The start of a life-long calling to work with Muslims…

On my gap year before university, while on a mission trip to the South of France, I found myself on a team working with North African lads in a ghetto estate. My friendship with one particular lad led to me sharing the gospel with him, and as I read the words of Jesus from the scriptures I could see a light in his eyes and the Holy Spirit clearly touching him. But then he said, “I want to follow Jesus, but I can’t because my family would hate and reject me.” Sadly he left, and from that moment on I knew God had given me a life-long calling to work with Muslims.

After several false starts, we became part of a church-planting team…

Ten years on, now married and with a four-month old baby daughter, with five 5 suitcases packed we prepared to move our lives to Central Asia – who knows for how long, and what awaited us there? Young, naïve but full of faith and expectation of what God would do, we said tearful farewells to our family and friends and boarded the plane. I remember our hearts being full of gratitude for calling us together and for leading us to a specific country, city and team to work with, and yet we had no language, we didn’t know where we would live, and no idea whether the people God had called us to would receive us and the Good News we were bringing? Though we had known we were called to the Muslim world, we had had no idea which country or people to go to – and then after various false starts, we were asked by our church to be part of a church-planting team in a city where a Christian NGO had been working and seen many of their local colleagues receive Christ.

Growth, KGB informers, going ‘underground’, some falling away, yet many remaining faithful…

Despite often harsh living conditions, and increasing government opposition to foreign missionaries and NGO’s, we learnt the language, came to love the people and the culture, and saw a significant response and growth of the church there. Meeting in our home, then in different local homes, the church was made up of many young women, a few young men and one or two families. Many young people were baptized and were discipled. From ‘publicly’ meeting at our home, where anyone could come, we quickly saw distrust and KGB informing scattering the believers, and the church ‘went underground’ into smaller groups that could not so easily be visible or infiltrated. Many fell away from faith with the opposition of family and the pressure to conform to their own cultural norms – arranged marriages meant many young believing girls could no longer meet with others unless their husbands gave permission. And yet, today despite the opposition, many have remained faithful and continue to love God and share their faith wherever they are.

As a couple there was nowhere to go on a ‘date night’

Being a married Westerner with young children in a conservative, nominally Muslim regional city presented many challenges to us. As a couple there was nowhere to go on a ‘date night’ – at that time, restaurants and tea houses were strictly men-only, and there were no functioning cinemas or theatres. But we soon found our favourite place – a restaurant called ‘Titanic’ by a fast flowing river (pretty sure the name was not meant to be ironic!).

We decided that our children needed to go to local nursery and primary schools, and though this was great for their language and being part of everyday life, it was often very challenging for them. English classes were particularly hard – rather than being taken out for this lesson because she already ‘fluent’, or being utilised by the teacher to help the others learn to speak well, our daughter was obliged to learn at the same level as her peers, and use the same ‘incorrect’ pronunciation and stress as the teacher. Though she really disliked this teacher and these lessons, we tried to help her see the funny side of having to pronounce words like grandmother ‘correctly’ – “Graandmuzer”!

God is still calling His people to serve in these difficult but highly rewarding places…

It was an incredible privilege to be a part of God’s work in a small city in Central Asia at such a key time, as a vacuum caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union created amazing opportunities. Sowing seeds and seeing many grow to fruition, and then trusting God to complete the work He had started, we were able to see His church beginning to be established there after decades, sometimes centuries of inactivity/barrenness. And today is a new day, and God is still calling His people to serve in these difficult but highly rewarding places, but with new strategies and alongside an established, young local church.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8.


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