It was a cold, winter Saturday in British Columbia, Canada. I was 12 years old, and my family was out for the day. I had nothing else to do, so I got out my Good News Bible and laid on the floor of our farmhouse with it open in front of me. After reading the four gospels I prayed, “Jesus, if this is true then I want to see and experience all of it, the miracles and the signs and wonders too! Show me a sign, and I will follow you with everything I have.”
I spent the next few hours reading, weeping and experiencing baptism in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus revealed himself to me in powerful ways that day. I felt a presence come over me, and I knew it was the Holy Spirit. As a young adult and now as a missionary living in Thailand, I have seen the Spirit encourage and equip people for ministry and mission.
I grew up in a loving church, which nurtured and discipled me well in many areas—except in the power of the Holy Spirit. Back in those days, people in my Mennonite church did not talk about the Spirit, except to warn us about people who went off the “deep end” and got a bit crazy because they got caught up in the Holy Spirit. Because of these stories, the Spirit seemed scary to me and to many in my community.
While attending Fresno Pacific University, my hunger to know and experience the power of the Holy Spirit drew me first to a Foursquare Church. There, one Sunday in worship, the Holy Spirit gave me the gift of tongues. I had been praying and asking him for all the gifts. I wanted every gift he had to give, and I knew it would result in people coming to faith in Christ.
After that, I attended a Vineyard church for several years, where I learned more about the prophetic gifts. I had supernatural encounters with strangers who spoke prophetic words over me. I am grateful for those years, immersed in a season of soaking in teachings about and practicing the presence of the Holy Spirit.
I was still skeptical at times and influenced by the stories of my youth, which led me to test everything I saw or heard with Scripture. I asked for all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and then promptly gave God my list of “demands” — just so we were clear. I told him I wanted the gift of tongues, but I wanted him to give it to me personally and not through someone praying over me. And he did. Later, I told God I wanted to be “slain in the Spirit” but only if no one touched or pushed me, and it happened spontaneously. Again, he graciously met me in my fears and gave me the joy of being slain in the Spirit.
Desperate to be used
I grew in my trust of the Father to give good gifts to his children and his church. I saw the Holy Spirit use his gifts in my life to equip me for the ministry of evangelism in the jails and inner city of Fresno. I was part of a home group from Butler MB Church where I learned from Jesus how to discern the voice and will of the Holy Spirit. We discerned what the Holy Spirit wanted to do in and through each of us through community hermeneutics with fellow believers. We saw fruit from obeying the Spirit as people got saved, set free from evil spirits, discipled and grew to be leaders in their churches.
When my husband, Ricky, and I arrived in Thailand with our YWAM outreach team, I was desperate for the Holy Spirit to use me. I was deflated by the language barrier. I couldn’t use my gift of evangelism, because I couldn’t speak the mind-boggling tonal language. The Holy Spirit asked me if I was willing to be a fool for the gospel and invited me to greater dependence on him. He promised that he would do signs, wonders and miracles if I humbled myself and obeyed him. That started me on the journey of being quiet before God and listening to his voice. The Holy Spirit speaks to me and nudges me or gives me a message for someone, and that often starts a spiritual conversation or encounter.
When I am obedient to his instruction, I see the Holy Spirit open up opportunities for spiritual conversations and prayer times with strangers that are divinely orchestrated. Sometimes this takes some self-talk where I remind myself of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4:10 that “we are fools for Christ.”
I say a quick prayer and ask God to use my obedience to him to bring this person to salvation in Christ. Often, for example, I will be in a taxi in Bangkok with the driver, and by the end of our trip, I am able to pray with the driver. The Holy Spirit moves and touches people with the great love of the Father, to bring people to Jesus.
Expecting powerful experiences
We have been in Thailand since 1993, and I’ve learned so much about how South East Asian churches work in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. In general, churches and believers here want all the gifts, every ounce of help God has to offer them to overcome torment from evil spirits, generational sin, witchcraft, family addictions and idol worship.
Take Thai and Cambodian believers that we work alongside of. Most of them came out of Folk Buddhism mixed with Animism and were gripped by fear and lies. They grew up highly in tune with the spiritual world. They have had real encounters with demons and the enemy. It is easy for them to expect powerful experiences with the Holy Spirit. When they read Acts 16 where God uses an earthquake to shake open the prison doors for his children, they take it at face value and expect the Holy Spirit will still do that today for anyone who calls to him for help. It’s freeing to do life, ministry and church with believers who are discerning but not skeptical of how the Spirit works.
Being involved in the church in South East Asia, I am so grateful for the space they allow for the Holy Spirit to move and shake things up a bit. There are no bulletins in most churches, and time is fluid. If the Holy Spirit starts to move in a new direction, most pastors go with that Holy Ghost flow. One of my favorite metaphors for the Holy Spirit is that he is a river, flowing wildly at points and like a quiet stream in other moments.
When we lay down our Western need to control time and the order of events, believers are prompted to wade in deeply into what the Holy Spirit has for them, not merely dip their toes in at the edge. Sometimes a “rapid” might take you down the river, and the excitement is palpable and can help get you through a rough week ahead where you might not meet another believer all week.
Embracing the Holy Spirit
The open mic time in our churches here is at the beginning of church, and it’s like “Chicken Surprise” in the college cafeteria—you never know what you are going to get! People sometimes share for long periods of time—sometimes uncomfortably long—and everyone honors and allows them to share freely. Someone will say that they feel led we need to pray for something as a church in that moment, and the church joyfully trusts that the Holy Spirit is present and using each person present, not only the pastor, and has good gifts to impart during our time together. N.T. Wright, in Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, writes, “Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God’s new temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet.”
By embracing the Holy Spirit within each of us, I think the Spirit life is like a team sport. It levels the playing field, and we truly function as the priesthood of all believers, true to our Anabaptist heritage and values. The human-made constructs we struggle with in church, where church has become an institution or set of constitutions and bylaws, are shed when we experience the freedom and power of the Spirit to move us out of our routines.
The Spirit ignites, gifts and uses us, his children, for both his glory and to see the captives set free and come to know Jesus. He will come in power for you too, where ever you are, if you give him freedom to move within you. He shows up for us whether we are in a small farmhouse in Canada or in a mega city like Bangkok.
Karen Huebert-Sanchez (left) and her husband, Ricky, are part of Multiply’s Chonburi Team in Northern Thailand. Huebert-Sanchez is the founder and director of Abundant Life Home, an orphanage for HIV-positive children, and works with Standing Strong, a project for women coming out of the sex trade. The couple is also involved in leadership development, worker recruitment and church planting. They have four daughters.