Having traveled to Africa and South America, Jacob Griffin never intended to meet his wife in Hazel’s Coffee Shop in St. Joseph.
Griffin spent time in Angola, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Peru on missionary trips while attending seminary school. After traveling the world, he decided to transfer to Missouri Western and major in nursing. Here, he met Kristin Thompson, who he will marry Saturday, April 12.
Thompson is a recent graduate from Western, and she’s now a Registered Nurse. The pair has even more in common than their chosen professions.
“She’s the first person to ever laugh at my sarcasm right off the bat, and to understand all of my jokes,” Griffin said. “If you talk to anybody who knows us -- we just kind of compliment each other. We fit together really well.”
Thompson said she knew Griffin was ‘the one’ instantly.
“Well, according to my best friend, the day that I met him for coffee in person for the first time I couldn’t stop talking about him for two weeks,” she said. “Probably the moment that he looked at me and said ‘Do you want to see my monkey face?’”
Since their first date, the couple has a standing lunch date each Monday, but Dec. 2 was different. After Griffin blew off their lunch date, Thompson had a feeling that he was planning to propose instead.
She was right.
“I definitely knew what was going on,” she said. “I was a giggle box. My roommate went with me and was videotaping it. She can attest to the fact that I was very giggly and giddy the entire time.”
As Thompson ate her lunch alone, Griffin orchestrated an elaborate proposal, including a scavenger hunt that ended at Hazel’s. Once she arrived at the coffee shop, Thompson was presented with a large box to unwrap. Inside that box was another. Finally, Thompson unwrapped the last box, a ring box, with two tickets to the upcoming Chief’s game inside.
Jacob then stepped around the corner - with another ring box - and knelt down one knee.
Griffin took Thompson to that game as his fiancée.
Griffin and Thompson’s relationship won’t be all romance and sporting events. The couple’s goal to work at a clinic in Africa for a stint longer than a decade will undoubtedly shape their relationship.
“We’re called not to comfort or success, but obedience. So, our life’s not defined by what we do, but by who we are,” he said. “The goal is to, once I graduate, be here for a couple of years, then go to Africa.”
Griffin and Thompson’s outlook on their mission was shaped by their early lives. Griffin came from humble beginnings, and was shaped through faith in his high school years.
“Before, I wasn’t a very nice guy,” he said. “God really changes everything about you.”
As a child, Griffin’s family life wasn’t always stable. Sometimes, it looked more like Africa than the Midwest.
“I’ll preface this by saying that I love my family with all my heart, but I was raised as a lower income family, single parent, basically,” Griffin said. “We had guy who was there for 15 or 16 years, and we were getting ready to call him our dad. He was my dad, but he was more of the breadwinner. He wasn’t there as a father figure.”
As a young man, Griffin’s mother provided him with support and love, even when times were tough.
“I was the youngest, so I was kind of brought up as mom’s favorite, but I wasn’t raised around a church, or anything at all,” he said. “I was raised in a family where my mom loved me, but everyone else hated me. So, it was different. It’s completely opposite of what Kristin was raised with.”
Thompson’s family life tended to be more traditional, but wasn’t easy by any means. She coped with the illness of her sibling, which opened her eyes to the world’s need for good nurses.
“I grew up around the children’s hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. My little brother had a brain tumor, so it [the hospital] was a comfortable environment,” she said. “Then, when I was 16, my mom and I went to Zambia for two weeks, which is in the lower center of Africa. While I was there, we saw the medical needs.”
One particular person in Africa planted a seed in the back of Thompson’s mind. She realized that quality medical care is a necessity both here and abroad.
“There was a girl there with leprosy that was about my age,” Thompson said. “I saw a lot of different things that didn’t make me decide to be a nurse right away, but led me in that direction to later make that decision.”
The two are excited to form their own families. However, their timetable is still flexible. Griffin joked about a comparison to his biblical namesake, Jacob, having 12 kids. Thompson’s only response was nervous laughter.
“She wants to have kids in three years, and I say, ‘No, not yet,’” Griffin said. “But, of course, she’ll win out.”
Raising a family in Africa may come with significant challenges, but the soon-to-be-newlyweds have a strategy to avoid culture shock.
“The goal is, if you have kids, you don’t want them to be older while they’re in Africa,” Griffin said. “You want to have them be young so they can, just, not really know the difference.”
Griffin hopes that their children will be better rounded due to their childhood in Africa. Living without excess and superficial luxuries may prove beneficial in their development.
“The things that we think we need here in America, they won’t need,” Griffin said. “They won’t be as wasteful as I was when I was raised. Obviously, it’s a whole different culture.”
Thompson also hopes that a different culture may rub off on their own children.
“Kids over there are just so happy to have a soccer ball to kick around together,” she said. “That makes their day to be able to go out and kick a ball around and hang out. Then here you don’t really see that.”
Despite the challenges of marriage and moving to a new county, Griffin and Thompson not only welcome the change, but look forward to it.“We’re definitely excited. Life’s not going to be the way it is here. It’s going to be harder, and I’m excited for that,” he said. “I’m excited to go to places I haven’t seen, speak languages I don’t know and languages we’ve never heard of.”