his faith.
“One of the first things they taught us was that outward displays of emotion was frowned upon. That was a culture shock,” John Simmons recalled. “In Thailand, they’re very accepting of people for who they are and what they are. They’re very open to all different faiths and religious practices.”
John’s wife Lisa said the experience also has helped them rethink how they approach missionary work here in West Virginia and in other parts of the United States. “I believe that opportunity in Thailand helped us to be able to coach people in saying, there’s a bigger world out there, and here’s how you learn about people, here’s how you care about them. And then you go and show your faith.”
This interview was recorded as part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a partnership of the national nonprofit, StoryCorps, and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. This story was recorded in Charleston, West Virginia, and was produced by Beth Vorhees.
The director of the American Pilgrimage Project is Paul Elie. Adelina Lancianese, Anjuli Munjal, Christina Stanton, Gautam Srikishan, and Maura Johnson also contributed to this story.