One night, in 1937 in a Missouri farming town, a baby boy was sick with pneumonia. His mother prayed to the Lord for healing for her youngest child. She pleaded all night that if the Lord healed him, she would encourage him to go into ministry.

The boy did get better, and the mother kept her promise to God. She sent her son to Bible school. It was there that he decided he wanted to do missions.

A missionary to Thailand came to speak at the Bible school’s chapel gathering, and he told the students of a remote people group in the mountains. He said not much is known about them, and they need someone to go there.

The son said, “I’ll be the one.”

He never wavered from that decision.

In fact, in his proposal to his wife, he told her, “you know where I’m going.” In 1960, after graduating college, the newlyweds moved to Thailand and hit the ground running translating the Bible for the Lua people. They went on to have four children, all born in Thailand.

The third oldest, Carmen, would eventually carry the torch and continue her father’s work.

This is her story.


“We moved a lot,” Carmen says. In the 70s, the Filbecks were forced to come back to the states for a few years, due to the Communist infiltration in Thailand. Then in the 80s, the family relocated from the province where the Lua people lived to the city of Chiang Mai, for ministry and educational purposes. Carmen remembers her parents would always tell her two things, “‘Heaven’s our real home,’ … and then, ‘it doesn’t matter where we go, however [many] places we have to move, as long as we’re together, then that’s our home.’” As a result, she says a defining characteristic of her childhood was “learning to be flexible” and “learning to find contentment where you are.”

Like most missionary kids, Carmen — who now attends Fellowship Maumelle with her younger sister, Catherine — experienced the tension of belonging to two cultures, and at the same time, neither. “We were very much involved in the Thai community… And we didn’t have the internet,” Carmen recalls. “I remember coming back when I was ten, and I didn’t know who Elvis Presley was.” She adds, “I had a really hard time adjusting to America… but I never felt resentful. I never did have that at all. I never felt resentful of that, of my experiences or anything.”

Community ties are strong in Thailand, and Carmen cherishes that. “One of the things I miss even today is, I used to go with my dad up into the villages and go calling and visiting the churches and the Christians up there, and I always enjoyed doing that. We’d get down from the truck and go call on every Christian’s home and pray in their home.”

She even brought a custom to Maumelle from Thailand. “One of the things that we did when we moved here to Maumelle that we do in Thailand is when you move into a new home, you have a house blessing. So you invite your church and your friends over, and there’s some singing and a worship time, and someone reads Scripture and gives a word of encouragement. …you eat together, and you just bless that home… So I really like those kinds of community things that we don’t really have here in America so much.” Her sister, too, has a Thai practice that she’s sticking with. “We don’t wear shoes in the house, it’s just automatic… my shoes just automatically come off,” Catherine says.

Their parents, David and Deloris, were direct-support independent missionaries. David learned Central Thai, Northern Thai, and the Lua language (called the Mal dialect) — which had no written language. “He was a PhD linguist who stuttered all the way growing up… so, God really did an amazing thing in him,” Carmen says. “He wasn’t a real outgoing, necessarily talkative person, but he was always busy doing something.”

Carmen explains that her mother’s mindset was, “‘I am here to make sure that he is able to accomplish what God has called him to be.’ And so she just always saw that as her role. And so she was a really great support worker. She was the one that would run around taking people to the doctor, you know, hosting, fixing meals, just doing whatever needed to be done in the background. And she was just really faithful in that.”

After several years of dedicated work, Carmen’s father completed the translation of the New Testament in the Mal dialect — and planted seven churches among the Lua people — but in the midst of that, he knew something was missing. “He realized, almost as important as getting the Bible done, you’ve got to have shepherds. And so he moved into leadership training at that point.” She explains further, “that’s where he said, ‘I need to start training leaders for the churches, and start training evangelists who can go on,’ you know he’d say, ‘I can translate the Scriptures, but I’m not gonna be here forever.’”

For Carmen’s part, taking up the mantle of her dad’s ministry was not on her radar. “After my gap year, I decided I was in one of those things where I wasn’t going to go to Bible college, you know… my dad had taught at Bible college, my brothers had gone to Bible college, and I was going to do something different. So I went to nursing school and only went for one year, because the Lord just really got ahold of me.”

It was, ironically, a missionary nurse who knew her parents whom the Lord used to nudge Carmen away from nursing. She said that at that point in time, Thailand didn’t need nurses as much as it needed educators. She advised Carmen, “‘if you want to come back, go to Bible college and get an education degree.’”

Carmen earned a Bachelor’s degree with a double major in Bible and Elementary Education from Milligan College and went on to earn a Master’s in Educational Ministries, with a minor in Cross-Cultural Studies, from Wheaton. Over the next several years, Carmen spent time in Texas, California, and Missouri, and of course, Thailand. She worked as an ESL teacher and as a professor of Elementary Education. In both jobs, she was involved in various curriculum development projects.

Then, in 2009, the faculty at Lanna Theological Center (LTC), her father’s Bible College in Thailand, asked Carmen to develop a four-year curriculum — in English. She knew that wasn’t what the students needed. “I spent about three months just really praying about it; what I finally came to the decision was that Lanna Theological Center was a school to prepare workers for the church, and there are certain things that had to be in their own language.” She said if the curriculum was all in English, “we’d be teaching English and not preaching… And I wanted them to study the Bible in-depth so they could go and teach. So I came up with a program called English for Ministry, where English was the minor, and all the courses that I deemed absolutely important for a preacher, an evangelist, to have, was in Thai.”

I normally don’t break the fourth wall when writing GodStories, but I felt the Lord’s leading to jump in here to tell you all how earnest and caring Carmen is when she speaks. As I listened to her tell her story, I felt her deep desire for the Thai people to be properly educated in the Word and equipped to do ministry. She’s also one of the most driven people I’ve ever met.

Carmen’s father had handed leadership of LTC to his eldest son David in 1997, but then in 2011, it was time for David to pass on the baton. He’d hoped that one of the Thai staff whom he’d been mentoring would take the role, but the man declined. “He said, ‘I want to go be a church planter.’ … And so they said, ‘We decided that you’re it’… it was just like, ‘tag, you’re it!’”

While years prior Carmen hadn’t planned on even attending Bible college, much less directing one, the Lord, of course, wasn’t surprised. “… God used all of those experiences to prepare me for today and what I’m doing today.”

So — how and why did she end up in Maumelle? And what’s next for LTC?

Well, Carmen and Catherine had both been back and forth many times between Thailand and the States over the years. Catherine worked various jobs, including as an English teacher at a Thai primary school for about eight years. The sisters discussed the fact that Catherine has some disabilities, and so for her, what ended up being best was remaining in the United States. When they lived in Texas, Catherine volunteered at a senior center. There, she thrived. “I’ve always been good with older people,” she says. Carmen agrees, adding, “And people just really, you know, especially older seniors that are by themselves, don’t have anyone to talk to — put Cathy in front of them, and she just does well.”

Unfortunately, that’s when COVID hit, and as Carmen puts it, “everything was drying up.” Too, the cost of living was increasing in the Lone Star State. “And so, I knew I needed to leave Texas,” Carmen explains. “So I started looking for communities that had a really good senior citizen center… and that’s how we got led to Maumelle.”

The sisters came to Arkansas to check out Maumelle’s senior center, the Center on the Lake, and to visit churches. Providentially, Fellowship Maumelle at the time was meeting at the senior center — a fact Carmen learned while Googling nearby churches in their hotel room.

So on a Sunday morning on April 9, 2023, the Filbecks walked into Fellowship Maumelle. They arrived a little early, and Carmen says, “the greeters had just started to pray that the Lord would bring new people to Maumelle into the church. And so, we were just so well received.”

Catherine recalls being hesitant at first, and how quickly that hesitancy melted away. In its place rose a firm confidence that the Lord had led them to just the right place. “…when I first got into the parking lot, I was just like, ‘I’m not so sure. …Lord, if there’s a sign that you want me to come here, then, you know, you gotta show me, because right now I’m not feeling it.’ And so I walked in, and one of the greeters gave me a hug, and I went, ‘Okay, that did it. This is my church.’”

After that, it was a bit of a whirlwind: Carmen reached out to a few Discipleship Groups (D-Groups), met with a realtor, packed up their home, signed a contract for a house, went to Thailand for a few months, and then the sisters moved to Maumelle on July 10. Phew!

While in Thailand over the summer, Carmen received an email from one of her D-Group leaders saying that the group was looking forward to their July arrival and was praying for them. “I can’t even tell you what a simple email like that from someone who has lived and moved 40 times in her life, and lived in many different places… taking the time to just acknowledge someone’s, you know, existence and say, ‘hey, we’re thinking about you,’ it was powerful.”

Catherine wasted no time completing the membership class and getting plugged in to a few D-Groups, and although Carmen is going to be based in Thailand for the majority of 2024, she will attend when she’s Stateside. Even when she’s 8,649 miles away, she rests easy knowing the Fellowship Maumelle community is looking after her sister. Carmen says, “For me, Catherine is a gift from God.” Catherine adds, “and we take care of each other.”

Carmen reflects with gratefulness on God’s faithfulness and how He’s orchestrated her steps. “God is good. He’ll move you where He wants you to be; He’ll put you with people, you know, He’s got it all figured out. …every step of the way, even on the steps where it wasn’t the final place, there was something that God was doing in that place to prepare us for the next one.”

Speaking of next steps, Carmen is at a similar point that her father was many years ago, making preparations for LTC to continue once she steps down. “…we made a decision ten years ago that we were going to work towards succession.” She explains the 30,000-foot view of how that will look: operations in Thailand will shift from “missionary-led to missionary partnership and more Thai leadership.” She will also start focusing on fundraising and getting the word out about LTC. Short-term medical mission trips are one way she’s introducing folks to the ministry. “…we’re just trying to build up that next generation of people who will rally around this ministry and partner and be a part of that.”

Carmen bleeds missions. As she puts it, “if you love people, you’re not just going to love people who are like you, you know… If you’re loving God and you’re aligning yourself with God, you cannot NOT care about the nations.”

She turns her eyes upon Jesus — as we all should — as The example to follow. “You know, when you take a look at Jesus, why did He not make Jerusalem His headquarters? That was the head of the Jewish religion. He chose Capernaum up there by Galilee, because that’s where the two major highways that reached across the known world intersected. God’s always been about the nations, and He’s always been about His people going to the nations.” This reality is, of course, very personal for her, as she says “there is no greater joy than aligning yourself with God’s purpose.”

Her senior year of college, though, she really wrestled with what this would mean for her life. At that time, she was feeling pressure to remain in the States. She remembers a vivid moment that she describes as “one of those times where I really felt like the Lord spoke to me very directly, and it was about, ‘do you trust Me?’ … ‘you will have struggles, and you will be lonely. But do you trust Me?’ And I remember going back and having to really think that through. Do I trust God? Is He really who He says He is? And if He is, then none of this matters, you know. Money doesn’t matter. Do I get married? Do I not get married? None of that really matters in eternity. And so I have to start thinking eternity. …what is it that God wants me to do for eternity’s sake?”

For her, the “what” is clear — not easy, but clear. “His heart is that His people will go.”