The Hernandez family can be described as cheerful people. How appropriate for them to serve God in the Land of Smiles! Ahmet received Christ as his Savior at the age of seven. Unfortunately, as many young people do, he drifted away from the Lord, wasting precious years in the world. Rachael always believed in God. As a child, she would look at the clouds and imagine seeing Jesus coming—on a surfboard! (She lived in Pensacola, Florida, where surfing is a big sport.) It wasn’t until after she married Ahmet that she understood the Gospel and was saved.
Ahmet served in the United States Navy. While stationed in Guam, the family attended a church that was started and pastored by a missionary. Rachael remembers thinking, “I could never be a missionary!” (Strange, isn’t it, that men and women serve overseas in the military in difficult or dangerous places but going to the mission field scares them to death!) Today, Rachael feels very much at home raising her family in a foreign culture and speaking another language.
After leaving the Navy, Ahmet found work in a nuclear power plant near Zachary, Louisiana. The Hernandez family aslo found Grace Baptist Church, a very mission-minded church that was pastored by Tom Schreeder, a former missionary to Ukraine. (Today Brother Tom and his wife, Linda, are missionaries to Armenia.) It was there in Louisiana, with a wife, three children, and a good job, that God began dealing with Ahmet about missionary service. By 2008, the Lord had shown him that Thailand was the family’s place of service.
The Hernandezes began raising support and then continued deputation while attending BBTI. They graduated in May 2013. Knowing that they were facing a very difficult, tonal language, they took seriously the Advanced Missionary Training they were receiving in phonetics, linguistics, and language and culture learning. It was drilled into them, “Get the language first. Don’t get too busy in ministry and neglect your language and culture learning. Don’t rely on a translator. Language learning is your ministry!” God abundantly blessed their pre-field ministry as they worked hard and traveled many miles. They did not endure deputation; they enjoyed it! They departed for Thailand in December 2014.
The Hernandez family went right to work learning the language. Mistakes are inevitable; we call them bilingual bloopers. Rachael sent us one for our Summer 2016 issue. She wrote, “I have really come to appreciate the difference between ‘learning’ a language and ‘using’ a language. All this ‘using’ has produced an even higher amount of language funnies! I wanted to buy a notebook (sa-moot) but asked for a brain (sa-ong). I asked our new helper to wash the mattress (tee non) instead of saying sheets (paa bpoo tee non). She had no idea what I meant!” Shortly after their arrival in Thailand, the government enacted a new policy for obtaining a missionary work visa, and Ahmet had to pass the Grade 6 Thai Competency Test. He said, “I didn’t realize how fluent 6th graders are in a language until I started studying for this test!”
God gave this family opportunity to teach English at a university where they followed English classes with Bible studies. In slightly over a year, Rachael began teaching children’s Bible stories in Thai, and in a year and a half, they began the Hua Mak Baptist Church in Bangkok. Because it is an international area, they held both Thai and English services. Besides teaching English, Ahmet and Rachael have found innovative ways such as community night and basketball tournaments to reach their people. The entire family studied hard learning the language, and they work together in ministry. Grace Baptist Church did not send one missionary to Thailand, it sent five: Ahmet, Rachael, AJ (Ahmet Junior), Sarah, and little Rachael. They are giving the people of Thailand something to really smile about!