In just a few days a new decade begins. Ten years ago Taylor and I were in college, newly engaged and getting ready to being our new lives together. In the past decade we have gotten married, started jobs, quit jobs, moved to new houses, new cities, had four children, lost Will and started a non-profit. I want to tell you a story about our past decade. It's a bit long but it really puts a lot of what God is doing through the Will King Foundation into perspective. It’s a story about patience and God’s sovereignty. It’s a story that starts ten years ago and demonstrates just another way the Will’s life has affected ours in greater ways than we could have ever imagined.
Ten years ago Taylor and I were at a New Year's conference in Washington DC celebrating the beginning of 2010 with hundreds of other college students. We became friends our freshman year and had met through a college ministry called Campus Outreach. I think there can sometimes be some misconceptions about campus ministries and while Campus Outreach wasn’t perfect, being involved with a group of young Christians had an overall positive impact on both Taylor and I. We learned how to study the Bible and share our faith. We also learned that there were a lot of people all over the world who had never heard the Gospel. I knew about missionaries as a child, I heard of people going on mission trips through our church or delivering Christmas shoeboxes through Samaritan’s Purse, but I never connected that people were going to places all over the world to share the Gospel with people who may have never heard the name of Jesus or read the Bible. Even non-Christians who I grew up with knew who Jesus was and had access to a Bible, it seemed like such common knowledge. It was hard to imagine a world where people would look at you blankly with any mention of Jesus or the Gospel and I was just very naive to what missions was really all about.
Taylor and I started dating in October 2009 and after almost a year were got engaged during our senior year of college. During that time we learned more about these “unreached people groups,” communities of people who had never heard the Gospel. We learned that there was a place in the world called the 10/40 window, which spans much of Northern Africa, the Middle East and Asia and is home to some of the largest unreached people groups in the world. We started a prayer group and met together with a group of friends each week to pray for one of the unreached groups in the 10/40 window. We had maps and copies of Operation World spread across the table as we shared facts about the least evangelized parts of the world. It’s okay if it sounds obsessive and overdone, if you know me then you know that obsessive and overdone are my normal. Just to prove my point, when we moved this summer I found the “Pray for Africa” scrapbook I made for Taylor (yes, I’m serious). I had forgot I made this and I can’t remember when I even gave it to him, but it’s a spiral bound notebook with black pages filled with sticker letters, gold gel pen and full Princess Poppy style enthusiasm. On each page I put the name of an African country in sticker letters and then wrote specific ways to pray for the people in that country. I am not joking even a little bit. I am shocked that he didn’t run far far away after receiving this. And the hours I must have spent. If this doesn’t convince you just believe me when I say we were committed (consumed?) with taking the Gospel to those who have never heard it before. Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations and we, for whatever reason, felt like we should be the ones to do just that.
After we got engaged there was a lot of discussion about where we would live and what we would do after graduation. We felt a lot of pressure to go on staff with Campus Outreach in their new region of Washington DC. We even spent some time in DC meeting with the staff director, visiting the church we would attend and seriously considering the possibility of continuing to spend our time in dorm rooms, college cafeterias and intramural fields. I wasn’t into it but pretended to be. I was excited about living in DC but not what we would be doing there. Staying on the college campus after graduation didn’t appeal to me. Besides, I loved children. I was student teaching in a first grade classroom and being around those children every day lit my heart on fire. We didn’t do many wise things as college students, but one very wise thing we did was reach out to our pastor. We had been attending a local church near Elon for a few years and thought we should go outside of the Campus Outreach bubble to get some advice from our pastor about this decision. We explained that we wanted to somehow have an impact on the nations and that we were trying to decide whether we should spend a few years on staff or not. I remember the look on his face as we explained our dilemma, our hopes, our love for children - confusion, patience and a little smirk as to say, “these two are so naive.” Looking back I realize how illogical and immature we must have sounded. After our rambling he looked at us in the eye and in his deep, wise voice he said, “if you want to impact the nations, you need to get jobs and get involved in your local church.” It seemed too simple of an answer but I think it’s what we were both feeling and didn’t have the words or courage to admit.
We got married one month after our college graduation and moved to Charlotte, NC. We did exactly what our pastor said and found an amazing local church in Rock Hill, SC. We made some of our very best, life-long friends there. We learned how to live together, pay bills and work hard. We grew up together. In 2013 we had our first son and when Joshua was 10 months old we moved back to my hometown of Jacksonville, FL. We became covenant members at a local church, got involved and continued to work and raise our family. There was no more talk of moving overseas but our desire never went away. During our first few years back in Jacksonville my perspective on missions began to change. I read and listened and learned. I started to realize that true change happens through community.
After Will passed away, we asked our family and friend to help us sponsor Avery, a little girl from Grenada who needed heart treatment that wasn’t available where she lived. The response was overwhelming and we were able to continue sponsoring children just like Avery through Patrons of the Hearts. As generosity continued to flow in, we started to realize that we really needed to decide what we would do with it. Who would we help? How could we make the most meaningful impact? Patrons of the Hearts serves international pediatric heart patients and we decided to support those children and families for a few reasons. One is because they don’t have access to the medical resources we do. When our babies got sick, we drove ten minutes to a children’s hospital with all the specialized care they needed. I am certain that if we lived in a developing country when our babies got sick neither of them would have survived. So, we made it our mission to support international children receiving heart treatment in Jacksonville. We get to sponsor children through Patrons of the Hearts, support them and their families while they are here with King Kits, our connection with The Care Team at our local church and through prayer teams. We will get to fund trips to developing countries where doctors will set up a clinic and be ale to identify children who need to travel to our city for life-saving heart treatment. The Will King Foundation has the opportunity to impact the nations much more than Taylor and I do on our own. While these children are here with their families we get to connect with them and support them during a very difficult time in their lives. We get to love them and care for them and even give them a children’s Bible, but I think what is most world changing is that these children will return home with knowledge of the Gospel. Whether they knew about Jesus or not before they came here, they will go home knowing that Jesus loves them and God can use them to reach their communities much more effectively than we ever could have. That’s not to say we will never travel overseas or participate in international missions, it’s just to say that God can use us to impact the world from anywhere, even our own hometown. He can take the biggest mess and turn it into an even bigger message and that’s exactly what He’s doing with Will’s life. He planted little seeds all over mine and Taylor’s hearts over the past ten years and after the most devastating and tragic event of our lives those seeds have begun to grow.
Our mission is to glorify God by supporting children undergoing life-saving heart treatment and creating a caring community for their families in honor of our son, Will.
My name is Courtney Hughes and I am Will's mommy. I am happy that you are here to read Will's story and make a difference with us!