Missionary Perspective

6 Ways Cross-Cultural Church Planting Has Been Good for Our Kids

When we recently unpacked our boxes in suburban Denver, it was into my daughters’ third home. But not only their third home, their third country. Third continent, actually. Third culture, third language, third way of life, third new beginning.

Though my husband and I are Colorado natives, we’d been gone a long time, and our kids had never lived here. As we met our new neighbors, they were either awestruck or incredulous. We heard, “Wow, what a great experience for your kids!” But also, “How sad. Didn’t you want them to have roots somewhere?” Even those who did respond positively would often quietly whisper their concern: “How do you think they’re handling it?” 

By the time we moved back to the States with a gaggle of teens and preteens, we’d lived out the spectrum of great joys and deep sorrows in cross-cultural church planting. The joy of new believers and baptisms and discipleship was tempered by sorrow over our girls being bullied for being different. Not to mention the long, hard days in foreign schools with vastly different values from our own.

The skeptical neighbors weren’t wrong. Our kids didn’t have roots, at least not in the traditional sense.

Instead, their roots are global, established in the soil of the Great Commission. When we left America to make disciples of all nations, we trusted that Jesus would be with us always (Matthew 28:18–20). This promise was our bedrock then, and still is now. He’s proven faithful to us and our children time and again. Cross-cultural church planting—though not without its challenges—has ultimately been a great gift to us.

Here are six things our kids—and our whole family—have learned.

1. Empathy 

Our girls spent their formative years being “other.” They didn’t grasp the language, the inside jokes, or the nursery rhymes. But one beautiful gift of being an outsider is that you gain empathy for those who have known nothing else. 

Overseas, they befriended the boy with autism, the girl whose parents neglected her, the Roma outcast. In our church plant in Denver, they’re aware of visitors, kids new to youth group, and those hurting at school. God has given them compassionate hearts (Colossians 3:12) toward outsiders, because they have walked in their shoes. 

2. Christianity Is Diverse and Global 

Having been a part of the church on three continents, our kids know that Christianity is not exclusively white and Western. They’ve participated in worship services ranging from wildly expressive to barely audible. They’ve experienced everything from high liturgy to flip-flops in the sanctuary. They know that within orthodoxy, there’s a lot of room for difference. They’ve glimpsed God’s work in a variety of tribes, tongues, and peoples (Revelation 7:9).

3. Where to Put Their Confidence 

When I asked my girls to list some blessings from cross-cultural church planting, they all immediately said something like, “I’m brave,” or “I’m flexible,” or “I know God will help me.” Their faith has been stretched—as has ours. They know we’ve only been willing to do hard things because God has enabled us to do so. They’ve labored in prayer and experienced Jesus with us in all the places we’ve called home. 

4. The Church Is Family 

Our children have known firsthand the truth of Christ’s promise: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold” (Matthew 19:29). While it’s true no one can fill the shoes of our kids’ biological grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, and cousins, God did provide a hundredfold. 

Other church planters and local Christians became aunties and uncles to my girls. We had friends we could call in the middle of the night, and brothers and sisters who laid down their lives for us. Our kids didn’t lack relational support overseas, because God was faithful.

5. Home Is Not Here

As a family, we have a sense that there’s no true home for us here on earth. No matter where we are, we feel a bit homesick—this awareness that we aren’t really home, we don’t really fit. With Paul, we say, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). One day we will enter our real home, where we will share a deep and unblemished connection with all who are gathered there.

6. Unity in Mission Fosters Joy 

Here’s perhaps the best gift: Being on mission together has fostered great joy in our family. In each country we’ve felt and prayed Paul’s words: “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Our kids have truly partnered with us in loving nonbelievers and shining the light of Christ in dark places. This unity in mission has drawn us close to one another as we’ve labored and celebrated together.

In the early years of church planting, a mentor shared wise words with my husband and me: “Never sacrifice your family for the mission, but do sacrifice as a family for the mission.”

There have been sacrifices. Our kids have paid a price. All cross-cultural church planters must count the cost. Not every family can move overseas. Many are called to irreplaceable roles in their hometowns and local churches. But for those who sense that cross-cultural church planting might be for them, know this: Sacrificing as a family for the mission is costly, but Christ is worth it.

Jesus will provide a hundredfold—to you and to your children. He will indeed be with you, in every nation, to the end of the age.

Author’s Note: This article first appeared here, at The Gospel Coalition.

I Am An Alien - A Missionary Perspective

"Rachel, you've been here almost two years now. How can you still be struggling with that? Aren’t you past that by now?"

Several weeks ago I was hit with waves, one after another, of homesickness, discouragement, frustration over my language ability, and more. It was a perfect storm of circumstances and I started reacting emotionally to things that don’t usually get to me:

  • Tears sprang to my eyes during a scene in a movie where best friends were reunited.
  • I realized that my second Thanksgiving and Christmas away from family were my new normal.
  • I was out with friends and felt excluded from the group as they all sang French songs from their childhood.
  • Another time, my friends cracked rapid-fire jokes with their cool slang and witty expressions, while I wanted to scream Hey, I have jokes too! I'm a funny person...just...uh…not in your language.
  • I was in a deep conversation with several people and by the time I fully formulated my own super profound contribution, they already moved on to the next topic.
  • I was in a weird funk and needed to verbally process all my emotions, but found it too difficult to do in French. 

Finally, one weekend it all came to a head. I called a friend back in the US and let it all out. It's hard to feel like I should already be past these barriers. It's hard to realize that no matter how much progress I make, this will never be my culture or language. It's hard to feel like I can't even show my true personality to these people—I'm just a shadow of myself. It's hard to still feel like a child in this culture when I know that in my culture I am intelligent, capable, witty, deep, outgoing, sociable.

But I am no longer in my culture. 

In French, to say that you are a foreigner, to say that you are not French, you say you are an étranger, which is similar to the adjective for "strange" (étrange). In the Bible, we children of God are often described as aliens and strangers, and I have never understood that more than since living in another country. 

Living in our home culture makes it easy to forget that we are called to live as foreigners in this world. Because we feel at home, we are comfortable in our environment, and we know how to navigate everything pretty well, it's hard to remember that this world is not, in fact, our home. 

Yet for me, this experience of longing for my culture where I belong has deepened my understanding of my true home—with Christ in heaven. I must ask myself, Do I long for that as much as I long to talk to my best friend in English and laugh ‘til my sides hurtDo I long for that as much as I long to get lost in a great book in my mother tongueDo I long for that as much as I long to have deep spiritual conversations and be able to explain my ideas with precision? 

In coming to France I had to willingly give up my rights: my rights of being seen as competent, intelligent, humorous, clever (I am those things, right? Please don't tell me if I'm not). Not an easy thing.

Yet giving up these rights allows me to grasp just a tiny bit more the humility that Christ exhibited in giving up his rights in heaven to become a man (Philippians 2:5-8). He was the ultimate missionary, leaving his homeland where he was rightfully acknowledged as who He isfully recognized and worshiped as God, to become like us. He had his ultimate goal in mind, and—from his view—what He did on the cross was worth giving up his rights. 

And that is why it's worth it for me too, I tell myself. 

Yes, it's hard and extremely uncomfortable and humbling. But I believe that the message of the cross is that important. I endure to spread the most important message: Christ came to save people from all over the world.

And on top of that privilege, I get the joy of experiencing more of Christ, in sharing in his sufferings, in knowing Him more deeply.

So yes, being an alien is worth it.

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?  

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. 

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?

Photo Essay: Albania

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Photo Essay: Brno, Czech Republic

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The Bus - A Missionary Perspective

By: Amber Smith, Pioneers Poland

I was still waking up as the bus rolled to a stop. I stepped in and stood by the doors. Grandmothers in heavy fur coats with shopping bags in hand prepared for the morning sales. Men and women in business attire hurried to another day of work. Students, cell phones and school bags in hand, stood and somehow remained upright as the bus lurched toward the university.

During the mundane morning commute to language school, I glanced at advertisements for anything from the police academy to belly dancing classes. It was hard not to watch my fellow passengers, however, and wonder, ”Who are you? Where are you going? Is there life beyond your daily tasks?”

Then the thought struck me, simple, but devastating to my otherwise peaceful morning: “Am I the only one on this bus who knows Jesus?”

As I got off the bus at the university stop, I wondered what filled the minds and lives of the students as they hurried to class. Were they as depressed as I that the days were growing shorter?

For the next five hours I sat in class with two other missionaries and a small assortment of fellow international students: two hours of grammar, one hour of conversation, one hour of reading, one hour of writing. By the end of the day my head was swimming. In the murky darkness I walked back to the bus stop where students whose names I did not know milled about.

The dim lights of the bus reflected the spiritual oppression I felt. The much-quoted line from “The Sixth Sense” came to mind: “I see dead people.” Everywhere I looked, I saw the faces of the spiritual walking-dead. “God,” my heart cried out, “how will we possibly reach all of these people? They need to know Your truth! There are too few of us here to tell them. Help, please!”

As I walked down the hill toward home, I passed the large brick church that always reminded me of Minas Morgul, a tower from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. In front was a banner reading “Come, Mary, and save us, lead us to your Son.” In a world of muddled theology, where people cut and paste together beliefs to suit their lifestyles, how will we break through?

I thought of my Polish friends by name, and of the names of my teammates’ friends. People God had put in our lives for a purpose. “Thank you Lord that we can influence at least these few,” I prayed. “Please continue to work in and through us and help us to discover how we will serve you best. Thank you for the opportunity to serve, for my teammates, and your Word that sustains us. May we encourage one another as we run this race together. Please send more workers to Poland!”

Video: From Albania to Greece

After living in Albania for several years, Andrew and Alecia moved to Greece to make disciples among Albanians who have immigrated there. They recently partnered with local believers to plant an Albanian-speaking fellowship at the foot of Mars Hill in Athens, just steps from where Paul preached the gospel 2,000 years ago.

 

Global Glimpse: Everyday Life - France

In this Missionary Perspective, we hear from a husband and wife who have been serving in France for a decade. They seek to build relationships through everyday activities and then find opportunities to share the good news about Jesus.