Fort Worth, TX (SWBTS) -- Stories from the mission field are common souvenirs that Southwesterners take home to Fort Worth. Ashley Perkins, a Master of Divinity student, brought back what could be her best story of all – she became a Christian, saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, during her summer mission trip.

Perkins was one of 14 students from Southwestern joined by 12 students from Truett-McConnell College who traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand, for an inter-religious studies and evangelism mission trip May 27-June 29.

Perkins said she prayed to God to save her the first Tuesday the team was there. She ended her report of what she prayed that night with a laugh, a smile lighting up her face. “Lord, I lay it all before you, and I put my faith in your Son. It’s only by grace and what He did for us on the cross that I can ever get to You, and I don’t deserve it, and I’ll always be unworthy, but You love us!”

While overseas in Thailand, Perkins saw vivid examples of both the belief systems of the people of Chiang Mai and the dedicated faith of her fellow students in witnessing to them about forgiveness through the grace of God.

“Their priority in life was to get up and serve the Lord every day,” said Perkins. “I didn’t understand where that came from.

“One night a couple of guys from Truett-McConnell [College] were telling us how they were witnessing to this ex-Navy guy that they met. … He was just so bitter and angry, and he basically just mocked the Gospel and everything they told him.”

The response of the students she was serving with to this treatment became a source of conviction for Perkins.

“I’ve never seen men, especially guys my age, that broken for the Gospel and broken for the Lord, and I [thought], ‘Lord, why can’t I have that kind of passion and love for You [like] they do?’”

Perkins also saw the contrast of her friends’ faith to the people of Chiang Mai, a lesson God, “in His sovereignty, had to take me halfway around the world to show me,” she said.

“Both Buddhism and Islam are completely works-based religions. And I was very much a works person,” said Perkins. “I had no concept of grace at all. I thought I had to do all these good things to try to earn God’s love and be good enough for Him to get to heaven. And for them, it’s the same thing.”

Perkins finally saw her “pride and arrogance,” as she called it, and was honest with God about what she believed.

“Lord, I’m tired,” she prayed. “And I don’t know why I can’t stop working to earn You.”

Her advice for her fellow students at Southwestern and elsewhere, is to “try and let yourself be humbled,” because a lot of people’s reluctance to become Christians is due to “pride and arrogance and thinking we can do it on our own without God,” she said.

Though her parents were Christians and she came from “tons of preachers” on her mom’s side of the family, Perkins was not a Christian until she accepted the grace, or favor, of God through faith.

She said Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern, would often challenge college and seminary students during chapel services to make sure they put their faith in Jesus Christ and not in good behavior, a Christian legacy or ministry.

Perkins grinned. “I thought he was crazy,” she said. “I’d be like, ‘Really? We’re all in seminary; I’m pretty sure we all have our salvation.’” Before this, she said, “I never even thought it was possible to grow up in church and think you know it and to think that you have your salvation.”

When she accepted that Jesus Christ, her Lord, took her sin upon Himself and paid the debt she owed God, giving salvation to her as a gift, she was a changed woman. Out of her gratitude, she wanted to share what God did for her with the people of Chiang Mai.

“‘You don’t have to live in this darkness, and you don’t have to work!’” she said she wanted to exclaim during the opportunities God provided for her to share her faith.

Perkins’ heart went out to the people she met in Thailand. “It was heartbreaking to see them just worship and fall down in front of these gigantic statues of Buddha and these gods that are made in our image when we’re so unworthy, you know? We’re sinners, and they’re falling before gods that are made like us.
“I just wanted to talk to them and tell them that Jesus was it,” Perkins said. “All this worry and stress doesn’t have to be there. You can just trust in Him and know that it’s done. It’s over.”