A turn in the road Jennifer and Jeff Lauer had set out in a pTC new direction -- to pursue a life of renewed spiritual service. They knew there would be obstacles, but never imagined how their faith would soon be tested.

October 19, 1997|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,SUN STAFF

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

-- Joshua 1:9

The morning of Saturday, April 26, 1997, was sunny and crisp, spring day so perfect it took your breath away. It was a little after 8: 30 when Jeff Lauer nosed his 1988 Ford Taurus down the winding, two-lane ribbon of road that is Jarrettsville Pike just south of Jacksonville in northern Baltimore County.

In the passenger seat, his wife, Jennifer, had just finished eating a chocolate-covered doughnut when she saw the small, dark car speeding toward them.

In an instant, all other thoughts were pushed from her mind: how pretty the blossoms on the trees looked, how fast the white, puffy clouds raced across the sky, the evangelism seminar they were headed to at Grace Fellowship Church in Timonium.

There was only the small, dark car, fish-tailing across the double-yellow line and sliding, sliding, sliding toward them.

"I knew it was going to hit us," Jennifer Lauer recalls now, her face tightening at the memory. "And I knew it was going to be terrible."

In the next instant, there was an unearthly roar and two tons of metal collided with a fury that was astonishing.

Then, lesser, muted sounds: glass tinkling, a bumper skidding across the pavement, a radiator hissing, a wheel cover rolling across gravel and finally wobbling to rest.

Then, Jennifer Lauer recalls, there was silence. A silence so profound it seemed even the birds stopped singing.

"Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourself. D what it says."

-- James 1: 22

If the story of the two people in the Ford Taurus were plotted o a bar graph, their solidly middle-class life would be represented by a steady uphill line.

Until last December, Jeff Lauer, 41, had worked for Safeway for 24 years, 14 of them as a store manager. He was making more than $100,000 a year and was on the fast track to a prestigious job at corporate headquarters in California.

Jennifer Lauer, 39, was a stay-at-home mom who often invited groups of women into her home to study the Bible. The Lauers had two kids, 15-year-old Heather and 13-year-old Stephanie, and lived in a large, comfortable house outside Jacksonville, the same house Jennifer had grown up in.

Her parents lived next door; his were a 15-minute drive away.

Maybe Jeff didn't sit down to dinner in a white shirt, tie and alpaca sweater, and maybe Jennifer didn't greet guests with a pot roast in the oven and an apron around her waist. Still, to some, they must have seemed like something out of Ward and June Cleaver's day.

"Life was so good," Jennifer Lauer says. "Why would you want to change?"

But sometimes, we don't get to choose the changes in our lives. Sometimes change is simply thrust upon us. And sometimes, if you're a deeply committed Christian, you feel the hand of God at work. You wake up one morning and feel God closing one door of your life and opening another.

This was what the Lauers say happened to them one weekend in March 1995, when they attended a FamilyLife Marriage Conference at a large hotel in northern Virginia.

The conference was sponsored by the FamilyLife Ministry, a nondenominational ministry based in Little Rock, Ark., that focuses on improving family life and relationships.

They expected to see maybe 100 people when they walked into the glittering hotel ballroom that day. Instead, 3,600 people showed up -- 1,800 well-scrubbed couples committed to working with their spouses to improve their marriages.

The Lauers were mightily impressed. Both felt the seminar's workshops were invaluable, helping them learn to communicate better with each other.

"We thought: This represents everything we believe in! This is really exciting!" Jennifer recalls.

The day after the conference, still exultant, they decided to learn more about the FamilyLife Ministry. And so began a process of exploration and spiritual self-examination that would culminate in momentous decision: They would join the ministry's 317-member staff and become full-time missionaries in Little Rock.

"I felt like God was pulling us," Jennifer says, "and we were supposed to be part of this ministry."

It was not a decision arrived at lightly. Gone would be the six-figure income -- FamilyLife missionaries are expected to raise their own financial support, chiefly from individual donations.

Gone also would be the rambling homestead in the leafy neighborhood, the luxury of having family and longtime friends nearby, the security of a familiar, well-ordered life.

But in December of last year, after months of preparation, Jeff quit his job at Safeway. The Lauers had raised 70 percent of the money they'd need to join FamilyLife.

They now considered themselves full-time missionaries.

The move to Little Rock was just months away.

"This," Jennifer thought with conviction, "is God's plan for us."

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