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May 15, 2001

Dear Shannon,

Greetings from Washington, DC!! Well, I don't know where to start, but I guess I just rattle on here a bit and share with you what's going on in my life. First, I want to thank God for the blessing that you've been in my life. Not a day goes by that I don't think of you and pray for you. Family is one of biggest gifts that God can give us and I thank him daily that he has given me a sister in you. You probably don't know this, but it was because of you that God challenged my heart and made me realize how sinful I was and how meaningless life is if we don't depend on Him and love Him above everything else in this world. Let me share my testimony with you briefly about how God changed my life and allowed me to be born again into his grace, mercy and forgiveness.

During your first year at the University of Colorado, Mom had been attending Capitol Hill Baptist Church and urged Ryan and I to attend with her on Sunday mornings, which we did as a way to visit with Mom regularly. Ryan did a gospel study of Mark with Mark Dever, the pastor, and over a series of months, God worked in his heart and he was baptized in May 1998. Out of curiosity and respect for Ryan and Mom, I did the gospel study as well. In the end, the review of basic Christianity was not enough to convince me of my wickedness and need for dependence on God. I shelved the study session in the back of my brain as another of many philosophies that I had now studied. The study had perhaps made me more erudite and informed, but it had not brought me to my knees. I was still a self-assured, ambitious, well-mannered 22 year-old excited about how I could create success and happiness for myself and the people I loved. For me, people were basically good; reason and hard work were sufficient paradigms to allow for happiness, meaning and success in life. There was no eternal perspective in my world view. I did not include God in my world view because I sensed no need for him. Sin was not a concern for me because I did not understand God, his purity and his antipathy for wickedness.

In May 1998 after we hadn't heard from you in a while, I quit my free-lance job with the Washington Times to head out to Boulder and see if I could find anything out about your whereabouts. As you know, this was a difficult and busy time for all of us because we were struggling to help Dad, get out of debt and create some stability for the family. Almost a year out of college, I was still trying to figure out what path to embark down in terms of a career.

When I got to Boulder, the first person I met was Alex White (who remains a dear brother to me to this day). He shared with me about you, your year at University of Colorado and Boulder, and your all's friendship. You had (and still have) a very special place in his heart. All in all, I spent a little over 2 weeks in Boulder trying to play detective. Alex helped and encouraged me a lot. The first thing he told me when I got to Boulder was that our only hope in finding something out about you was to pray to God. I was not the praying type, but I liked Alex and he was helpful to me so I respected his feelings there and allowed him to pray for us. Although, the whole time I was on my trip, the prayer never stopped. A lot of my time in Boulder and beyond was spent with Christians, some who knew you and many who did not. I would tell the people that I was looking for you and that we believed you had joined a group of believers who tend to live an isolated existence. All of these people listened with empathy and prayed for you, me and our family. I had people pray for us in churches, pastors' offices, homes, offices, restaurants, parking lots...you name it and we probably prayed there.

Well after a couple of weeks in Boulder, we had figured out that you were with the Jim Roberts Group and we guessed that you had gone West. Alex joined me and we hoped in the Blazer for a long road trip. First, we headed toward to the Rainbow Gathering that was taking place in Arizona. We were hoping that we might see you there. My hope then and still now was not to stop you from doing what you are doing; all's we wanted to do was see you, talk to you, tell you we love you, give you a lot of big hugs and see if we could keep in touch with you.

We arrived to the Rainbow gathering and stayed there for a few days. I was amazed at how many people showed up. We had a good time and I enjoyed imagining you interacting with these people. Looking back, I realize what a blessing you probably were to these folks. I always describe you to people as a "hippie that doesn't drink or smoke." I know that God will continue to use you to bless these people and share with them about the cross of Jesus Christ. If you ever do finish your pre-med and religion studies, I know that God will put you in a powerful ministry that will glorify him a lot.

Saddened that we didn't run into you in Arizona, we pointed the Blazer towards California and headed to San Francisco. What a drive! Alex kept me good company so the drive was not too painful. By the time we got to San Francisco, I had been on the road for about 5 weeks. We stayed with an elderly lady named Margaret Erickson (we called her "Mrs. E"). She was a true servant of the Lord and Alex considered her his mom (she used to run a boarding house in Boulder where Alex lived). When we arrived, I told her my story about how I was looking for you and whatnot. She was interested enough with my story, but what worried her the most was that I told her I was not a Christian; this really troubled her soul. Mrs. E. sat me down and talked to me about Jesus and the implications of the cross. She reminded me of how I was a sinner (even if I didn't see it) and explained that the only purpose of life was to glorify God.

Up to this point, I had been heavily immersed with Christians in Boulder and while traveling with Alex. I had a tremendous opportunity to witness and reflect on the lives of these people. One of the things that really began to impress upon me were the differences that I noted in these Christians lives versus my life. Through their prayers for me and through the testimonies of their lives, God began to show me how he works to mold and bless the lives of his children. By the time I got to Mrs. E. in San Francisco (she lives in Palo Alto), I was starting to realize that I was not capable of solving all things by myself; I also realized that my life was not as good or fulfilling as I had pretended it was. I began to sense the sincere love and peace that these Christians manifested in their lives as a result of their faith and dependence in Christ.

Mrs. E. gave me a copy of Mere Christianity and some cassettes one night after her evangelizing episode; she dismissed herself for the evening (practically shaking her head in remorse for my unsaved soul) simply saying that she would pray for me. That night, I went to bed strongly overwhelmed by her talk to me and distraught because my trip was coming to its end...and I still hadn't been able to find you or talk to you. I uttered a prayer before I dozed off that God was quick to answer: "God, if you're real, please show me your Spirit." Two days after saying that quick prayer, God went to work on me. It was a Sunday (July 5, 1998) and I had spent the weekend in Berkley and throughout San Francisco. I had actually met a couple of the brothers from your group over those last 4 days and engaged in long conversations with them. They told me that they knew of you, but they would not divulge any other information. So, that Sunday we went to Mrs. E's church which was a Vineyard Church in Palo Alto held at a high school gymnasium. At the beginning of the service, the pastor announced that communion would be served that morning. He explained what communion was and invited anyone "who believed in Christ or who wanted to put their faith in Christ" to participate in the holy supper. I immediately thought of my prayer just a couple nights before and figured that God was showing himself and he had put me in a corner; I had two options: (1) partake in communion and give my life to Christ or (2) abstain from communion and reject God. The elements were passed and I shared in communion. Afterwards, the service was concluded and the pastor announced that he and some other members of the church would remain at the front of the altar for people to approach if they wanted prayer. I kind of stood there dazed-and-confused, and Mrs. E. came straight for me. She took my hand, pushed her way through the crowd and went straight for the head pastor. We approached him and she instructed the bemused preacher to "pray for him." The pastor asked me what he could pray for. I asked him to pray for you and for our family because you had disappeared and we had no way of contacting you. He prayed for us and then quickly asked me if there were any other prayer requests that I desired. I said yes, and asked him to help me accept Jesus Christ into my life. He explained the gospel to me one more time and then I committed my life to Jesus. I left that high school gym reborn and renewed in our Lord and Savior.

Well, by this time, we were ending our search for you. However, my trust was now in God, and I know that his sovereignty rules our lives. I trust in him and his plan for our family. So, I took Alex back to Boulder, Colorado and headed back to Washington via Texas. I went to Texas to visit Dad and bring him back to Washington with me. Dad stayed with us in DC from July 1998 until March 1999. Since March, he has been living back in Texas. He lives with his sister, June. I don't think you've ever met her. Unfortunately, Dad has suffered a lot these past 5 years and is not doing well physically or spiritually. He is a stubborn man who has suffered as a result of both injustices committed against him as well as from his own sin. He continues to fight "corruption" in Houston and refuses to lift himself from this quagmire. Although we don't agree with what he's doing, we support him just enough so that he has food to eat. I pray for him daily that God will heal his body and mind, fill him with the Holy Spirit and give him a repentant heart. Until Dad has Jesus in his life, we can only make sure he does not go off the deep end. Please keep Dad in your prayers.

So, I returned to Washington after my 11,000 mile cross-country tour and got baptized in September 1998. I joined Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC -- you can check out our website and listen to sermons via Internet at www.capitolhillbaptist.org and enjoyed a great year of discipleship, teaching of the Word, fellowship, and worship to God there. I knew that the only way to grow spiritually was to completely immerse myself in the fellowship, love, accountability, witness, teaching, and support of my church family -- my brothers and sisters in Christ. Ryan, Mom and I all enjoyed a wonderful rebirth and growth in our lives as a result of our involvement with CHBC. I pray that one day you will be able to visit us and the church to see how God is working here. In September 1999 I took a job from a member of our church to go help start and run his telecommunication business in El Salvador, Central America.

I was in El Salvador from September 1999 until April 2000. After a wonderful year at CHBC, I was sad to leave my friends and family in Washington. Nevertheless, the opportunity to start a new business in a Latin America country where I could use my Spanish and work with a Christian company was too good to pass up. The first weekend I got there, I immediately got involved with an evangelical church and met the women who I would eventually engage and marry. My experience with the church was not only blessed by the fact that I made some wonderful friends and relationships, but also by the fact that I got to worship Jesus in a completely different culture, language and context. It just made me realize the omniscience and omnipotence of God. Us humans come in all different shapes, sizes and colors yet God knows all of our hearts and loves us all. My time in El Salvador really taught me that truth, and it gave me a desire to minister and love my fellow brothers and sisters throughout all of the world. I won't bore you about the details of my job, but just know that it was a challenging but edifying and enjoyable time. Imagine a start-up company, in a nascent, emerging industry (telecommunications), in a developing country. Anything that could go wrong, always did. The biggest blessing was working with other brothers and sisters in Christ and being able to share in their happy and sad times together.

I left El Salvador in April 2000 and went to Los Angeles, CA where I was until August of last year. I was working with the same small company as we tried to develop a business to the Salvadorean immigrant community in LA. The business was not fairing well, and my time there was lonely and difficult; but my relationship with Ana Sermeo was doing wonderfully. Ana and I began dating in December 1999. When we started to date, we both knew that I was going to be leaving El Salvador in April; so we took the relationship very seriously and with the intention of either carrying it to its natural conclusion of marriage or ending it as soon as we realized that marriage was not what God willed for our lives. The 4 months that we had together dating in El Salvador were wonderful and honoring to God. I made an effort to really get to know her family including her mom, brothers, grandma, uncles, aunts, cousins. We all enjoyed a lot of fellowship and fun together. I left El Salvador very confident of our relationship and grateful to God for the ways that he had visibly blessed Ana and me as a couple. We continued to date even though I was here in the USA. I flew Ana up to Washington in July for 10 days and then we went to Texas for 7 days together. She got to see my world here and meet everyone in our nuclear family and church family. She met Dad and Grandma, she saw where we lived on Amherst and University, she got to know Lockhart and the hill country. All in all, we had a wonderful time. In August, I went back to Los Angeles and she went back to El Salvador. Within 2 weeks of being back in L.A., I quit my job, bought a diamond ring and a plane ticket to El Salvador, and went down there the first week of September. I arrived on Monday afternoon and by Monday evening, Ana and I were engaged to be married. I was there for a few weeks while we celebrated the engagement with family and friends and made wedding preparations. I returned to DC and started working at the church (CHBC) while I searched for a job and figured out what God wanted me to do now in my life; I even visited a seminary to consider getting a Masters of Divinity.

By January, I decided to go back into real estate. I don't know if you remember, but I worked for a real estate broker my last year in college and then continued on afterwards for about another year. I had even got my real estate license in March 1998. Since January I have been an independent real estate agent for a brokerage firm named RE/MAX (they're an international franchise based in Colorado -- their logo is the red, white and blue hot-air balloon -- maybe you've heard of them.) The business has been going well, although it's always busy and difficult to start something from ground zero. Nonetheless, God has been faithful, and I enjoy my work a lot.

Ana and I got legally married her in the USA in February 2001. We had to do this for INS/immigration reasons. However, we did not have our real, church wedding until March 10. The deal was that if she was going to live on my turf, then I had to get married on hers. So, Ryan, Mom, Dad, Gran, a couple of friends and I all headed down to San Salvador, El Salvador for our wedding. Ana and I wed on Saturday, March 10, 2001 in front of 220 invited guests at her church, and it was a beautiful, God-glorifying event. Afterwards, we had an outside patio reception that even had a mariachi band. Hopefully, one day soon I can show you the pictures and introduce you to Ana.

Ana is an amazing woman. When I first met her, it was not love at first sight, but it was respect at first sight. Ana is 2 years older than me and has been a Christian for 7 years. When I arrived to El Salvador, I was pretty new in the faith (one year old). I was impressed at Ana's faithfulness and service to the Kingdom. Through her servant's heart and ministries she was a blessing to many people, including myself. By sharing her life with others, God used her to spread and glorify his kingdom. When I met her, I knew that I would have to surround myself with godly people like herself if I truly desired for God to continue to grow me spiritually and use me as an effective servant for his glory. She continues to bless my life and our family now as my wife. She is a tremendous support, encouragement and example for me. I thank God every day that he has given me the opportunity to serve him with such a wise, faithful wife by my side.

I know you don't know Ana, but she knows all about you and sends you her love and best regards. Please keep us in your prayers, and we will do the same for you. Thanks sister!

Well, I said I would just kind of rattle on, and that seems to be what I've done. I can't believe that it's been more than 3 years since we last spoke. I yearn and pray for the day that God reunites us so that I can love you, support you and help you in your ministries to the Lord. I'm saddened by all the lost opportunities that I squandered in the past to encourage and love you, and I pray that God, in his mercy and grace, allow me the opportunity to support you always in brotherly and godly love.

Shannon, God has blessed Ryan, me and you by making us siblings, and I pray that we have the wisdom, discernment and disposition to take this blessing and give it back to God by serving others and loving them for Jesus's sake. Please know that I will always love you and pray for you. You are such a special person and I see that even more now that I have an eternal perspective on this world. Your caring heart, selfless attitude and passionate character, i.e., personality, are all gifts from our Lord Jesus Christ that can be used to minister and comfort many lost souls.

A couple of weeks ago (early May 2001), I met one of the brothers here in Washington, DC on Capitol Hill. We spoke for a few minutes and I gave him my business card. I told him that our door was always open if he needed anything, be it a hot meal, a bed, money, hugs, someone to talk to...you name it. I also said that the doors of our church are open if they were looking for other Christians to fellowship and worship with. I hope it goes without saying, that I extend these same invitations to you. Shannon, I certainly don't want to control your life, but I do pray that you will permit me to be a part of it.

I love you very much and wish you the best in your service to our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Your brother,
Jason Erik Townsend

 

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