Filipino Sharon Tonzo never thought a three-month trip to the United States for a friend’s wedding would change her life’s trajectory.
Tonzo, who was serving as a missionary in Asia at the time, traveled to Atlanta for a fellow missionary’s nuptials in 2009 and spent a lot of her time on U.S. soil in Clarkston, a community in the Atlanta area known for its high population of refugees. Time magazine called Clarkston the most diverse square mile in America, and the city reports its residents speak more than 60 languages in a 1.4-sq.-mile radius. Tonzo says she was mesmerized by what she experienced there.
“I know how uncommon it is for people to walk in America, yet I saw people from different countries walking to the market and everywhere they needed to go, all while wearing their national garb,” she says.
Tonzo had the opportunity to tutor a Sudanese woman in Clarkston who wanted to improve her English. “I saw her face as she struggled with the language barrier, and that spoke volumes to me,” Tonzo says. The tutoring experience was a catalyst, and she says she began to pray about coming back to Clarkston to serve long-term. She had attended Passion’s gathering in Manila in 2008 and says visionary Louie Giglio planting a church in Atlanta only fueled her desire to be a part of what God was doing in the city.
After her three-month stint in Clarkston, Tonzo returned to the Philippines and began pursuing possible missionary assignments elsewhere. She could not get the United States—specifically the Clarkston community—out of her mind, so she happily agreed when her niece asked her to escort a young family member to California in 2010. After settling him in California, she purchased a plane ticket to Atlanta and hasn’t looked back.