Same Planet, Different World

A little over a year ago our church, and those close to us, gathered to pray and commend us to the hands of the Father as we began a new stage in our lives. Put simply we were being called to missionary life, learning to love the unreached and getting ready for the field. Simultaneously, God was gathering a team of faithful partners with the same heart to extend His Kingdom. However, the reality was a long process - full of many details, prayers and specific answers from God.


A place of Discoveries
We were sent from South America to North Africa. Many thought this was too challenging a situation to sustain over any length of time. However, our experience has shown that bridges can be built, enabling a family of Latin Americans to develop relationships with people from an Arab or Berber background. Prospective workers are often discouraged as they face administrative, financial and linguistic challenges. Nonetheless, we have definitely experienced the Lord's truth of which He wants us to be convinced: that when He calls, He guides; He opens some doors and He closes others; He provides and sustains; He gives us grace before the authorities; He enables us to learn new things; He goes before us, and is constantly present with those who serve Him.


Reaching this new land was a joyful but difficult experience, as we left family and friends behind to begin new relationships. However, we were made to feel very welcome by the majority of people we encountered in our new home. With delight we recall our first lunch with a local family: how the hot spices brought a different experience to our senses; the custom of shared water glasses; and that first conversation in which they said, "We are your family here."


Cross-cultural experiences can teach us a great deal about God's creativity and variety. Not only are the breathtakingly beautiful landscapes very different from those we are used to, but each ethnic group in this country has its own 'design'. Food and drink, smells and tastes, likes and dislikes, habits and gestures, arts and crafts, clothing, culture, homes, music, painting and pottery, all contribute to what is a different world on the same planet.


In order to be able to adapt well and make a successful transition, we had an initial four months of training. We lived with national families and spent time learning about their culture. We were immersed in an environment where we were forced to communicate with others in their own language. It was a difficult but worthwhile process. The Lord gave us new friends and provided opportunities to reflect His Light toward people who had never before known a follower of Jesus Christ. It is a time our family will never forget.


The lifestyle, mindset and traditions of the people are so different from ours. The main contrast is in how we talk about God. The god our friends serve does not bear any resemblance to our holy, compassionate and loving God. Although they desperately try to please their god through religion, none of them relate to him as a Heavenly Father who has provided a way for them to be saved for eternity. Each day we observe them say their prayers and follow rules as best they can. However, it is clear that they have something in common with every other human being who has not been redeemed, whether religious or not - they have no hope for the future.


A place of Doors opening
In a land where the Truth has been banned for many generations, sharing the Good News is not simple. Yet truth can be declared every day, not from the pulpit or publicly, as in South America, but through the friendships we develop. Many people are curious about us, observing everything we do and how we do it. They may not ask questions initially, but as our relationships grow they begin to enquire and we are willing to answer. We have been able to reach out to a number of groups: landlords, market sellers, neighbours, parents of other children at the entrance to the school or in parks, teachers and language assistants, and families connected to the charities in which we volunteer. Every week families invite us to spend time with them and eat delicious food without cutlery, as is the custom. We have learned that we need to sow seeds broadly and at every opportunity. It is essential to pray for wisdom to be able to focus on those who are spiritually hungry and in search of the Truth.


Wisdom is essential as people watch us to see if we do or say something that offends their religion. Constant surveillance is not something which is easy to get used to; however, we have seen that it does not prevent the work when life is lived in love and dependence on God, and not lived in fear. Taking care of national believers is more difficult. The small church in this country has been impacted many times by persecution, imprisonment, oppression and even deportation of leaders. Despite this there is a faithful flock who do not fear and who want to reach their own people. Currently, our family are privileged to be serving a fledging church in a specific area of the country.


A place of full Dependence
There are many training courses available to learn strategies to reach the unreached. However, dependence on God and obedience to Him is required every minute in the mission field as well as at home.


Wisdom comes from the Lord and we need to trust Him at all times: when we deal with paperwork and seek permission from the authorities; when conversing with a new friend or visiting someone in hospital; or simply when shopping for groceries - we need to depend on the Lord and be alert and ready to communicate what He wants us to share. We pray for divine appointments and our experience is that He has guided us to be in the right place at the right time, to speak with a person who has a spiritual interest and is looking for answers.


We experience God's faithfulness daily and, as we abide in Him, others see that the God we depend on is real; He is the One who answers prayer and cares for us.


A place of Discipleship
We serve a God who created a diverse world and who opens doors. He is the Master of the work and has defeated enemies, granted guidance and shown who He is. '...[W]e are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand' (Eph. 2:10), and He equips us to walk in them.


Here in North Africa we are making an effort to reach as many people as we can. When a person believes, we immediately tell them that they have the same responsibility to witness and have a commission from the Lord: to proclaim the Good News every day, to make disciples, baptise them and teach them to obey. Our small team is insignificant compared to the millions of inhabitants in this land. However, we know that disciples can multiply when they are strong in the Lord. Pray for believers as they grow in their knowledge of Him, and as they fight fear, pressure and the system they live in.


Being among believers is a great blessing. Gatherings are secret and always scheduled on different days and at varying times. Brothers and sisters often travel a great distance to meet with the Lord's family. When we pray, praise and worship with joy together, paying full attention to the teachings of the Word, there is hunger and a thirst to know more about the Lord.


Pray for new disciples who will follow the risen Lord and for every single person in this country, that the years ahead will see 'the Lord's favour' in our land.


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