The love bug bit twice, in the same family.
In 1976, while on a mission with Adventures in Missions, an American woman, Patricia McDonald, met an Englishman named John Bulloch. They married in 1979 and later had two daughters, Jennifer and Susan. In 1998 while on a college visit to Scotland’s University of Stirling, Jennifer Bulloch met Aaron Sparks, an American who was serving a mission with AIM.
They married in 2002 in England.
AIM, affiliated with the Church of Christ and based in Texas, is an apprentice missions program for college-age young people.
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“We joke now that it’s called Adventures in Marriage,” said Jennifer Sparks, 29, the community relations manager at Barnes & Noble for the past four years. Until December, Aaron Sparks, 31, was the youth minister at Rose Hill Church of Christ in north Muscogee County. The couple have a son, 2-year-old Josiah. They’re waiting on the sale of their home to move to England to be near Jennifer’s family.
‘Not love at first sight’
As they celebrate their eighth Valentine’s Day as husband and wife (Jennifer says Aaron is cooking), bliss wasn’t always in the offing. Jennifer’s focus on her college trip was learning about the school, and looking ahead to her academics. She figured she’d think about marriage after finding a job.
“It was not love at first sight,” she said. They met outside a Pizza Hut, on a corner close to other American restaurants.
“We didn’t click at first. We have a different sense of humor. … He asked for my email.” She gave it to him, unenthusiastically. They kept in touch. Aaron eventually met her parents and enjoyed Jennifer’s mother’s connection with AIM.
“I got to know him better,” Jennifer said. “He was very sweet. He had that American charm.”
He grew on her.
“I was in my weird stage,” Aaron said of that time, 12 years ago. “I was experiencing the freedom of being out from under my parents’ thumb.
“Initially I thought she was a snob, but over time I grew to like her a bit.” So much so that Aaron proposed at the stroke of midnight at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party in 2000. (She eventually gave a firm yes, after some initial hesitancy, as Aaron recalled.)
That March, Aaron moved back to the States and the couple had a long-distance engagement for two years. Aaron finished college in Arkansas, studying youth ministry.
‘Meant to be’
With AIM, the typical stint is 18 months to two years. The volunteers, who raise their own financial support, are placed all over the world. Aaron was supposed to go somewhere else but got reassigned to Scotland.
It was also true of Jennifer’s mother. She was supposed to go to New Guinea but got sent to England with another group. “It was all meant to be,” said Jennifer, whose British accent remains intact.
Jennifer has dual citizenship, since her mom was born in this country and her dad in England.
Meanwhile the Sparks have downsized their belongings. They’ve sold a car and cancelled cell phone contracts. They’ll live in the same town as Jennifer’s parents and Jennifer’s sister. It’s in Ilkeston, in the central part of England near Nottingham.
“I love it here,” she said, “but I’m ready to get home.”