New Muslim-Background Believer's Conversion Follows Common Pattern

A new Pakistani believer in England is in jail following accusations by his estranged wife.  The Pioneer who shared Christ with him says that the new Christian has followed a very familiar pattern for Muslim-background believers.  This man heard the Gospel first when he was 17, but did not believe until he was 45, and then he immediately faced a significant trial.  The Pioneer says he's seen this pattern over and over: an initial gospel presentation followed by decades of unbelief, then when belief takes root, hardship or persecution immediately follow.  Pioneers in Europe say this cycle is a manifestation of the spiritual battle taking place for the hearts of Muslim-background immigrants across the continent. 

  • Pray for the seeds of the Gospel to take root and for new believers to persevere in the face of trials in their new faith. 
  • Praise God for prison ministry—the Pioneer spends hours each week discipling his friend behind bars.

From Death to Life

Work to Do. 

“God release me from this,” she remembers praying, making sure to follow it up with the hasty but sincere promise, “I’ll do it if you don’t, but I’m asking you to release me.” 

He didn’t, which is why Jenny now finds herself at the helm of a grassroots pro-life ministry in the small Balkan country of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It began when Jenny’s husband learned that one of their mutual friends was going to have an abortion. He asked this friend if she would be willing to meet with his wife, and several days later, Jenny wound up sitting across the table from a woman considering abortion, faced with the task of showing her a different, better solution. 

They had an encouraging conversation, and Jenny walked away sure she had made a difference – until she heard that her friend ended up getting an abortion anyway. Jenny could no longer deny it: the disregard for life in the womb ran deep through this tiny country she called home. “The message is not getting out there,” she remembers thinking, “there’s a lot of work to do.” 

Still she resisted, insisting she was there to plant churches, not educate and prevent women from getting abortions. Even more discouraging was her lack of fluency with the local language, an obstacle that had caused her years of frustration since moving to Bosnia-Herzegovina. But since God wasn’t letting it go, she couldn’t either; gathering up her natural spunk and optimism (and reminding herself “he can speak through a donkey”) Jenny hesitantly but obediently started Voice for Life. 

It wasn’t the smoothest of beginnings. “I’ve been learning as I go, you know, and –” she pauses, “I still have much to learn.” She’s learned, for example, that most Bosnian women are taught a fetus is not alive until they can feel it kicking, something that may not happen until as late as 25 weeks. She’s learned the fertility rates of the Balkan region have declined so drastically that some governments now offer financial incentives for women to have more children. And she’s learned that in public hospitals, the doors that lead to abortion procedures and those that open to birthing wings are right across from each other, making the distance between life and death about ten feet.   

Most of all she’s learned she can’t do this alone – and God never meant for her to try. Not only has he been with her every step, but he’s also sent her other people to help. A poised, well-spoken local named Ana has recently joined forces with her in Sarajevo, and two others have started a branch in a nearby city. Though small, Voice for Life is gaining traction, and as they do, they are seeing women and children’s lives changed for the better.

Open Doors. 

“First, I really like wondered...what can we do here?” A self-professed skeptic, Ana wasn’t sure an organization like Voice for Life would get off the ground in a country like Bosnia-Herzegovina. “When it comes to those topics,” she pauses, her English clear and advanced, “they're taboo in a society. You will never hear anyone really speak openly publicly about that matter, doctors or anyone. But,” she makes sure to add, “you will hear a lot of women talking about their experiences.” 

And that was the key for every Voice for Life volunteer: whether through conversation or personal experience, they knew abortion was more common than the surrounding culture cared to admit. “Every woman that I met has had an abortion,” says Ashley, a worker from another city, “and that was shocking to me at first.” Like Jenny, she didn’t move to the Balkans to start a pro-life ministry, but she also couldn’t walk away once she discovered the breadth of the issue. Everywhere she turned – her church, the local mosque, even her hair salon – she met women who had either already experienced or were considering abortion. 

Some of these abortions happened as a result of pregnancies out of wedlock, but most of them, Ashley discovered, had a more glaringly simple cause: a lack of birth control. Most women getting abortions were wives and mothers who didn’t have access to birth control and simply didn’t think they could feed one more mouth. Furthermore, they were women whose doctors told them what was growing in their womb was not a child but “just a tissue”, and therefore aborting it was a nonissue. “They are not given information um, about anything,” explains Jenny, “and in fact, the information they do have, the doctor's say it's not a life until you feel movement.” As they learned more about the problem, the women at Voice for Life realized if they were to do this well, they needed to start in the realm of education.

They began gathering brochures, books, even maternity calendars and translating them into Bosnian. Anytime they encountered a woman considering abortion, they sat with her and went over the materials, giving her a different perspective than the one she had been brought up in. At the same time, they started setting their sights on a bigger prize: one of the largest government run pharmacy chains. “We weren’t sure if they would take, uh, you know materials,” explains Ana, “because they also sell like, abortion pills.” But they decided to ask them to take the brochures anyway, which eventually led them to the offices of some of the top managers. Instead of turning them away, the people behind the big desks listened to them and immediately said, “Feel free, please...whatever you do, not only this but any kind of, like your future work or, we are willing to help.” Ana was stunned, “God really, he open door.”

“It was God,” confirms Jenny, and all the women nod in agreement. Now, just through simple obedience, their materials would grace the shelves of 40 pharmacies in their cities – and who could tell how many lives that would save? It was a huge win. 

Setbacks.

It isn’t just through brochures that Voice for Life speaks to its audience; one of the most powerful tools the women use is Facebook. Social media gives them a unique advantage, because it offers a more discreet way of asking questions for those unwilling to walk into a pregnancy center. 

Like, for example, the girl who posted a question about abortion on her newsfeed, to which a member of Voice for Life responded and told her to contact Ana. She did, and in their conversation, Ana learned about the girl’s situation, listened to her fears, and tried to combat all the voices telling her to abort. “I tried to encourage her,” says Ana, “and uh to tell her okay, just wait, you don't need to decide today.” Sensing the girl’s desperation, she tried setting up a meeting, only to be met with excuses. “You only see one thing now,” she remembers texting her, “you see that child is a problem, but...there are people who are willing to help you and take care of you and all that.” For days, Ana didn’t hear back from her, until one day she did. The girl wrote to her and told her she had gotten an abortion. 

Though devastated, Ana was undeterred. She told the girl she would be there for her if she needed someone, that she could contact her anytime, that there was a healing process she could walk her through. “That’s a sad story,” she says at the end, “but we never know what God can do with that.” 

“And,” offers Jenny, “often after someone has an experience of abortion...these are often the strongest advocates for life so, maybe God will use these girls.” They know this kind of turnaround can and does happen, mostly because one of their own has lived it. 

Healing and Hope. 

Through the careful translations of Ana, Sara begins her story with: “I've found out about sanctity of life when I got to know Jesus.” A Croatian woman from a nearby town, Sara grew up Catholic, but she didn’t think much about God until later in life; her “faith” was more of an ethnic identity, rather than a set of beliefs she followed. Now, her Bible sits in her hands full of highlighted passages and notes, and her life speaks loudly of God’s forgiveness and grace – especially when she brings up the two abortions she had as a young mother. “I have four daughters here on this earth,” she says with quiet confidence, “but I know that two girls are waiting for me, Amina and Emira. I've given them names.” 

At first glance, her story seems a common one: mother of four feels like she can’t afford another child, so she chooses abortion. Her husband, a Muslim, doesn’t object, so she goes through with the procedure. Eventually, she blocks the memories of the abortions from her mind and goes on with her life – until she doesn’t. Until someone introduces her to the love of Jesus and over time, he ushers her into a healing process that not only brings back the memories of what happened but also reveals to her the gender of the children who never lived. 

“I cried in the beginning when I was going through all of this,” she reveals, “but when I saw the end, the sadness became to, became joy. Because I was ready to forgive myself, my husband, doctors...and I know where my daughters are.” She has no visible shame as she recounts these things; rather, her words are laced with compassion, both for herself and for those who have gone through similar experiences. 

“Through that healing,” she explains, “I realized I can feel free to speak about my experience and what I have been through.” The first children her testimony saved were her own grandchildren. The next was the daughter of the local Imam and his wife. Preventing women from getting abortions is something she is passionate about, if only because she knows, “If I had someone to support me, then it would have been different.” 

But she is equally passionate about healing, because she knows firsthand how needed it is. To every woman she meets who has experienced abortion, she recommends Save One, the book that walked her through her own healing process. When she talks about the book, “Some women say ‘Oh I don't wanna cry, I don't wanna think about this, but it's...it's no help, like, that doesn't do anything!” As she can attest, the work is hard and painful, but the end result is freedom and grace – and that is worth the tears. 

Perhaps most compelling is Sara’s impassioned belief in the forgiveness and love of self. Since God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves, she reasons, “How can I love my neighbor if I don't love myself?” It’s a fair question, one that comes from years of bearing the weight of guilt and shame. “God gave Jesus for me, so he loves me, and [for] me not to love myself...that doesn't work.” 

No, it doesn’t, and it is time for the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina to hear this truth. If they knew there was a God who loved them, who valued their life and the lives of the not-yet-born, then their culture of death just might transform into a culture of life. That is the vision and heartbeat of Voice for Life, and with God guiding their steps, it’s a vision Jenny, Ana, Ashley, and Sara believe can – and will – come to life.

Photo Essay: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

(On a mobile device? Turn device sideways to see picture title and description)

Nelly’s Story: The Unexpected Way Jesus Revealed Himself to a North African Woman in Southern Europe

Absentmindedly I stirred my coffee.  My brain was trying to make sense of the story I was hearing.  Two Christian workers who live in southern Europe sat across from my husband and me and told us about Nelly.  My eyes went from theirs to the window.  As a writer, I wondered who would believe this story if I shared it.  I could barely absorb it and the firsthand witnesses were sitting directly across the table from me.

This story has been in the making for about five years now, they said.  They first met Nelly when she came to them and asked them to visit her husband and young son after she died.  Nelly had a brain tumor and she didn’t expect to live much longer.  This couple encouraged her to pray to Jesus and ask Him to intervene.  As a Muslim, Nelly had never prayed to Jesus.  However, by this time, she was unable to fulfill her daily Muslim prayer rituals because of her illness.  So she returned home and gave praying to Jesus a try. 

Nelly Sees

Nelly came back to her Christian friends and reported that as she was sitting and praying on her couch, Jesus appeared on her balcony and entered through her doors and spoke with her.  He spoke to her in her North African dialect and asked her what she wanted.  At this point, my husband and I had mouths hanging open and wanted to clarify, “Wait, wait.  You mean Jesus—like, human Jesus—walked into her apartment from her balcony?”  We had heard stories of Jesus appearing to Muslims in dreams.  But, Jesus, on her balcony?  And then in her living room?  Asking her what she wanted? 

“We know.  It sounds crazy.  But it happened many times.  This was just the first one.”

The workers shrugged their shoulders and with palms up said, “We know.  It sounds crazy.  But it happened many times.  This was just the first one.”  Nelly told them that she answered Jesus’ question by telling Him that she had had a headache because there hadn’t been any cigarettes in their home for days.  Nelly reported that after Jesus left, she went to her kitchen to make herself a cup of coffee and there, in the cupboard, was a package of cigarettes.  Nelly ran back to the workers lamenting, “Why did I only ask for cigarettes?”

It took us a minute to absorb this.  A North African Muslim woman asked Jesus—who appeared to her bodily—for cigarettes.  And He gave them to her.  We thought immediately of Christians back in the States who would discount this story because smoking is a sin, right?  I mean, how do you reconcile God giving a gift that is frowned upon in many Christian settings across North America?  As our friends agreed that it was hard to believe, but true, we began to verbally recall the many surprising ways that Jesus reacted in Scripture to those seeking Him.  There was the healing on the Sabbath.  The water to wine.  The forgiveness of the adulteress.  The washing of feet.  Apparently, Jesus—in His mercy—sweetly met Nelly right where she was, as He began the process of revealing more and more of Himself to her.

Nelly Believes

Nelly saw “The Jesus Film” and other Christian movies on Satellite TV.  She is illiterate and was therefore unable to gain knowledge of Jesus through the Bible.  After several personal visits from the Lord, Nelly went to the Christian workers sitting across from us and told them, “Jesus is the Son of God and He’s in my heart.  He will never go away.” 

While these workers rejoiced, they wanted to make sure that Nelly fully understood who Jesus was.  Another Christian worker and friend who spoke the same North African dialect as Nelly, sat down with her to hear more about her encounters with Jesus.  This conversation in Nelly’s first language would allow for deeper communication and understanding.  The Christian workers and Nelly’s friends were all elated when it became evident in that conversation that she really did understand the person of Jesus and had a rich faith and relationship with Him.

The workers told us that in the months that followed, Nelly reported that Jesus often visited her.  She said that she was not sleeping or dreaming, but that Jesus was there physically and spoke to her, encouraged her, consoled her.  She said that once Jesus entered through the balcony door, spoke with her, and left through the front door.  Her husband heard the door open and shut and asked who was there. 

The whole thing was so wild and unfathomable to us.  We simply could not imagine what it was like to have Jesus enter through your balcony doors nearly every day. 

At one point, Nelly was concerned because Jesus hadn’t been to see her for several days.  The workers had the pleasure of telling her that she was the recipient of an unusual gift and that most Christians never saw Jesus face-to-face, let alone many times over!  At this point in the story, my husband and I had to pause and take a deep breath.  The whole thing was so wild and unfathomable to us.  We simply could not imagine what it was like to have Jesus enter through your balcony doors nearly every day. 

They went on.  According to Nelly, one day Jesus laid His hand on her face, where she had been suffering paralysis from the brain tumor.  He massaged her cheek and told her that very afternoon she would go to the doctor and everything would be fine.  Indeed, her paralysis disappeared and a scan revealed no tumor.  Jesus had miraculously healed her. 

Nelly said that Jesus told her to believe in Him.  He appeared to her at the hospital when she underwent a surgery for another health problem too.  Nelly said, “Jesus is in my life now and He will never leave.”

Over the years, Nelly’s daughter, son-in-law, and children moved from North Africa into their apartment.  A year after Nelly’s conversion her husband began to believe in the Lord Jesus.  Other family members became curious too.  Roughly five years after Nelly first believed, a local church held an event in Arabic.  Her family attended and heard several testimonies from Muslim-background believers.  They said their hearts really began to open to Jesus when they heard the Arabic worship music.  They purchased a worship CD and returned to their apartment. 

Nelly Perseveres 

Here’s where the Christian workers’ story began to turn from one of joy and awe to one of deep concern.  Nelly reported that one recent Sunday morning, her husband and son-in-law played the Arabic Christian CD and danced in their kitchen and celebrated the good news proclaimed in the lyrics.  The women who were in the living room—separated by gender as is their custom as North Africans—asked the men to turn up the music so that they could worship too.  Someone began banging on their front door and a voice boomed, “Are you a Christian?  This is a Muslim building!”  Muslim men from the building waited on the street and confronted and beat Nelly’s husband and son-in-law as soon as they saw them later that day.

The story darkened as we learned that Nelly’s family is forced by the threat of physical harm to hide in their apartment.

The story darkened as we learned that Nelly’s family is forced by the threat of physical harm to hide in their apartment.  They must be very careful as they move around the neighborhood, because their Muslim neighbors now know they believe in Jesus.  The local police are reluctant to help because they know that if they intervene Nelly and her family are likely to suffer increased attacks as retribution from the community.  They are seeking shelter elsewhere, but don't feel hopeful.  They are in very real danger. 

But, as Nelly said to these workers, “I have great faith because I know that Jesus is alive.”

My husband and I sat at the table dumbfounded.  The Christian workers gave us a minute, as they gathered some food from the buffet.  As they sat back down and we absorbed the immensity of the story—the joy and the sorrow—we were all deeply moved.  Nelly and her family are clearly precious to these workers.  They and other Christian workers in their neighborhood have been invested in Nelly’s story for over five years.  Christians in the community have provided food, money, tutoring, and support in any way they can.  They rejoice in what Jesus has done and they are praying fervently for Nelly and her family. 

As I ask God to protect Nelly, His servant, I also ask Him for faith like hers, because I know too that Jesus is alive.  And now I know it in a new, profound way, thanks to my North African sister who lives in southern Europe.  May Jesus, in His sovereignty and mercy, draw many more North Africans to Himself—whether it is through the gift of cigarettes or the gift of healing or the gift of persecution. 

And may we in the west stay on our knees for our Muslim-background siblings in Christ and the workers laboring for their sake in His name. 

87 Villages.  7 Valleys.  1 Church Plant.

This is complicated terrain.  From 420m to 3298m altitude, this region in the mountains has no evangelical church.  I'm not in the Himalayas or some obscure country in Africa.  This is Europe.  And yet it seems almost surreal to think that there are places in Europe where there is limited access to the Gospel.

 

These 87 villages and 7 valleys have never been considered reached. Not ever.  Rife with sorcery and occultism and with local traditions & beliefs that run deeper than Catholicism ever will, the Pyrenees mountains in France remains a dark place in desperate need of the Light of the Gospel.  

But how does one reach 87 villages and 7 valleys?  "Les Cairns".  Our loving Father gave our team this powerful image as we founded our church here 6 months ago.  A "cairn" is a small pile of stones gathered on the side of a path, to show hikers where to go.  And so we, the church, are called to be gatherings of Living Stones who show that Jesus is the Way.

Each valley needs a cairn, a gathering of believers that live out the Gospel together in their local community.  And then, once a month all the cairns ("Les Cairns"), join together in celebration.

Right now we are one cairn.  But our prayer is that every valley would have a cairn and every village a Gospel witness.

"The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few."  Matthew 9:37.

Trusting the Lord to Open Hearts in Madrid

“I love God and I love the people.  So what can I do?” 

I marveled at Sarah’s faithfulness.  She has been a Pioneer in Madrid for five years and served in North Africa for 20 years prior to that.  When I asked her about the spiritual fruit of her labors, she only had a few converts to report for her decades of work.  When I asked her if she gets discouraged she said, “Yes, sometimes.  It’s lonely work, but God called me to it.  And He has to provide the fruit.” 

After leaving North Africa during a recent expulsion of Christian missionaries, she arrived in Spain in the midst of their Great Recession.  She immediately saw the needs of the North African immigrants and refugees and she moved in amongst them to provide relief and to shine the light of Christ.  While she baptized seven women in her bathtub in North Africa, she has yet to see someone come to Christ in Madrid.

Sarah attends a local Spanish church, but is the only one in her community with a vision for sharing Christ with the local Arabs.  She has had teammates at times, but is currently serving alone, as she often has over the years.  Because she is fluent in Arabic and knows North Africa well, she has had no trouble forming friendships amongst the women.  They are drawn to her kindness, generosity, and cultural familiarity—things not readily extended to them by the Spanish community.  

North African Arabs are kept an arm’s length away from Spanish society.  Because they are not integrated into the local culture, their identities as North African Arabs grows stronger as they reside in Europe.  As they draw into themselves, they form neighborhood enclaves where they have their own shops, their own butchers, their own mosque.  Those who were nominal Muslims back in Africa grow stronger in their religious identity when they get to Spain.  ISIS finds fertile ground from which to recruit, as young men especially feel rejected and then themselves reject Spanish culture. 

Sarah knows the Arab ladies love to gather for parties, so she hosts them often.  She serves tea, provides food, and makes space for moments of levity and enjoyment.  She is diligent in sharing Christ’s love and says that the women are usually very open to conversations about God and the Bible.  Next week she’ll be hosting about 50 ladies for tea and to watch a movie about Christianity.  The film was made by Arabs for Arabs and explains the Gospel message.  Sarah regularly reaches out to the immigrant children, as well, hosting holiday parties and events for the kids. 

While Sarah has had much success forming friendships and even sharing Christ and praying with and studying the Bible with Arabs in Madrid, she has yet to see one surrender to the Lord.  She says that they stick around for awhile, but then she suspects they are persuaded away by the Muslim community.  “It’s a close community,” she says, “they all see where each other goes and what they are doing.” 

Sarah dreams of opening a community center for the Arab immigrants—a place they can go to learn to sew, to learn to read, where kids can get help with homework, where newcomers can gather for refreshment and to hear about the love of Christ.  Pray that God would provide humble and hardworking teammates for this work in Madrid—teammates who, like Sarah, love God and love the people. 

Three Ways to Pray for Manchester Today

Pioneers in Europe has several teammates ministering in Manchester—not far from the arena where 22 died Monday night, the victims of a terrorist attack carried out as fans were exiting an Ariana Grande concert.  The attack, which claimed the lives of many young people, has put Manchester’s population on high alert.  

One of our teammates lamented this morning, it seems that Manchester and urban centers all over the United Kingdom and Europe “are attracting the attention of the enemy who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy…[But we need Christians to] join us in prayer, bringing Kingdom awareness so that we don’t cede territory to the domain of darkness.”  Please join the teams in Manchester in pushing back the darkness by praying for these specific needs: 

  1. While it’s clear that the bomber was an extremist, Manchester does have a high Muslim population—about 16% of the greater city is Muslim and there are 62 mosques in the urban area.  Pray that Muslims in Manchester would grow discontent with Islam, that they would question their religion, and seek the Truth.  
  2. Pray for our teammates in Manchester, some of whom are from Arab backgrounds themselves.  They have deep relationships in the community and have seen much spiritual fruit in the last couple years.  Pray our members would be seen as sources of comfort and truth. 
  3. Our teams in Manchester report that they have been receiving interest in Christianity from Pakistanis, Saudis, Iranians, Jordanians, and Kurds.  They have been thrilled to see roughly 50 Muslim-Background believers attending Discovery Bible Studies each week.

These are tense days for Manchester residents—whether they are British, Arab, missionaries, Muslims, or Christians.  Please join our teams across Europe as we pray that what the enemy intends for harm, would be used of God “to accomplish…the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

Before the Throne - A Missionary's Journey

When Jordan flew to the Balkan Peninsula two years ago to plant churches among the Roma people group, he had no idea he would one day be sitting here, in a crowded café, sipping espresso and telling his story against the backdrop of bad American pop music. He also had no idea he would be saying things like, “I really did block out a lot of the difficulty that was waiting for me when I got here,” or “I feel like I got here and just was embarrassingly humbled. Embarrassingly.” But he is saying these things, because that is exactly what happened.

“I romanticized it entirely,” he confesses, imagining that working with the poor meant “getting dirty, and just meeting all their needs, and being this hero and, um, doing it all in the name of Jesus.”

Jordan’s journey overseas began with a simple statement uttered by one of his trusted mentors: “You know, I see you as more of a missions guy.” A month and a half later, he found himself walking on Pioneers’ campus in Florida, feeling more and more confident that these were “his people” and that God was calling him to spread the Gospel among the unreached – he just didn’t know where yet. After meeting with several potential teams, he heard of the opportunity to work with the poor and marginalized in Eastern Europe, and it caught his attention. “I romanticized it entirely,” he confesses, imagining that working with the poor meant “getting dirty, and just meeting all their needs, and being this hero and, um, doing it all in the name of Jesus.” To Jordan, nothing could’ve sounded more appealing.

To be fair, he is good at those things. Poverty doesn’t scare him, and neither do the sacrifices that keep most of us from moving to the other side of the world to tell people about Jesus. And while it can take missionary recruits years to raise enough funds to get to the field, his natural boldness and singular focus got him there in six months. Everything happened so quickly and easily, what reason did he have to doubt?

He didn’t, not for a long time. Because at first, the flavors were exciting, the language seemed easy to pick up, and the people were kind and receptive; it was every bit the adventure he imagined it would be. However, unlike the short-term mission trips he’d gone on in his twenties, he didn’t have a ticket home when the honeymoon ended. When the food became bland, he woke up in the Balkans. When the language became complex, he woke up in the Balkans. And when he saw the flaws and weaknesses in himself, his teammates, and those he was trying to reach, he woke up in the Balkans. “You feel, or at least I felt,” he says, “lonely and insignificant, and helpless like a little child.”  

Even the ministry became a source of discouragement as, with each passing day, he realized how far they were from their goal of reaching the Roma with the Gospel – much less helping them escape the clutches of poverty. Worse, his team went through an intense time of conflict, resulting in half of them going back to the States and half of them starting over. Months turned into a year, and eventually his disillusionment brought him to a place of bitterness, frustration, and anger. “And then in my case,” he pauses, “loneliness and even bits of depression.” Not quite the wave of self-edifying momentum he rode to the Roma’s front doorstep.

Like many of us do, Jordan responded with heavy doses of self-medication and escapism; food, drink, too much sleep, not enough sleep, too many Skype calls home, not enough Skype calls home, movies, school – he turned to anything and everything but the One who could truly help. Of course, nothing did. “I would look out my window or sit on my balcony and just see this lively neighborhood that just didn't care that I was there,” he says, his voice equal parts amusement and regret, “I had come to save all of them, but they didn't care.” At the end of his first year, “The Lord felt extremely far away, and I felt extremely small.”

And that’s when Jordan saw it. “You've been relying on yourself,” he realized, “and not the God who is big.” On his own, he was never supposed to be significant; it was always supposed to be God.

As it turns out, he was right. He was small – but that wasn’t the problem. When he finally turned to God for help, God didn’t build him up or feed him nice-sounding platitudes about all his hard work and effort. On the contrary, “He affirmed that I was small, but that He was big.” And that’s when Jordan saw it. “You've been relying on yourself,” he realized, “and not the God who is big.” On his own, he was never supposed to be significant; it was always supposed to be God.

Not much changed in his circumstances after that realization, but a lot changed in his mind and heart. “You start understanding,” he explains, “that as you've walked away from situations that you thought impossible or that you didn't have enough energy for or didn't have enough language for...God did.” He still went about his daily tasks, still labored to learn the language (a process that never really got easier), and still worked hard to begin new and impactful ministries. But now, he knew by whose strength he did these things – and it wasn’t his own. The odd thing was, being aware of his weaknesses only made him feel more capable. “The difficulty didn't go away,” he admits, “but the ability to deal with it greatly increased as I sought the Lord through it.” 

He laughs as he thinks back to the moment he begged God to send him somewhere challenging, somewhere he could do great and significant things for the kingdom. While parts of that prayer were well-intentioned, “basically, it was like a bravado thing.” A bravado thing that God answered by putting him in a new place, using difficult situations to reveal the pride and arrogance in his heart, and then disciplining him until those things were gone – or at least, Jordan would tell you, smaller. It wasn’t how he thought God would answer his prayer (and it certainly wasn’t how he wanted him to), but it was how he needed him to answer it.

“You have in your mind how God is going to work, or how he does work, and he always surprises you for the better.”

“You have in your mind how God is going to work, or how he does work, and he always surprises you for the better.” That is a truth Jordan holds to tightly as he looks to an uncertain future, one that may or may not include a return flight to the country he’s finally started feeling comfortable in. Regardless of whether or not he does come back, he is glad to draw from the lessons God taught him here, lessons of humility, remaining faithful in times of difficulty, and drawing from the strength of his Maker rather than his own meager reserves. They are, he suspects, lessons he will continue to learn the rest of his life.

“I know who is in control,” he says in a café in the middle of a crowded, lost, vibrant city in Eastern Europe. “I know who is in power, and I –” he pauses, “I know where I stand before the throne. And it's far down.” It isn’t with pride in himself that he says these words; it’s with pride in the King who does sit on the throne. He is, Jordan would tell you, the only one worth taking pride in anyway.   

To Whom Much is Given

Jesus said, “To whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48).  One young Pioneers couple serving in Croatia took these words to heart.  Having been born in Switzerland, they say, “Everything in Switzerland was great.  The life, the education, everything was a gift.  And we wanted to use those gifts to serve in a place that doesn’t have the same things.” 

Croatia is experiencing a famine—not of food, but of hope.  With a depressed economy, young people who are able have left their nation in pursuit of a better future.  Those that have stayed behind lack hopeful prospects for the future.  Not only are jobs rare, but so is business know-how, an entrepreneurial spirit, workplace ethics, and—above all—the influence of Christ.  With an evangelical population of 0.38%, Croatia is spiritually dark. 

The Pioneers’ dream is to open a community center for young adults.  They envision a place where students and young professionals gather to drink coffee, study, network, hear workshops given by business people, and experience the care and investment of Christ followers who want to mentor them.  In the meantime, they create events and concerts in the community, where young people can gather for social connection, encouragement, and to build relationships—all with a Gospel intentionality.  The Pioneers say that a night out with people who carry the light of Christ can bear great fruit.   

Are you willing to give your good gifts for the expanse of the Gospel in Croatia? The Pioneers in Zagreb would love to grow their team.  They are looking for short-term or long-term commitments from people who: 

  • Love young adults, have a very positive outlook on life, and value a ministry of presence.
  • Have business skills or the desire to mentor young business people.
  • Have business connections and can provide leads for the digital and online marketplace.
  • Love Christ and are willing to use the good gifts He has given to invest in others.
  • No foreign language required—90% of 16-30 year old Croats speak English very well.

Daily Bread - Rina's Journey

By a Pioneers Field Worker in Albania

She orders tea with ease, her dark features and hard-won command of the language almost convincing enough to make people think she’s Albanian. In fact, just yesterday someone thought she was a local who left the country for a long time and came back with an accent. Here on the truth-telling streets of Tirana where people don't hesitate to tell you what they really think of your language-speaking ability, that’s a win.

But that’s not what Alisa’s here to talk about. Neither is she here to talk about what it’s been like to move to Albania and try to plant a church among the marginalized and impoverished Roma people group, though that is a fascinating story in its own right. She’s here to talk about Rina, a Roma woman with Multiple Sclerosis who, until recently, lived in a tiny cinder-block home just a few steps away from hers.

Though neighbors, the two women didn’t interact much when Alisa and her family first moved in. Alisa would see Rina sitting in a chair outside her front door and wave to her as she turned into her driveway, but that was it. Admittedly, she was comfortable with the distance, since “getting close meant responsibility.” But all that changed when Rina, using a broken stroller as a walker, wheeled up the hill to Alisa’s house, knocked on her door, and told her she and her teenage son had been without food for four days.

“When she said that, it was pretty striking,” says Alisa. “Like, my next-door neighbor doesn't have anything to eat, and I have an entire pantry full of food and no scarcity of when can I get the next...” her voice trails off at this part, as if reliving the horror she felt at the state of her refrigerator. Determined to fix the situation, she immediately drove to the store and bought more than enough food to keep Rina and her son fed for a couple weeks.

“Once God opened my eyes to what was actually right beside us,” she says, “I couldn't drive past her. I couldn't just drive home.”

But that wasn’t the end of it, because it wasn’t the end of Rina’s poverty. “Once God opened my eyes to what was actually right beside us,” she says, “I couldn't drive past her. I couldn't just drive home.” As she wondered what to do, Alisa felt God speaking to her, saying things like: “She's your neighbor, and I've put her inside your sphere of family.” Even more convicting: “I put you here for her.” It was a tall order, but it aligned with what Alisa knew of God’s love and concern for the poor and how he often used the Church to care for their needs. And wasn’t she a representation of God’s Church, here to do just that?

So she began bringing Rina food every week. She stepped inside Rina’s house, sat on her broken couch, and listened as best as she could. In broken Albanian, she discovered Rina had four daughters in addition to her son, but since her daughters were obligated to care for their new families, she didn’t see them much. She learned Rina’s husband left her for another woman but neglected to divorce her, which meant as a technically married woman, she couldn’t receive any of the government support given to people with disabilities. She learned Rina’s landlord didn’t care to fix the broken roof or giant hole in the wall, but he did care an awful lot about receiving the rent money on time. And when they talked about God, she learned Rina didn’t seem to like him much – probably because she didn’t think he liked her.

After a few months of getting to know each other, Alisa invited Rina to church, and surprisingly, she agreed. Though she never participated in the worship or communion, Rina heard the Gospel every week, and that was encouraging. Church also meant more social interactions, which, Alisa was learning, her friend needed just as much as food. Then one day after service, a member of the congregation sat down with Rina and explained the Gospel in ways Alisa didn’t have enough language to do. She seemed truly interested, even asking how she could get to God through Jesus, when she said something they weren’t expecting: “But, I’ve never sinned.”      

Alisa was stunned – how could she think she’s never sinned – until she remembered her friend’s background. Rina had grown up with a religious perspective that said sins were grave, egregious acts of wrongdoing, and the people who did these acts deserved the punishment they got. “In her mind,” Alisa explains, “saying like, ‘I've sinned,’ means ‘I deserve this horrible life that I've had.’” But Rina hadn’t killed anyone, and she certainly wasn’t the one who had walked away from her marriage. In her worldview, saying she had sinned meant she must have done something to deserve her suffering, and she just didn’t think it was true.

Listening to her friend’s objections, Alisa realized what Rina needed was an entire worldview shift, and since only God could do that, they left the conversation alone. Rina still came to church and Alisa still worked tirelessly to help her financial situation improve, but nothing changed in Rina’s heart – and maybe, Alisa thought, nothing ever would. Then one Sunday during communion, Alisa noticed her friend was in turmoil. Showing more emotion than she’d shown since they’d met, Rina turned to Alisa and said, “Would you get me one?” Alisa did a double take, asking if she was sure, to which Rina responded, “I believe this. I believe it. I want you to get me some this time.” A few minutes later, she took her first communion.

Alisa smiles now as she talks about the change she’s seen in her friend. While she used to say things like, “God hates me. Look at my life. He must hate me,” she now tells Alisa, “I do have hope, and my son is working, and he's going to school, and there's hope that life is gonna get better, and that's just because of what God has done in my life.” The difference is stark, dramatic, and good.

While Rina’s reality is still marked by more difficulty than most people see in their lifetime, there are glimmers of light there, too. Her church (because it is hers now) collected enough money to move her to a better house. Her son (most of the time) goes to work. And her relationship with Alisa has become more of a true, reciprocal friendship. As proof, Alisa tells the story of the time she went to visit Rina and found her surrounded by a few other Roma women. The unlikely group fell into talking about their children and what it’s like being young mothers. “And it felt like,” she remembers, “Oh, we're all just sitting here as friends, sharing common life.” No one asked Alisa for anything except her opinions on raising boys; it was a new, wonderful dynamic.

And it is this dynamic Alisa hopes will continue. Rather than become Rina’s forever benefactor, she hopes to one day just be her friend. Until that day comes, Alisa is committed to helping with humility, always pointing Rina back to her true Provider. Because the reality is, Alisa knows, she could have been the one watching her son languish from lack of food while her neighbor’s pantry sat full of homemade cookies. However much she may feel independent or secure, she knows (more than she ever has) that “we're all really dependent on God for our daily bread.”

When talking about what she wants her friendship with Rina to look like in the future, Alisa describes a setting where, “I go over and just visit with her, where God is providing for her needs, and I can just be a friend that encourages her to have more faith.” Two mothers, two followers of Jesus, two women dependent on God for their daily needs. It’s a beautiful image, and though faint, it’s already starting to appear. 

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back - A Roma Story (Part 3 of 3)

By a Pioneers Field Worker in Albania

“Are we getting better at answering your questions?”

To be honest, I don't know what Sula’s asking; she’s speaking in a language I don’t understand, but my teammates tell me about it afterwards. They also tell me how sad the question made them feel.

My teammates – a married couple, their three children, and a single – have lived and worked in Tirana, Albania for almost two years. They came here to start a church among the unreached Roma people group, and like most endeavors in God’s kingdom, it’s proving to be far more difficult than they ever thought possible.

Oppressed and discriminated against for centuries, the Roma are used to receiving handouts from compassionate and/or guilt-ridden strangers. However well-meaning, these efforts have created a mentality among the Roma that says: “Outsider = money”. This ingrained perspective has been one of the team’s biggest roadblocks to church-planting here. How, after all, do you form a reciprocal, life-giving relationship with a woman who’s opening line every time you see her is, “My husband is sick, can you give me money for medicine?” And at the same time, when does it make sense to ignore the very real needs of those you came to serve? It is a dangerous, tricky tension to navigate.

Which is why it is remarkable we’re meeting in Joni and Sula’s home at all, listening to a recording of John 8:1-11, discussing what this passage says about God and people. The fact that we’ve gotten past the what-are-you-going-to-give-me phase and formed a friendship (at least a tentative one) is a huge victory.

We don’t often celebrate the victories, however, mostly because by the time we recognize one, we’re up against another barrier. Take today’s, for example: “Are we getting better at answering your questions?” may seem harmless, but to us, it means Sula is still trying to please us (possibly so she’ll get a reward). It means she believes she is “lesser”, not just materially but also intellectually. It means in her mind, she is the student and we are the teachers, instead of all of us being the students of a holy, utterly mysterious, yet nearer-than-we-could-ever-imagine God.

How do you get past that?

The truth is, we don’t know. My teammates have tried to encourage Joni and Sula to lead the discussions, to own their role as equals in the church, but nothing has worked. We’ll be the first to admit that while we know on paper how to plant a church among the poor and unreached, reality is another story. To do it well – to do any of this well – we need Jesus.  

Sobered but not disheartened, we say goodbye and walk away. I look back and shake my head as Sula’s four-year-old son picks up a not-so-small rock to throw at his older brother. It is a far from perfect church; we struggle with fear, pride, addictions, temper tantrums, and a deep distrust in God’s provision and goodness, among other things. But it is, miraculously, a church. Most important, it is his church, and may God give us the grace to remember it.  

Sula and her family are the only known believers in the Roma community our Pioneers team currently works in. Would you consider specifically praying for this unreached people group, giving your resources to those who serve them, or going yourself?  

Four Ways to Pray for London Right Now

By a Pioneers In Europe Field Worker

When we think about the need for Christian missionary efforts around the world, the places that usually come to mind are not in the Western world, are not English-speaking, are not major tourist destinations.
 
And yet, the tragic attacks that took place in London on Westminster Bridge on Wednesday remind us once again of the need for God’s Kingdom to come to even the most familiar and developed locales.
 
As this violence draws our attention, however briefly, to London, would you join us in praying for this city and for this nation?
 

  1. Pray that God would comfort and heal the victims and families who are at the forefront of this experience of evil.
     
  2. Pray that, amidst all of the material wealth and global influence to be found in London, God would reveal to each resident—whether from Britain or abroad—the depth of their spiritual poverty and need for relationship with God in Christ Jesus.
     
  3. Pray for wisdom for the governing authorities, as they respond to this attack and anticipate the official beginning of Brexit negotiations, that they would navigate these events with a godly sensitivity toward using the UK’s international prominence and relationships to enable this land to continue to be a blessing to Europeans, immigrants, and refugees who are seeking help here.
     
  4. Pray for our various ministries who are operating in the city, that as they engage with various ethnic communities and asylum-seekers, that their roles as ambassadors for Christ would be effective for bringing the light of the Gospel into the lives and homes of all the peoples of the earth that the Lord has drawn to this place at this time.

Portrait of the Lost - A Roma Story (Part 2 of 3)

By a Pioneers Field Worker in Albania

Gypsies. Poverty migrants. “Europe’s Unwanted”. Criminals. 

Few people groups in the world have been given so many derogatory labels, yet the Roma bear them with unseen grit – unseen because whether by a well-timed turn of the head or sheer ignorance, most people aren’t paying attention. 

Numbering anywhere between four and 14 million, the Roma originally migrated to Europe from India. They made their first appearance in Europe’s history books about 800 years ago, and the report isn’t encouraging. The locals, it seems, didn’t know what to do with these dark-skinned, newcomers on wheels. No matter how much the Roma tried to assimilate – even going so far as to adopt their new culture’s religion – the Europeans struggled to accept a people so different from themselves. So they did what many of us do when confronted with something “other”: they oppressed what they feared and controlled what was different, resulting in the enslavement, ridicule, and exclusion of the Roma people.

The atrocities dramatically and tragically increased with the arrival of World War II. Targeting anyone who did not fit their “ideal”, the Nazis embarked on a systematic genocide that killed an estimated 1.5 million Roma, one of the largest (and least-talked about) mass killings in history. After the war, European governments attempted to curb Roma populations through forced sterilization, a practice that continued well into the 21st century.  

While the violence may have stopped, that doesn’t mean Europe has finally accepted their Roma neighbors. In Albania, employers decline to interview much less hire them, officials refuse to test their children therefore barring them from public schools, and social services – even churches – have been known to miraculously “run out of supplies” when Roma mothers get to the front of the line. Through a combination of broken systems, prejudice, and their own hopelessness, the Roma have become society’s “bottom feeders”, the ones who sort through dumpsters for recyclables and extend their hands out for charity, and society is in no hurry to change that. 

Yet, for all the ways the world might classify the Roma as “poor”, their greatest poverty is a spiritual one. While most claim to follow some form of Islam or Christianity, their real god is survival, and they worship him well. When a Christian relief organization comes to town, they are devout Christians, and when Ramadan starts, they are sincere followers of Islam. As professional survivors, they know exactly what to do and say to fill their stomachs for a night – but little about how to find purpose, meaning, and hope. And until they know Jesus, they never will. 

It would be tempting, logical even, to treat the Roma as victims – but it would also be an injustice. Yes, they have suffered much at the hands of the powerful, but that doesn’t mean they are saints. And while they have certainly endured great pain, they have also laughed, danced, loved, and sinned. They are mothers who want good futures for their children, teenage boys who crave acceptance, and babies who want to be held so much they cling to your neck when you tell them it’s time to go. More than anything else, they are people – people who need far more than a meal or even a job. Instead of offering them our pity, may we lead them to the only real hope we have ever found. May we lead them to Jesus.  

As the Church, we are called to serve, love, and tell the unreached about the love of Christ. Would you consider specifically praying for the Roma people group, giving your resources to those who currently serve them, or going yourself? 

Salvage, Beg, or Pray - A Roma Story (part 1 of 3)

By a Pioneers Field Worker in Albania

It rained yesterday, which means the road to church is muddy. As far as dirt roads go, this one isn’t the smoothest, and I hope we don’t show up in mud-soaked jeans. Even if we did, I remind myself, it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference to our hosts. 

Today is “Roma church”, or the day we go to the house of the only family of Roma believers we know, listen to a chapter of the Bible on a solar-powered recording device (because half of our congregation can’t read), and try and find truth in the words while juggling the chaos of seven kids running around a tiny cement room. I’m only a month into living in Albania, but it’s already my favorite day of the week. 

As we park the motorbike, I marvel at the tiny cement structure. Most Roma families in this neighborhood live in shacks constructed of corrugated tin, cardboard, and whatever else they can find, which makes this house an anomaly. We walk over a river of trash and broken toys to reach their doorstep, but before we can knock on the door, a four-year-old boy with a devious smile and a giggle to match bursts out of the house, quickly followed by his older sister. They bolt past us and into the “yard”, playing a high-stakes game that ends in tears in about 60 seconds. Those tears used to scare me, but I know better now; in another minute, they’ll be at it again, this time for the win. 

Holding back laughter, we step inside the structure and gratefully find it heated by something that looks like a piece of square cement cradling red-hot electrical coils. I’m too busy enjoying the heat to ask questions, but as a curly-haired toddler falls over and almost hits her head on the coils, I start to wonder if this is the safest option. It’s not, of course, but when your entire culture is based around your collective ability to survive, burns are of little concern.   

Joni, usually loud and jovial, is lying on the couch, looking like he just woke up from a too-long nap. He’s been ill for the last, well, for a long time, but Sula, his wife, warmly and firmly greets us. Like most Roma couples, they have probably been married since they were teenagers, a fact that still disturbs me no matter how much I tell myself how different our lives have been – what different choices we have been given.

One thing Sula and I do share in common is our age; we are both 26, and when I find this out, I have a hard time hiding my shock. Maybe it’s the way she carries herself or the fact she’s had four children or the fact that I’m uncomfortable thinking of all her 26-year-old self has experienced that I have not, but I would’ve guessed mid-30’s at least. I take a moment to study her: though uneducated, she is clever, resourceful, and a bit shrewd – and it’s lucky for her family that she is. Since Joni got sick, she’s had to find ways to feed six hungry mouths every day, a task made even more difficult by the discrimination she receives from mainstream Albanian society. As it is, her two options for earning money are to salvage through the trash for recyclables, or beg. 

Today at least, she has a third option, and she takes it. After serving each of us a glass of soda and a cookie (food I feel guilty for taking but do to honor her), she finds a place in our circle. Tuning out the sounds of squirrelly children as best as a mother can, she closes her eyes, bows her head, and she prays. 

Joni and Sula are the only known believers in the Roma community our Pioneers team currently works in. Would you consider specifically praying for this unreached people group, giving your resources to those who serve them, or going yourself? 

Coffee with Mohammed: One North African's Faith Journey in France

“I used to go to the mosque all the time.  I said all the prayers, but they are nonsense.  The guys don’t know what they are doing.  I said the prayers but my heart wasn’t in it,” Mohammed—Momo for short—told a Pioneer over coffee in France a couple weeks ago.

Momo attends a French language class taught by a Pioneer in France.  A Kabyle Algerian (the same as Augustine), Momo attends the class with students from Pakistan, Tunisia, Egypt, Arminia, Angola, and Sudan.  Like some of the others, Momo cannot read or write French, but he can speak it.  Like the others, he never finished high school.  Some in his class have only received a fourth or fifth grade education in their home country.  

The Pioneer finds that teaching French to newcomers is a ministry of bridge building.  Though French is not his native language, he has been in the country for a couple decades and knows that if his students can learn to speak, read, and write French they will have greater opportunities to work and navigate their new community.  He seeks to not only impart the French language, but to befriend his students, encouraging them as they adapt to new surroundings.   

Momo texted his French teacher on New Year’s Day and they met for coffee.  When asked if he reads the Koran, Momo responded, “I hate the Koran.”  Momo went on to explain that, from his perspective, the Arab Muslims in his city impose Islam on the other Arabs.  He called them “Fundamentalist” and “dangerous.”

“When I left the mosque they harassed me,” Momo said to the Pioneer, “but now they don’t mess with me anymore.  They know not to.”  Momo shared that he is actually a Christian now.  He heard about the faith on YouTube.  He has a Bible and when he has questions about what he reads, he uses Google to find the answers.  

The Pioneer hopes to grow in his friendship with Momo.  He wants to not only help him with French, but to begin discipling him, provide him with solid teaching and apologetics, and even help Momo see the importance of sharing his faith with other Muslims.  The Pioneer laments that it can be hard to find teachable hearts amongst those like Momo.  After years of ministering to Arabs and North Africans, he says that the men especially tend to be very independent, they don’t like authority, and when they become believers they pursue autonomy because they have a disdain for those who remain in Islam.  The heart’s desire of this Pioneer is to shepherd his friend, see spiritual growth in him, and—Lord willing—see him share his faith with his own people group residing in France. 

Momo and this Pioneer are not unique—their scenario is duplicated all over France and throughout Europe.  Many Muslims are like Momo was—their hearts are not in Islam.  And many who have come to Christ struggle with pursuing and receiving community in Christ.  

Pray for both Muslims and missionaries in Europe: 

  • That Muslims would awaken to the Truth of Jesus Christ (John 14:6)
  • That former Muslims who are now in Christ would be tender towards discipleship (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)
  • For this Pioneer worker and Momo—that they would start reading the Word together and that Momo would receive encouragement and instruction from his older brother in the faith (Colossians 1:28)
  • That Momo and others like him would be burdened for the other Arabs and North Africans in their city and they would preach Christ to their fellow countrymen (Acts 1:8)
  • That older Muslim-background believers would take on the role of discipler, evangelist, and pastor (Ephesians 4:11-12)

 

  • For more workers in the field—there are countless others like Momo in Europe (Matthew 9:38)
  • That Christians around the globe would answer the call to be bridge builders in France and beyond (Matthew 28:18-20)
  • That missionaries would persevere in their calling to learn French and Arab to reach across cultural and linguistic barriers with the Gospel (Philippians 4:13)
  • That missionaries would have the long view of their work and be empowered by the Spirit in the daily, difficult struggles on the mission field (Colossians 1:11-12)
  • That the Pioneer in this story—and others like him—would “not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9)

A La Miracles

From a Pioneers in Europe Field Worker in France

If I said the words “Madonna and Lourdes” you might start thinking about the controversial singer and her daughter.  But did you know that Lourdes is a town in France that is captivated by worship of The Madonna, the mother of Jesus?

Lourdes is a Catholic town with a population of around 15,000 people.  It hosts almost six million pilgrims every year, who come seeking the Virgin Mary for healing. It was here in Lourdes in 1858 that fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous saw apparitions of a lady who declared herself to be the Immaculate Conception. Nearly 800 years before, the region had been given to the authority of the Virgin Mary. Today the town is filled with hotels and religious souvenir shops for pilgrims, and the entire economy of Lourdes is dependent on the business of Mary-worship.

There hasn't been a Protestant church in Lourdes for more than 35 years.  In 2015, a Pioneers team moved into town.  The team is led by Australian Pioneers worker Lauren, and they have been labouring through prayer and relationship building over many years towards the goal the Lord placed on their hearts: that Jesus would be worshipped by a body of believers in Lourdes.  This has required a battle in the heavenly realms, as they are facing an opposition that is felt, but often unseen.  But praise God, greater is he that is in us! We are excited to share that on the 10th December 2016 the new evangelical church was launched in Lourdes with a Christmas gathering.  Official services will begin in 2017.

Please pray for the new church in Lourdes, as they establish a light in the darkness. They will be coming across much opposition, so pray that their faith will stay strong and that they would be led by God's wisdom.  Pray too for another worker, Hannah, as she prepares to join the team.  She will be gathering a support network to pray for her and support her financially. 

Why Come to the UK and Ireland?

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For those who pursue missions through prayer, support, or going, the United Kingdom and Ireland may not seem, at first glance, like potential mission fields.  They are affluent, there are no wars, and there are (at least in the UK) many churches.  However, while UK churches are currently reaching traditional, white, British communities, a range of diaspora communities (such as Muslim and Chinese people groups) are not being reached with the Gospel.  In Ireland, there are not even enough Evangelical churches to reach traditional Irish people, let alone new diaspora communities. 

For missional go-ers and senders, the UK and Ireland may seem second best, compared to more remote, dangerous, and traditional places.  However, we know that God loves people wherever they are, and that He is committed to all nations hearing the Gospel. The Lord says, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”(Psalm 46:10).  If potential missionaries sense that God is drawing them to the British Isles or if they are drawn to a people group represented here, we want to affirm that the UK and Ireland are valid countries to consider.

We have unreached people groups
In Ireland there are a number of areas with insufficient Christians to reach post-Catholic people, as well as growing numbers of Muslim migrants.  In the UK, churches have not engaged sufficiently with Muslims and other migrant communities, leaving millions of people without a credible Gospel witness. 

Freedom
The UK and Ireland provide freedom for migrants coming from countries closed to the Gospel.  Missionaries also have great freedom to preach the Gospel.  One can freely access an incredible amount of Gospel materials in a large variety of languages and distribute them without any risk of arrest.

Access
It is relatively easy to access the UK and Ireland through various long-term visas.  The security situation in both countries is stable and access to affordable health care and education is also excellent.  Because both nations are accessible, a range of different people can serve here.  For example, reaching Afghanis in Afghanistan might well require someone with a particular apostolic calling and strong physical health, but people without those particular giftings can still reach Afghanis in the UK.  Many UK churches in Muslim-majority neighborhoods and church plants in Ireland would be greatly blessed by mature believers, who might not be able to serve in other parts of the world. 

Language
English speakers can minister in Ireland and to many migrants in the UK without needing to learn an additional language.  Ministering effectively to refugees and other recently arrived migrants might require learning an additional language, which can be done here. 

Partnership with local churches
Missionaries have opportunities to partner with local churches, which provides additional resources for evangelism and discipleship to unreached people groups, as well as the joy of local fellowship. Since the local church is present and vibrant in many areas, a wide variety of models of team and ministry can exist in the UK and Ireland, unlike in places where the missionary team needs to be the primary source of fellowship, partnership, and worship. Involvement in the local church and community supplements the team’s role in providing a feeling of connectedness and the offering of pastoral care and spiritual support. 

Identifying with migrants
For those ministering to migrants in the UK, it is often an advantage to be a foreigner. As a fellow foreigner, missionaries have an understanding of what it feels like to be a migrant and the challenges it presents in the UK. 

Variety of ministry opportunities
It is possible to engage in a range of different ministry opportunities, including street evangelism, preaching, English teaching, discipleship, service projects, hospitality, interfaith dialogue, and much more.  Given the variety of ministry opportunities, the UK and Ireland are also excellent places to come and learn for a season, even if missionaries eventually heading to a different location. 

Reaching two countries in one
Given that many migrants in the UK still have significant links to their country of origin, reaching diaspora people here will often also provide an opportunity to influence people back in their home country, thereby reaching two places at once. 

A great multitude from all “tribes and peoples and languages” will stand before the throne and before the Lamb (Revelation 7:9) and they will cry out, “’Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10).  Perhaps the Lord is calling you to play a role in gathering the multitude from across the globe to Him in the UK and Ireland. 

 

Christmas Terror in Berlin Reminds us of Our Present Opportunity in World Missions

The Berlin truck attack last week was a poignant and symbolic tragedy: a Muslim attack on a Christian (Christmas) setting; death at the scene of rejoicing in Christ’s birth; violence invading a peaceful celebration.  It was horrifying proof of what Europeans fear most when they consider hosting refugees.  Now that the suspect is dead, Berlin is closing down their Christmas markets, and the world grieves, here are some important things to know and pray about before we Christians move on. 

The attacker, Annis Amri, embodies the great debate currently facing Europe: to welcome refugees or to close borders and protect the citizenry.  Beyond the important, secular, political debate, Christians can agree that the current refugee crisis in Europe is a unique and unprecedented opportunity for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.  

Amri was a 24 year old Tunisian asylum seeker and was in fact identified as a security risk by the German government.  Amri left Tunisia in 2011, spent time in Italy (including four years in jail for robbery and arson), and was supposed to be deported to Tunisia.  Instead, he went to Germany where he was closely watched after seeking asylum under a false identity.  As recently as July of this year he was detained and would have been deported, but Tunisia did not have the required paperwork prepared for him.  He was released after two days and then fell through the cracks of close surveillance.

Germany is seen as a liberal beacon in Western Europe.  Headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, the country has maintained a welcoming environment for refugees, with Merkel pushing her people to differentiate between terrorists and refugees.  Between 2014 and 2015, 2.4 million people moved to Germany—a record number of immigrants.  900,000 refugees from predominantly Muslim countries moved in last year.

As a result of the record influx, Germans’ perception of the Muslim population is much greater than it actually is.  A recent study shows that the Germans generally think that Muslims make up 21% of their population, when in fact they make up about 5.5%.  

Right-wing political groups and voices are calling for closing borders and unleashing “the state on their citizens in the name of protecting their virtue”.  Political cartoons show Merkel with blood on her hands, calling Germany’s altruism reckless. 

But to unleash the state on its citizens in Germany is to evoke recent history—the surveillance of both the Nazis, as well as the East German Intelligence Agency known as Stasi.  Germans are, for obvious reasons, leery of allowing government surveillance of the people.  Merkel’s cabinet, however, approved legislation expanding their surveillance powers just last Wednesday in the aftermath of the attack.

Europe is indeed facing a unique moment in history.  The civil wars in nearby Africa and the Middle East have brought unprecedented numbers of refugees, immigrants, and Muslim background people onto the continent.  Europeans are divided as to what should be done: welcome or restrict?    

But as Christians, we know this is an open door for our generation to reach Muslim peoples as never before.  Jesus called us to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).  Well the nations have come to Europe, and especially to Germany.  The current Pioneers missionaries in Europe will tell you that through personal, everyday contact, relationships between ordinary Muslims and ordinary Christians are flowering and Muslim background refugees throughout Europe are getting acquainted with Jesus.  

Such once-in-a-generation opportunities are finite and don’t last forever.  May Christians make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15).  Currently Pioneers has two missionary families reaching Muslim immigrants in Germany.  Pray for them, pray for those they encounter, and pray and ask the Lord if you should go too.  

A British Melting Pot

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By a Pioneers In Europe Field Leader

The phrase ‘melting pot’ has long been used to signify the coming together of diverse cultures. Most often referring to the many strands of immigration which have coalesced to form the American identity, the phrase applies just as well on this side of the Pond.

London. It’s been said that you can find any people group in the world represented in this expansive and diverse city. Zoom in with me, if you will, into West London. In the borough of Ealing you’ll find the town of Acton.

By God’s hand, this was to be the destination for a vision. A denomination of churches in Nigeria had a burden for the UK. They dispatched a family in 2013 with a simple commission: plant a church. Unsure of where to begin, God ordained a simple relationship which would provide a fledgling root in Acton. In time, word of a godly and passionate Nigerian preacher would spread, bringing other Nigerians from clear across London. A simple house meeting eventually moved into a community center. In 2016, a lease agreement with the congregation of an emptying Anglican building would provide a more permanent center for worship.

But this was not just to be a gathering of Nigerians; that was never the heart of the sending denomination in Africa. They recognized God’s heart for all nations, and always desired that God would establish a multiethnic gathering of worshipping Christians.

On his walks in the community, the pastor would soon come across the likes of Jefferson, James, and Julio—Europeans of varying descent who had found their way to London, and fallen upon hard times. Each one was homeless, drunk, and regularly in trouble with the law. But God’s church is a melting pot, with plenty of room to squeeze in these men alongside the vibrant congregation of Nigerians. And not just them, but the friends they regularly bring with them as well.

But God’s vision for a ‘melting pot’ would add in yet another ingredient. Four Iranians would come along too. One man has two wives. Another is eager for baptism.

Perhaps the United States has long been called the melting pot, but I doubt there are few places where one can find Nigerians, Iranians, and a mix of homeless Europeans worshipping together, shoulder to shoulder, united under Christ.

This is God’s vision for His Church, and it’s being lived out in London. Pioneers is eager to continue to partner in what God is doing. Church planting. Unreached people groups. A burden for the local church.

Europe. UK. London. A gateway to realizing the heart of God in Christian mission among the nations. Is He inviting you to jump in?

Tragedy and Opportunity: Engaging the Refugee Crisis with the Love of Christ

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By a Pioneers In Europe Fieldworker

Of the more than 1.8 million refugees who crossed the EU’s borders in 2015, more than 90% are of Sunni Muslim background.  The rich Muslim countries of the Persian Gulf have not offered to take in any refugees.  As local doors closed to them, many people decided they would rather attempt the dangerous journey to Europe rather than subsist in impoverished, overcrowded refugee camps in the region. 

When the crisis started, the majority of those on the move were men.  However, since the start of 2016, women and children have made up the bulk of refugees.  In the earlier years, the strong young men plunged into the unknown of Europe and now their families are following.

Refugees have often lost quite literally everything, arriving in Europe with the clothes they are wearing and a small backpack.  All the refugees have been traumatized.  They have seen war in their communities, suffered through bombings, seen violent killings, and lost family members, classmates and friends.  Some reports indicate that 85% of women have experienced sexualized violence and 40% have been gang raped.  Nearly 80% of all Syrian refugee children have experienced a death in their immediate families.  Of all refugees, 40% have suicidal thoughts or have attempted suicide.

Not surprisingly, many of these Muslim background refugees are becoming disenchanted with Islam.  First, they see that these wars have been ignited within Muslim majority nations—their present state of destitution is a direct result of warfare within the House of Islam.  Second, they note that none of the rich Muslim countries are offering refuge to their brothers.  It is the infidel countries of Europe and North America that offer aid in their time of need.  Third, many refugees have been living for decades under Islamic rule and they feel disillusioned with this form of government. 

Finally, and most significantly, they often become bitter that Islam is not offering them answers to the urgent life questions they now face: 

“How could God let this happen?” 
“Whose side is God on?” 
And most often: “How do I find peace?” 

Increasingly, miraculously, they are finding peace in Jesus.  Many refugees freely give witness that in their desperation they have turned to Jesus in these dark hours of their lives and found what they are seeking—peace which passes all understanding, as well as forgiveness, grace, and meaning for their lives.

The current refugee crisis in Europe is a unique and unprecedented opportunity for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.  Never before have millions of Muslims arrived so suddenly and unexpectedly in Western countries where there are few restrictions on speaking the Gospel.  This is an open door for this generation to reach Muslim peoples as never before.  Through personal, everyday contact, relationships between ordinary Muslims and ordinary Christians are flowering and Muslim background refugees throughout Europe are getting acquainted with Jesus. 

Such once-in-a-generation opportunities are finite and don’t last forever.  We are exhorted to make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15.)  This is one of those God-given opportunities as He makes the way for a new generation of Muslim peoples to become followers of Jesus.

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