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Looking for a Way

April 29, 2022

Looking for a Way

April 29, 2022

A student working with children at an international schoolIt was our second day in country and already we were welcomed in like family. Our team of four students and two supervisors from Taylor University and I had just traveled 30 hours to this unfamiliar country. The Taylor team was there to learn, to pray and to be helping hands for our Reach Beyond missionaries and partners on the field. The missionaries connected us right away with the reason they live in country: the local people.

Sitting around the table with baskets full of traditional breads, we literally broke bread with local brothers and sisters in Christ whom we had just met. These local university students had made the bold step to follow Christ in a country that is 0.3% evangelical Christian. As they handed us chunks of bread, they shared with us parts of their stories of how Christ captured their hearts.

Temir* shared about leaving his village and coming to the big city to study at the university. While there he met Kanat*, a Christian. Kanat spent time with Temir encouraging him, mentoring him and sharing the Gospel. Finally, Temir did accept Jesus and committed his life to following him.

When Temir found the courage to share with his parents about becoming a Christian, his parents became angry. His father told him to never speak of the subject with them again and declared, "I will never step foot in a church." Yet, his parents couldn't help but notice the change in Temir. They commented on the positive shift in his character and attitude.

Temir shared that over time, his father has gradually been more open and actually has come to church twice! Temir continues to pray that his parents will open their minds and hearts to Jesus.

Aiman* shared her story of how she came to the language center as a fourteen year old, eager to practice her English. At that time there was a team of students from Boston who were there to offer their help as native English speakers. Aiman connected with two girls in particular and made a point to come every day to talk with them.

students visited various sites to understand history and culture

One day, the girls moved from discussing school, fashion and relationships to talking about spiritual things. The Americans shared about their faith as Christians and invited Aiman to accept Jesus. Aiman said no, she was not willing to take that step. But she continued to think about what they had shared. On the very day that the girls were leaving to return to Boston, Aiman sought them out and asked to meet with them one last time. At that farewell meeting, she said she was ready to accept Jesus. And so, with the two strangers turned spiritual mentors, Aiman made the biggest decision of her life. She shared how she now feels love and joy and continues to follow Jesus four years later. She eagerly welcomed our team, knowing what a difference strangers from America can make even if they are only there for a few weeks.

Temir and Kanat work at a language center where they provide low-cost and free language learning services. The underlying goal is to build relationships where they can invite these students into their homes or coffee shops with the hope of sharing about Jesus. They have to be careful not to share their faith at the language center itself as that could lead to the language center being shut down completely.

As we sipped our ginger tea and listened to these stories, I couldn't help but wonder what God may have in store for the Taylor team. We had just navigated all of the challenges of traveling during the pandemic and anxiously hoping for negative PCR tests so we could board the plane. Unfortunately, one of the five students did test positive and had to stay home. There had been conversations about canceling the trip due to concerns about the Omicron variant. But, we decided to move forward with the trip as we wanted to live by faith instead of fear.

Little did we know that the Omicron variant had recently arrived in country and was spreading rapidly. Within the next day, our team had significant exposure and soon myself and one of the students tested positive. Over the next three weeks, our plans were constantly evolving because of COVID-19. There were moments of "Why are we here?" and yet "God clearly opened the way for us to come!" The entire team lived suspended in the tension of the unknown. Yet, we recognized that it is exactly in the unknown that draws us closer to God as we rely on Him in faith.

Narrow alley way in winterThe Taylor students adapted and willingly helped in whatever ways they could. On days that the whole team was quarantined, we spent time prayer walking throughout the city (being careful to not come into contact with anyone else of course!) We passed by the prominent mosques and prayed for those who have yet to meet Jesus. We were also guided by Reach Beyond missionaries to small obscure churches where we prayed for local believers who seek to be a light to their Muslim neighbors.

Amazingly, the Taylor students were able to go to the language center for a couple of hours almost every afternoon. Temir and Kanat and other workers at the language center were grateful to have native English speakers to help students practice English; in fact, this was a draw to some students who wouldn't have otherwise come to the center. Helping at the center was a highlight for the Taylor students as they were able to join in with the lives of local university students.

Katie* and Leah* were able to build a relationship with Inju*, an architecture student. The three girls connected over their enjoyment of art and beauty. Katie shared her experience with Inju, “We didn’t talk about God specifically. There just wasn’t space for that at the times we could meet, but she seemed really drawn to and curious about the way we talked about family life and happiness and the concept of joy. She was really passionate about doing the right thing and making the world a better place and seemed to be looking for a way that that could happen for real.”

While Katie and Leah did not have the opportunity to see Inju find the Way during their time there, we trust that God is at work. God made the way for the Taylor team to come to this country and to sow seeds through prayer walking, encouraging local believers and being a light to local university students like Inju. Even when all our plans are turned upside down, we know God’s purpose prevails. Our prayer is that one day we will sit at the table in the heavenly Kingdom and break bread with Inju and others at the language center and hear the stories of how Jesus captured their hearts.

*All names have been changed for security reasons.