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The story of proposing marriage to Karen

The Bible says, “without faith, it is impossible to please Him.”    My paraphrase: “without taking risks and engaging in kingdom adventures, you won’t please God.” Granted, this is going to be more of a struggle for some than for others. I seemed to be drawn to big social justice iss…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
The Bible says, “without faith, it is impossible to please Him.” 
My paraphrase: “without taking risks and engaging in kingdom adventures, you won’t please God.”

Granted, this is going to be more of a struggle for some than for others. I seemed to be drawn to big social justice issues early in life. My senior year at college I had fallen in love with a beautiful co-ed named Karen.  Spending time with her was the #1 priority in my life.  But I couldn’t escape God’s call to help respond to the horror of the killing fields. Millions of Cambodians were on the move. Refugees crowded the border camps. I knew I had to go help.

I remember standing with Karen on the Wheaton lawn talking about God’s call.  We both cried at the prospect of being apart for three months or more, but we knew that’s what God was asking me to do.

My team flew over, the only 12 passengers on an empty 747 (so it could return full of refugees).  We landed in an exotic land where Buddhist temples dotted the landscape.  A few days later, another student and I were dropped off in a town called Prasat.  We had a motorcycle we were to ride to the camp.  My job was to help the refugees in the camps to earn enough money to support themselves through pig and chicken raising projects. There was no manual.

I remember one day realizing that we needed to expand our efforts. So I loaded 20 of the refugees in a big dump truck and we drove to a bamboo forest some distance away.  We cut down the bamboo and brought it back to the camp to build chicken coops.  Later we took the grown chickens across the Cambodian border to feed the refugees who had managed to cheat death.

What an adrenalin rush my time in Thailand was! But When I returned, I learned that life can’t always be that way. Karen and I resumed our courtship.  And one day I told her, “Karen, I’m going to continue my adventures by touring Europe after I graduate.”  

She replied, “You can do that, but I may not be here when you return.”

Whoah! Didn’t expect to hear that!
Left to my own devices I would have been Peter Pan for another few years. She called my bluff and I realized that not all adventures were worth having. So, I proposed marriage to her a few months later and after she accepted, we did the adventuring together. We flew to Indonesia the day after getting married (stopping in California and Hawaii en route) and we flew to the D.R. a year later.


God has a lifetime of faith adventures for you. You don’t even have to leave the country or your hometown. But they won’t happen by accident; you’ve got to put your comfort and your concept of what’s practical at risk. 
My advice: Don’t play it safe. Life is too short and the world’s needs are too great. Try something crazy; if God’s not in it, he can always call your bluff like he did with me.

Comments (15)

  • okay first of all, great picture. second of all – karen is so cool! i’m glad you guys are continuing to seek adventure together, even after all these years 🙂

  • sometimes the faith that brings you to the adventure won’t keep you on the adventure – you have to grow

    sometimes the adventure is so scary, discouraging, or stressful that the only thing you can do is take it one day at a time and hold on to the hand of the Lord with a death grip


    would you trade it for the safe life that so many of us settle for, to live out our lives not quite being & doing what He dreamed for us?


  • Seth, what a compelling story!!!! I wish I was that courageous to risk it all and be obedient to the call! Please pray for me that I may at least do short term mission trips…I have the time and resources to go NOW at age 50 and I am an empty nester too!!!!

  • Seth,

    Again you give inspiration to what I am embarking upon. I think you felt the calling way back then, but God made you realize how much more powerful your service could be with your wife at your side! I know at the age of 36 as I move forward, that my wife is integral in encouraging me to move forward. A wife’s love and faith in her husband truly reflects the church’s love and faith in Christ. It’s awesome to behold.

  • Great, great stuff!I love adventure, crazy, out of the box faith taking risk taking adventure. My steps are becoming more surefooted in pursuing Jesus…thanks for the amazing stories of faith and encouragement.

  • Seth the story you chronicle here is moving and motivating. Moreover there are some chapters we have shared including a short stint trying to change the world at IIDI. Your heart hasn’t wavered in the face of many challenges (public and private) and you know a key variable has been Karen who frankly is an unusual woman and atypical to a “me first” culture in many parts of the church today. Just days away from our daughter being married I hope and pray Tatiana and Benjamin discover the secrets to making marriage work. God knows a shared vision for life is central and without that and resisting self aggrandizing behavior relationships are doomed. I love what your family models. It is the real deal. Love you friend. Shalom…

  • Hi Seth! Happy 30th to you and Karen! Phil and I are about to celebrate our 30th this month! I was standing in front of you in line at our graduation from Wheaton the last time I saw you (Ellen Balmer)…back when you looked like your picture above! I think you’ve talked with my husband, Phil Tuttle, since though. He leads Walk Thru the Bible Ministries here in Atlanta. We have been following your blog and ministry a lot lately, since our daughter, Emily (graduated from Wheaton in May) will leave Jan. 6th on the World Race! She has been planning this for the last two years and is ready to go! As hard as it is to say goodbye for a year, we are pumped about her adventure of faith and service. Thank you for your vision and ministry of mission adventures for life change! We know Emily will be challenged and blessed!

  • a baby boomer world race?

    canes, walkers, wheelchairs, bengay, ace bandages, ice packs, headbands,lovebeads, & 8 hours of sleep

  • “a baby boomer world race?

    canes, walkers, wheelchairs, bengay, ace bandages, ice packs, headbands,lovebeads, & 8 hours of sleep”

    ha ha ha, I love it. That sounds about right, but don’t forget the prescriptions for all that ail us “baby boomers.” db

  • What a story!
    What a picture of two, vibrant young people on the cusp of life!
    When this picture was taken, I was already in my 30’s and knee-deep in the challenges of raising a family.
    I concur: We are all made for adventures.
    Some are too timid, too fearful, too complacent, too riddled with self-doubt.
    But, my injunction to every man and woman I meet is to live as if every day is an adventure with God.
    I’m sad that so many, for reasons above and myriad others, stay stuck in their ruts and routines and miss out.
    Though I’m thankful for your choices, we don’t all have to travel to far-flung mission fields.
    I have lived 31 years in the same, little town in Oregon and my sphere has been small and largely hidden.
    Yet, my life has been no less an adventure.
    We can move mountains, scale vistas, and blaze trails for the Kingdom without ever leaving our own little neighborhood.
    It’s a matter of living with an attitude of wonder, risk-taking, and being completely sold-out to what God has for us!
    Love you and really hope to meet you someday!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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