When Joel and Paige Assaraf met in Georgia, they never thought their differing religious beliefs would have such an impact on their relationship. Paige was raised Southern Baptist, and Joel was Jewish — known around town as a powerful businessman with over 3,000 employees.
Even when the couple married in 1986, Joel refused to convert. Rather than invest in a relationship with God, he poured himself into his career.
After years of financial success, Joel hit a rocky season in his career. In 2004, he began failing at the one thing he thought he was meant to do his entire life. The pressure, stress, and anxiety left him awake all hours of the night. That’s when he heard from the one person he had been ignoring for years.
“Jesus called out to me in the night,” says Joel. “I fell to my knees and said ‘Jesus, it’s not working my way, so let’s do it your way.’ It’s just like what Pastor Rick Warren says, ‘that God’s address is at the end of our rope.’”
That night, Joel slept three straight hours — the most sleep he’d had in months. He awoke with an insatiable hunger for God’s Word, and immediately started downloading sermons by Pastor Rick.
Although Joel had routinely attended church with Paige, he never had a personal connection with God until that night. While his wife kept praying for a breakthrough, Joel kept his conversation with God secret for two years. His fear was that it wouldn’t last.
In the midst of Joel’s private faith, the couple’s church studied The Purpose Driven Life by Pastor Rick. With a longing to visit the author’s home church of Saddleback, they headed to Lake Forest, California. All the while, Paige kept praying for her husband to find God.
It was during that time in 2006, that Joel finally told her about his new life in Christ. However, it was not until Pastor Rick asked for people to serve in Rwanda, that Paige fully comprehended the extent of his transformation.
“We were driving home and I told my wife, ‘We need to go to Rwanda.’ We both knew what the meant for our family of four. We pulled over and starting crying together.”
Before long, the couple went through PEACE Plan training, and then traveled to Rwanda to start a soccer ministry. Paige worked with Orphan Care and Joel headed up saving groups to help people break free people from poverty. With their two sons in tow, the family of four made six trips to Rwanda, staying there between two weeks and three months each time.
Yet the biggest change in Joel’s life was yet to come. In 2015, he felt God calling him to sell his now thriving business and serve in full-time ministry. Stepping out in faith, Joel left it all behind and enrolled in Bethlehem Seminary in Minneapolis.
Now in his final year of ministerial training, the next chapter of his life is just beginning. Joel has committed to complete his seminary education remotely so that he can work with Saddleback’s PEACE Team in Lake Forest.
Ironically, the same man who suffered years of sleepless nights, can finally rest in the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.
To learn how your church can be Purpose Driven and implement PEACE around the world, visit pd.church.