When Travis Riley was a student at Iola High School, going to church wasn’t a priority.
After his graduation in 1998 he was married and living in Muskogee, Okla., and by 2004 in the midst of a not-so-pleasant divorce.
He began to attend divorce classes at a Christian church in Muskogee, where he found the pain and emptiness he felt being replaced by the joy of the Holy Spirit.
“It was following a message by my pastor, Steve Moss, that I gave my life to Christ. Suddenly, I didn’t feel alone because I knew Christ would also be at my side,” Riley said.
Moss challenged Riley to take one year to develop his relationship with Christ before trying to find another life partner. It was during that year that he was called into ministry. That call now has led to First Christian Church in Iola, where Riley is the new youth pastor.
IN 2006, Riley enrolled in Ozark Christian College to pursue a divinity degree. In Iola, his parents, Rick and Norma, and their friends, Kenny and Suzy Kies, were plotting to do some matchmaking between Travis and the Kies’ daughter, Nikki Wayland.
The Kieses had met Travis during a visit to Ozark to see a performance of “The Sound of Music.”
“My mom called and said, ‘I’ve found the man that I think you should marry,’” Nikki said.
She was completing her college degree at Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas. “I told my mom I live in Texas and don’t want to date a man living in Missouri.”
After graduation, though, Nikki made a trip to Iola to visit her parents. She didn’t meet Travis but she did meet his father.
“Rick asked me if it would be OK if he gave my e-mail address to Travis. I thought ‘Why not?’ He probably will never use it,’” she said.
Within a week she received an e-mail from Travis that said, “How are you? Dad gave me your e-mail and if you would like you can e-mail me back.”
She did return the favor, which was followed by chats on Facebook and then telephone conversations.
In July 2006, Travis traveled to Frisco, Texas, to meet Nikki.
“I knew from the beginning that Nikki was the right person for me,” Travis said.
The two began a courtship which included a 5 1/2 hour drive every other weekend between Joplin and Frisco. In August, Travis proposed.
The couple were married the following March in Eureka Springs, Ark., by his mentor, Pastor Moss.
“I like to tell people we are the product of a 21st century arranged marriage,” Nikki said with a smile.
WITH COLLEGE loans for both Travis and Nikki begging repayment, her father, Terry Wayland, offered the couple a rent-free condominium and jobs as real estate agents with his company in Fort Myers, Fla.
The young couple signed on and moved there in 2008.
To complete his theological degree, Travis took online courses from Dallas Christian College while living in Fort Myers.
“We truly believe God provided us the opportunity to work with Dad to earn the money to pay off our loans,” she said.
One week after their first wedding anniversary, the couple learned Nikki was pregnant. Their son, Caleb, was born in November 2009.
“It was hard telling my Dad we wanted to move back to Kansas. I knew he would miss us and his new grandson,” Nikki said.
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