Tom and Sheri Boston have lived a life of career changes that have seemingly come out of the blue.
“I prefer to say down from Heaven,” Tom says.
As a family they have been involved in everything from aviation to the mortgage business, finance to pharmaceuticals. Their willingness to listen to God’s voice has changed their direction in life several times.
For ages man has sought to hear the voice of God. Throughout the Bible, God communicated with His creation in various ways; by an audible voice, through dreams and visons, and by sending angels on His behalf. Elijah searched for Gods voice and didn’t find it in the strong wind or earthquake or fire. Elijah heard it in a gentle whisper. Tom and Sheri Boston would have settled for any of those.
Only four months into the Boston’s new family business they were already at a major crossroads. What Sheri had started in April of 2001 as a specialized pharmacy now included supplying to a quickly growing hospice business.
Sheri was busy growing Southern Pharmaceutical while Tom was working with SouthTrust Bank. The push to start her own company had long been in Sheri’s heart but it finally crystalized during a study at Shades.
“When our entire church was praying the Prayer of Jabez,” Sheri said, “that’s when we decided to do it.”
Tom and Sheri were both involved with the Gideons and decided they would use the business to act as a ministry, touching everyone. “Vendors, employees, clients, anybody we ran into,” Tom says.
The business had grown to the point that Tom left the financial industry to run the business side of the pharmacy. Adding the hospice supply arm was not only profitable but also further provided a ministry outlet for Tom and Sheri. Most of the patients were battling a terminal illness with many facing the final months of their life. With each shipment to a new patient, Tom and Sheri would include a New Testament.
“We felt like this may be the last opportunity to get God’s Word in front of someone before they pass on,” Tom said.
There was only one issue, the hospice company that contracted Tom and Sheri wanted them to discontinue providing New Testaments to all patients. This led to a meeting with representatives of the company. Tom and Sheri didn’t back down.
“Our business is a ministry and is owned by God,” Tom remembers telling them.
Each new patient had a set up sheet that Tom and Sheri received from the hospice company. Each sheet included the patient’s religion. The company representatives offered a compromise.
“They asked us; ‘Why don’t you just put them in those who indicate they are Christians?’” Tom responded, “No offense, but if that’s true they aren’t the ones who really need it.”
The hospice organization cut to their bottom line: one more complaint and the business stops. That was when God spoke.
“I’ve never heard God’s audible voice until this moment,” Tom remembers. “The minute they told me to stop, I heard God say ‘Stand Firm’.”
It wouldn’t be the last time God would speak to Tom and Sheri.
After only one month, the hospice arm had the potential to produce 40% of the first year’s budgeted sales for Southern Pharmaceutical. As important as the contract was, Tom and Sheri stood firm. The orders stopped, and they never resumed.
“It disappointed us in the organization we were doing business with” Tom says, “but it didn’t disappoint us in God.”
In short order Tom and Sheri contracted with an organization that didn’t just replace that potential revenue but very quickly produced a tenfold increase over what they’d lost by standing firm.
“You can say what you want but I believe that was God rewarding our faithfulness and willingness to stand firm,” Tom says, “but you need to hear me say this: God is still God whether we had gotten that answer or not. We had a peace about it even after we lost it and didn’t see the other coming. We weren’t down on God.”
The Boston’s business grew quickly over the next three years, but that wasn’t all God had planned for them. In 2005 they attended a small business conference that was organized for businesses looking for investors. It was there that Tom and Sheri started a two-year process of selling Southern Pharmaceutical to a group of investors they felt were “like-minded.”
Tom and Sheri didn’t waste time after selling the business. If anything, it allowed them to focus more on missions. Tom took approximately 20 short term international mission trips but, there was always one nation that he couldn’t forget.
“I got Thailand on my heart, I don’t know what it was,” Tom says. “I liked the people and I guess God just pointed my heart that way.”
Between careers, Tom was looking for his next long term opportunity. What he didn’t know was God was simultaneously preparing him and Sheri for one halfway around the world. Missions was about to become more than short term for the Boston family.
“It was obvious to me Tom loved doing that. He loved going overseas and training people who were starting their Kingdom business,” Sheri says. “All I wanted was him to wake up every day and do what he loved. I knew he loved that.”
It was in December 2012 when God would speak in a very powerful way to Tom and Sheri again. With their children at school, Tom was in his home office investigating long term mission opportunities, including Thailand. Tom found three opportunities: one in logistics, one in finance, and one in business growth. Tom felt those opportunities were such a perfect match for his professional experience that he printed out information on each.
As the sheets of paper were printing, Tom continued to wrestle with the idea of doing international missions as a full-time career. “Okay God, look we’ve been down this road before and I’m just not sure I want to bring this topic back up for discussion with Sheri right now,” Tom remembers thinking.
At the very moment the ink was absorbing into the paper, Sheri was in their bedroom praying for God’s guidance for the next step in their life. Moments later, as Tom held in his hand the information on the mission opportunities on paper literally still warm from the printer, Sheri walked into Tom’s office. Her words would absolutely floor him.
“I said: Have you ever thought God might want you to do this full-time and for us to move overseas?” Sheri remembers.
The opportunity in Thailand for Tom would be to serve in the accounting department with a volunteer organization, Friends of Asia. He would also teach woodworking to young men at ZOE International, an organization that fights human trafficking.
The timing might not have seemed perfect to most. The Boston’s two oldest children weren’t as much a concern. Their oldest, Millie, was just married. Their second child, Shelby, was already in college at Auburn University. Millie and Shelby would be staying behind.
The two youngest children were a different story. Lucy and Katie Beth were both middle schoolers and their response was much more of a concern to Tom and Sheri.
“We needed to tell them,” Sheri says. “They needed to be praying, too, because this involves them.”
In February 2013, Tom and Sheri shared the idea with Lucy and Katie Beth. Their immediate response all but ensured the move to Thailand.
“When can we go?” That is the way Sheri remembers Lucy and Katie Beth responding. The two youngest children were on board for the move and Thailand would be the new home for most of the Boston family.
The location of that new home in Thailand, one selected for them by their sending organization, was strikingly similar to their Vestavia Hills home. It was situated on a lot at a ‘T intersection’ just as their lot they had left behind is situated.
The lot provided a vantage point that allowed Tom and Sheri to view the street that terminated in front of their new home. On the third day they were in Thailand, that view would allow Tom a moment of culture shock. While at his kitchen table sipping coffee and doing his daily Bible reading, Tom saw a group of monks walking down the street. The monks met one of the Boston’s neighbors in a street for a brief religious ceremony. The scene was shocking to see.
Tom remembers thinking: “God, what in the world am I doing here?”
That neighbor is Buddhist, his name is Lek. The Boston family and Lek’s family became the best of friends. They would dine together and visit each family’s schools to watch their children’s programs. Tom and Lek would meet for lunch each Friday, often discussing religious beliefs. As Tom shared the Gospel with Lek the response was always the same.
He would always say, “That’s nice but I’m Buddhist,” Tom remembers.
Assimilation in a different society can be a really difficult thing. Among many other tasks, Tom and Sheri had to do things like becoming licensed to drive and activating cell phones. Even what should be the simplest tasks were often complicated.
“You have a list of ten things to get accomplished,” Tom said, “you get home at night, you’ve scratched one off the list and you are mentally exhausted.”
But the biggest issue was finding proper education for Lucy and Katie Beth. Tom and Sheri didn’t want the girls’ education to suffer because of their move to Thailand. God had a plan for that, as well.
Grace International School came about because many sending organizations had missionaries throughout Asia, and missionaries were leaving the field because they weren’t able to find good education options for their children. The teachers there are missionaries themselves. None of them even take a salary, rather they raise their own funds through donation.
“That place was just awesome,” Tom said. “So welcoming to our children.”
That concern was cleared and allowed Tom and Sheri to concentrate on their mission. One that would last almost two years in Thailand. Tom and Sheri admit it was much more difficult to leave Thailand, presumably for good, than it was to uproot their life and move from Vestavia Hills.
Thailand still has a place in the hearts of the Boston family. Sheri, Lucy, and Katie Beth each frequently wear a necklace that features a charm in the shape of Thailand. That nation is never far from their heart.
The Boston’s found facing so many unknowns gave them a more acute awareness of God’s presence in their life.
“We had to depend so much on Him, even in the little things,” Sheri says.
Depending on God’s guidance isn’t over for the Boston family. Tom recently had another ‘out of the blue’ – or “down from Heaven” – career opportunity. This time, Tom will be serving God, not halfway around the globe, but in his own church.
That next job that Tom didn’t actively pursue, yet ended up accepting, is as minister of administration at Shades.
“Every move I’ve made has been different,” Tom says. “I don’t want to be the guy at the end of life that says ‘I wish I had done that’. I read in my Bible that my God split the Red Sea and my God called Peter out on the water to walk around on the top of the ocean with Him.”
That attitude has led Tom and Sheri Boston to live their life in only one way, without any spirit of fear. Rather than fearing the unknown, they’ve embraced it.
More than anything, it has led them to live a life based on the words they heard from God: “Stand firm."