Keith Knowlton (‘04) is a proud Lakeland Christian School alum who attended the school for his entire K-12 education.
He and his wife Rachel and their children, Mary Katherine, 10, Henry, 8, Frances, 6, and Crawford, 1, are currently serving as global missionaries in Edinburgh, Scotland through Missions to the World (MTW ), the missions arm of the Presbyterian Church in America.
He said he is incredibly grateful for the impact LCS had on his spiritual formation, social development and academic achievement through influential teachers, coaches and friends.
He recently took the time to share with
us what it’s like to be a missionary family in Europe, and sift through the sometimes comical cultural differences while embarking on the significant opportunity to grow God’s kingdom.
How did your family discern its call to serve as missionaries in Scotland?
After graduating from Furman University, Rachel and I got married and spent a year doing mission work in China. Although we returned to the U.S. so I could enter law school, the Lord used that experience to develop our passion for ministry and prepare our hearts for his future calling.
After law school, we moved to Greenville, SC where I practiced law for seven years. We loved our life in Greenville, but we started to experience a sense of spiritual unrest, which led us to re-evaluate our long-term calling. After much prayer and wise counsel, we eventually sensed the Lord leading us back into missions. Through God’s providence, we were called to serve with MTW and partner with the Free Church of Scotland in Edinburgh.
What does your day-to-day work look like currently?
As the MTW Regional Director for the U.K I am responsible for serving a team of 15 missionary families located throughout the U.K., strengthening our national partnerships and assisting in the recruitment of new missionaries. I serve as an elder in our church, leading our international ministry and university ministry through preaching and engaging in various forms of evangelism and discipleship. Each day is a mix of ministry events, personal meetups, meetings, Zoom calls, emails and frequent walks in the rain.
While most missionaries enjoy a “honeymoon” period upon arriving on the field, we had no such experience.
We spent our first two weeks quarantined in our house with nothing but mattresses on the floor and a freezer of frozen food. For months, we faced constantly evolving government mandates regarding where and with whom
we could meet, which made it very different to build community and engage in ministry. Consequently, most of our social interaction occurred under a tent in our backyard while Zoom provided a platform for leading student Bible studies and teaching English to Chinese immigrants.
What are a few unique, funny or interesting things you have learned about Scottish culture that you had no clue about before moving there?
The Scottish do not use napkins! After repeatedly learning the hard way, we are now sure to inconspicuously bring a napkin in our pocket whenever we are invited to someone’s house for dinner. There is also great truth to the saying that the U.S. and U.K. are two countries separated by a common language. It has certainly taken time and effort to develop an ear for varying accents and different vocabulary. Unsurprisingly, our kids are leading the way!
On a more serious note, most Americans are not aware of the current state of the church in Scotland. Although Scotland served as the background for the Reformation and the birthplace of Presbyterianism, it is now less than 1 percent evangelical Christian. Churches are closing at a staggering rate while indifference, if not hostility, to the Gospel continues to rise.
How does the LCS community continue to support you?
Several of my LCS classmates have remained some of my closest friends over the past (almost) 20 years. While I have not lived in Lakeland since graduating from LCS, I always appreciate reconnecting with my LCS family who continue to express love and warmth whenever I return. We are particularly blessed to have numerous LCS families partner with us in our missions work through prayer and financial support. We even have another LCS alumnus, Robbie Sweet (‘01) and his family, serving on our MTW team in Glasgow.
What has been the most challenging thing about your current missionary assignment?
Serving in foreign country can be a very isolating experience. Although we appreciate our local church family, we lack the strong Christian community we had in the States. Our kids have no Christians friends at school and our church has very few young Christian families. While ministry opportunities abound, it is easy to become overcommitted and feel overwhelmed by the immensity of our task. Nonetheless, we remain confident in the Lord’s calling and are continually reminded that we must fully rely on the power of the Spirit in order that he may accomplish his good purpose in us and through us.
Although the current spiritual landscape in Scotland and throughout Europe seems bleak, we are excited to participate in the advancement of God’s kingdom. MTW currently has 170 missionaries serving in 22 European countries in various forms of church planting, mercy ministry and evangelism. Personally, we are blessed to partner with the Free Church of Scotland, who has the vision of planting 30 new churches by 2030.
Since Edinburgh is such an international city, we are seeing significant ministry opportunities among foreign students, immigrants, and refugees. It is so exciting to see the Lord draw people from every tribe and tongue to himself.
For anyone interested in pursuing missions, I would encourage them to first get involved in local ministry. Serving in your church and community is a natural way to identify and develop your spiritual gifts. If you’re not willing to serve God locally, you shouldn’t expect to have the desire and ability to do so internationally.
Secondly, I would urge young people to remain open to God’s call into missions regardless of your age and stage of life. We
can often be tempted to think that having a career exempts us from the possibility of full-time ministry. However, God may be equipping you with valuable knowledge, training and experience in order to serve him in a different capacity later in life. I am so glad the Lord did not keep me in full-time missions at the age of 22, but used the next decade of my life to prepare me spiritually and professionally for my current role in ministry. Although it is not easy to quit a career and uproot a family, our life has proven to be an adventure I would never choose to replace.
Lastly, I would remind young people that Jesus calls all believers to participate in the Great Commission. Although not everyone will be led into full-time cross-cultural ministry, we should each desire to share in the advancement of God’s kingdom no matter our occupation or location. As Paul states in Acts 20:24, “I do
not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.