Please be warned that Tia’s story frankly addresses difficult subject matter, including mentions of familial death, sexual assault, domestic violence, and suicide.
Hard Pressed, But Not Crushed
At the age of 13—in the middle of a school day—Tia Blassingame woke to a nightmare.
All around, life seemed to be going on as normal, but she couldn’t remember the previous weeks, or how she’d gotten there. She didn’t even remember getting up for school or her morning’s classes.
Months before, her family had been in a devastating car accident. Tia’s mom—her best friend—was killed instantly and doctors told the family that Tia was unlikely to make it through the night. She was in a coma with a head injury. If she did recover, they said, she’d be paralyzed.
Miraculously, Tia did recover.
Her body was restored, but memories of the missing months would not return. The resulting amnesia meant she didn’t recognize any of the people around her—people who kept saying they were her sisters or her cousins or her friends. She was mystified by the sudden onset of anxiety attacks when getting into cars. And, as if she had been robbed while her back was turned, she woke to find that her best friend was gone from the world.
“Waking up and realizing that I didn’t have a mom anymore—not just the fact that she died—but the long-term implications. It wasn’t real to me because I had been in a coma. I didn’t know what happened. You just wake up and somebody tells you that you don’t have a mom anymore. It’s hard to grasp.”
As she struggled to adjust to her new reality, Tia began to suffer from depression.
“I thought I was in some kind of alternate reality. Like God was showing me what life could be like without my mother. Meanwhile, I was regularly going to the doctor for CAT scans. Every time I went, I had this conviction that somehow, this time, when I came out, I would be back in my real world. I think that’s what also led to the depression. I began to think the doctor’s machine was broken or something, because it wouldn’t send me back to my reality.”
But among all the confusion—in a sea of unfamiliar faces and voices—there was one constant, one voice that Tia recognized.
“The one thing that I knew was true was God. His voice inside, that was the only familiar thing. That’s when I started personally developing a relationship with Him. He was the only one who knew me and understood what I was going through.”
Raised in a Christian home, the presence of the Lord was warmly familiar, so she talked with Him.
“I kept telling Him, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore. Why don’t you take me away? I don’t want to exist anymore.’ And I heard Him clearly tell me, around the age of 14:
‘I have a plan for you. I have a purpose.’
And so, I clung to that and stopped trying to rid myself of life.”
Still, it would be many months, even years, before Tia could adjust to what had become of her life, accept its reality, and live fully once again—this time with new a kind of relationship with Jesus.
“That was the first tragedy that impacted my life, losing my mom and having amnesia. But I clung to Christ.”
Persecuted, But Not Abandoned
Later—in college—tragedy and loss of identity would come for her again.
She was raped by a coworker and feeling pressured by the purity culture of the church she was raised in, and its teachings about sex and marriage, she entered a relationship with the man and became engaged to him.
“Because I grew up in a church where they said, if you lose your virginity, that’s it: You’re supposed to marry that person. Because of that I stayed with him. It’s funny when I look back on it now. The engagement was only a couple of months, but it felt like it lasted forever.”
He was verbally, sexually, mentally, and physically abusive toward Tia and it affected her relationship with herself.
“I was a straight-A student, but I let this guy make me think I was dumb and unattractive. I had always been the type of person that sits in the front row at church—a loud worshipper—but when I was with this guy, I found myself sitting in the back. Quiet.”
Around this time was also Tia’s first time attending a non-Black church. As her personal relationship with God continued to grow through high school and college, she outgrew the small family congregation she’d grown up in.
“I went to a new church that was diverse, I won’t say it was a White church, it was all ethnicities. But it was also the first time that I faced overt racism.”
That also affected the way Tia saw herself in the world.
Even as a child, she had been really attracted to people who didn’t look like her. Most of her friend groups were diverse, even though growing up in Philadelphia her schools were predominantly Black. To experience racism in church was jarring.
“Still, that church was where I developed a further understanding and knowledge of the love of God. Yes, God loves the world. I knew that. But I came to understand that God loves Tia, personally. That gave me strength.”
When she saw an episode of Oprah about abusive relationships, Tia had a familiar feeling: A feeling that she had woken up suddenly in a world she didn’t recognize, wondering who she was and how she’d gotten there.
“I’m sitting there watching it and going, ‘But God, why do I have to stay in this?’ I felt God speaking. He said:
‘I never said you had to stay. You’re my daughter, why wouldn’t I have better for you?’
“That was the day I let [my fiancé] go.
“I was living with my grandmother at the time, and that day I was wearing these earrings he had given me. I actually hated them, but I wore them because he got them for me. I hated my engagement ring, too. It was big and gaudy. He was a showboat, but out of respect for him I wore it.
“He came by that day and when I told him that I couldn’t do this anymore, he ripped the earrings out of my ears saying, ‘Well, I’m taking these.’
“I was like…okay.”
Her eyes were opened.
That was the second time Tia reclaimed her true identity—the one Jesus had given her. But she was still struggling.
“I was beaten down and just thinking my life wasn’t worth it. I wanted to end it, but I couldn’t. I knew that suicide would be wrong, so instead I asked God to do it: ‘God, I don’t want to do this anymore. I won’t kill myself, so you kill me, please. I just want to be with you.’”
Struck Down, But Not Destroyed
Tia was depressed, diminished. She was just existing. She was going to church, because God was a constant, but she wasn’t finding any joy there as she once had. She graduated from college and found a seemingly perfect job that was paying her more than she had ever been paid before…but she was miserable.
“I felt like something was missing from my life, something was wrong. My best friend who lived in South Carolina kept saying, ‘Come down here and get a fresh start!’ My sister who lived in Georgia was telling me, ‘You need a better church community, come down here. You can go to church with me.’ But I kept resisting.
“Then, one day I walked into my perfect job where nothing was wrong and found my desk packed up into trash bags. They laid me off.”
The night before, Tia had dreamt a strange dream—a dream of Joseph running from Potiphar’s wife.
Her ex-fiancé was dogging her, harassing her. Every time she would block him, he would change his number and call again. Between the dream and the layoff, Tia couldn’t ignore the message anymore.
“I called my friend down South and she told me I could stay with her. I moved a couple months later.”
Once she landed in her new environment, she felt disoriented and lost, almost empty.
“I said, ‘God, I can’t remember. I can’t remember what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.’
“He reminded me of what He told me at the age of 14: ‘I have a purpose for you.’ That’s when I started praying, ‘Okay, God, what is that purpose? Because I’m here now and I’m 30 years old and I don’t feel like I’m living this purpose.’”
That’s when God reminded Tia of the way He made her:
“You’ve always loved people. You’ve always loved travel. I need you to go spread my gospel to people who haven’t heard.”
Perplexed, But Not In Despair
Tia was just a middle school student when she brought her first friend to church, eager to share the goodness of God. She’d always had a passion for cross-cultural friendships and international experiences. But she’d never really considered being a missionary.
“When I was little, I had a realization that not everyone knows or believes in God. Since I was seven years old, I’d had a desire to travel the world and tell people about Jesus. Once I got older, I heard about missionaries, but I didn’t know missionaries could be Black. I didn’t think we were allowed to. I thought it wasn’t for us. It was a White man led thing you had to apply for.
“It wasn’t even in my mindset to apply. I just did not know Black people did that. Whenever I saw missionaries, it wasn’t Black people going. And when I lived up North, the work we did was in our neighborhood, so that’s what I though missions work was: You go to the people who look like you. I had never seen anyone other than White people going to others who didn’t look like them.
“Still, I just had this conviction in my heart that it wasn’t right. I had this idea of a cross-cultural kingdom and it needed to involve everybody. That’s what I wanted to do.”
Tia had lost sight of her childhood vision. Her boldness had been stripped away by so many harsh life experiences—had been worn down by the man who had stolen her bodily autonomy.
And so, it was at the age of 30—freshly out of an abusive relationship, recently laid off, struggling with depression, and feeling adrift in a new region of the country—that Tia was reminded of the way God had made her, and the purpose for which He was preparing her: To go and make disciples among the nations.
“I was like, ‘Lord, how can I do that? I’m so broken, myself.’ I ended up in a new church in Atlanta—Renovation Church—who are now my sending church. That’s where I began praying again the prayers I had prayed as a child.”
Tia had always been inspired by her father’s faith. He also struggled through tragedy, loss, and health issues, but through everything she saw him grow stronger as he leaned upon the Lord.
“I used to always pray, ‘Give me faith like my dad. I don’t care what it takes, give me faith like my dad.’ So, I started praying that prayer again.”
That’s when Tia began to see red, as if the world was covered in blood. It was the vessels in her eyes, they were leaking—a result of the diabetes that runs in her family. She was forced to wait for the blood to drain before doctors could begin treatment with laser surgery. They progressed, one eye at a time.
“I started to have dreams about going blind. I was like, ‘No, God! I don’t want this to happen!’ I had to keep going back to the doctors as they alternated treating my right and left eyes, but my left eye developed scar tissue.”
After several attempts to repair her left eye, doctors warned Tia that they could only try the procedure once more.
“I was sitting in church one day and the thought just hit me: ‘You’re going to go blind.’ So, I’m praying and crying, asking God, ‘Why me? Haven’t I been through enough?! I’ve lost my mom. I’ve been abused. I’m diabetic. Why do I have to go through this?’
“That’s when He said…
‘Didn’t you say I could use you?’
“And there, while I’m snorting and crying in church, my soul responded: ‘Yes. Yes, God.’
‘So,’ He said, ‘Let me use you.’”
Treasure, In A Jar Of Clay
After the final surgery, Tia was blind in her left eye and remains so to this day. Even now, she knows there is greater purpose in this pain.
In fact, two other women at church the day of Tia’s breakdown—one a friend, the other a perfect stranger visiting from Australia—felt prompted to share a message with her: “I want you to know,” they each told her separately, “God says He has a purpose for this.”
She keeps that promise close to her heart and she has faith that one day her vision will be restored, though doctor after doctor has said there is nothing that can be done.
In Tia’s estimation, God’s glory is magnified when the struggle is greater, the situation most desperate.
It’s clear that God has redeemed all of her brokenness—her struggle with identity, her personal losses, her struggle with the desire to end her life—to uniquely prepare Tia for her current ministry.
“When God reminded me that I wanted to be a missionary and share His gospel, my church encouraged me to start praying about where. I had sensed a leading toward Asia, but it’s a broad region, so I was seeking the Lord for further direction.
“That’s when I had another dream, a chilling one.
“In the dream I was in a Spanish speaking country, sharing the gospel with a man, his wife, and the wife’s best friend. The man got down on his knees and decided to give his life to Christ, so I was praying with him. But while I was praying with him in the dream, his wife was glaring at me and all at once, her eyes turned black.
“In the dream the best friend pulled me aside and said, ‘She’s a witch. She’s going to kill you. You have to leave.’ So, while the husband prayed, the friend grabbed me and started running. We were running and running from this woman while I challenged the friend: ‘Why don’t you choose? You can see that evil and God are real. It’s not like you don’t know the truth.’
“She said, ‘I don’t want to lose my best friend.’ And then, at that moment, she pushed me through a wall.
“When she pushed me through the wall, I suddenly found myself on this big city street, and right in front of me were three identical buildings—almost skyscrapers. With dream vision, as if I was looking through a telescope, I could see right to the top of these towers. At the top of each one, a woman in a pastel-colored dress was standing, and then from left to right, like clockwork, they jumped to their deaths—all three women, boom, boom, boom.
“I heard a clock ticking in the background and a little boy spoke to me in Japanese—which I didn’t speak or understand at the time—but his meaning was clear. The little boy in my dream said, ‘The suicide towers. They do that at this time every day.’ When I looked at my watch it was noon.
“And then I heard a voice from the skies say, ‘I want you to go spread hope and love to the women of Japan.’”
Tia has pursued Japan ever since that dream even though the pursuit has been difficult.
“As an African American woman in missions, I get a lot of ‘Why aren’t you going to Africa?’ from the Black church. I get where they’re coming from.
“But at the same time, we just need more Black missionaries in general, going to places where people don’t look like us. It’s a valuable way to show the world true Christianity rather than a White savior complex. They don’t see Christ when they look at Black people.”
It’s time to challenge that perception. Both at home and abroad.
To Show His All-Surpassing Power
A city girl at heart, Tia has found herself placed in rural Japan where she is the only Black person. Going in, she was warned it would be difficult to serve in Japan as an African American. She really sticks out. For many in her small village, she is likely to be the first Black person they have ever seen outside of a screen.
“When I walk by a family on the street, heads definitely turn. A little kid holding his mom’s hand almost fell because he practically rotated all the way around.”
Moving there has been disorienting, she says. Like amnesia.
Living an urban life feels like wading in shallow water for someone from Philadelphia and Atlanta. This new existence is the deep end, but Tia knows how to find her feet when she’s adrift. She knows how to orient her identity and center herself on the familiar voice of Jesus inside. She’s had a lot of practice.
And she likes being different. She says her differences are a blessing.
She has been in her new city for just a few months but even from the beginning of her time in country, she says so many Japanese women have approached her out of the blue.
“From almost the first moment I landed here, so many Japanese women have come up to me saying, ‘Can you tell me about culture versus identity?’ They have opened up to me more than they have the other women on the team.
“One of the more senior missionaries here warned me that would happen. They tend to open up to foreigners more easily than they do with fellow Japanese. I think they open up to me to a greater extent because I seem even more different than the average foreigner.”
The question of identity and culture is a vital one.
The people of Japan face great difficulty in coming to Christ. Buddhism is such a deeply rooted part of their cultural identity and sense of personal belonging that the decision to follow Jesus is a truly costly and difficult one.
At the same time, Japan’s attitude toward women and their roles in society is being challenged in the modern global landscape—leaving the culture with a sense of upheaval and many Japanese women questioning their value and identity on multiple levels.
All this in a country where suicide is considered a major social issue.
It seems Tia is in the exact right place.
Meanwhile, she is also challenging SIM USA.
Because, while we firmly believe that the diversity of God’s kingdom is one of its greatest strengths and critical to showing the world God’s vision of radical love—in practice, there are areas in which we need to grow when it comes to serving and mobilizing missionaries of color.
It’s shameful that a lack of representation caused young Tia to think that mission work is a White man’s game. That is probably the simplest problem to solve.
On a deeper and more difficult level, an African American worker preparing to serve God overseas will face unique challenges—both on the way to, and in, their new location of ministry. Perceptions of African Americans around the world vary, but they are definitely different from perceptions of White American workers.
People of Color serving God overseas will simply have a different experience, different considerations, than workers who are White or Asian American. So, although teammates in their new context may mean well when offering help and advice from their own experiences, this input may not be as applicable for Black workers.
Mission teams around the world who want to welcome African Americans well, will need to gain a deeper understanding of these perceptions, and learn to think differently when it comes to anticipating and meeting the needs of their Black brothers and sisters.
Tia, other Black missionaries, and especially the People of Color who serve and advocate in our home office are helping SIM USA, and agency partners like Asian Access to better see, understand, and minister across these differences.
Admittedly, we have some ways to go.
In the meantime, Tia offers great advice for other African Americans who sense God leading them to serve Him overseas:
“I went and got myself a Black mentor, a missionary mentor. I found a Black couple that have already been missionaries, and they have mentored me for the last four years of journeying toward Japan. I met with them every Saturday. I could talk to them about the hard stuff that I didn’t feel able bring up at SIM.”
Also, she says, ask about minority scholarships or opportunities that may exist but are not visible or presented outright.
Plus, some good advice for anyone discerning a call to missions or walking the journey to global ministry:
Don’t be afraid to ask for help creatively overcoming the challenges you face when it comes to getting from life over here, to serving God over there. So many people want to surround you, support you, and help you go to the nations in God’s name—but they may not perceive the struggles you’re facing.
Global mission is a team sport—one where all of God’s people get to play. Tia has taken the field, and even after a long and arduous journey, her story for God’s glory is just beginning.
What about you? What has God been preparing you for?
Is it possible there’s a multicultural mission team across the globe praying for someone just like you?
If you’d like to learn more about what it might look like for YOU to serve the Lord in a cross-cultural context—or to find out what it will take to get from here to there—connect with one of SIM USA’s missional coaches today and share your story.