This past year, we solicited articles from Christian workers all over the world. We asked, “How is God touching the hearts of people where you work—and how has it impacted your faith?” We called this our #Iwitness campaign and received dozens of responses covering almost every continent of the world. Our goal was to inspire you to work faithfully and patiently for God where he has called you. We have included seven stories here. You can read the rest here.
We have also created a downloadable PDF for you to save and read later, or share with others.
(Editor’s note: This past year, we solicited articles from Christian workers all over the world. We asked, “How is God touching the hearts of people where you work—and how has it impacted your faith?” We called this our #Iwitness campaign and received dozens of responses covering almost every continent of the world. Our goal was to inspire you to work faithfully and patiently for God where he has called you. We have included seven stories here. You can read the rest here.
We have also created a downloadable PDF for you to save and read later, or share with others.)
The Winding Road of God
A SMALL BEAD OF SWEAT dripped from my nose and made a ripple in the coffee cup clutched between my hands. Its rings spread out across the black gingery sweetened liquid. The air was pregnant with grief, anticipation, and the smell of bakhoor (a Sudanese incense used after birth). I was in South Sudan with my friend, Rachel, and her mother, Elizabeth. The room was still as Rachel told me her life story; sharing these stories was the last part needed for us to become sisters, she said. Her voice danced around the room, “Abuk, our life stories are so similar… I was born in the bush as my mother ran from the war…”
I was confused. I was born in a hospital in North America with smells of alcohol and sterile equipment. She was born to the sound of bullets overhead and the thick smell of the brush after a heavy rain.
I leaned in and listened to a life that was on the outside so different from mine: war, violence, grief, early marriage, death. Her story led me through valleys of tears and moments of incredible joy. Several hours later, she arrived at the events of last week and the birth of her son.
For this moment of the story, I didn’t need to utilize my imagination because I had been there. I will never forget holding her hand as she so bravely brought her son into the world. I remember the stillness that followed the birth, the suffocating silence that filled the room. Her son had been born into the arms of Jesus, his cry would never pierce the air, and the stillness that marked his entrance into the world was the same sound that had welcomed my entrance into motherhood: the sound of silent grief.
Rachel’s story concluded with the birth of her son. The room was quiet for a bit. We sat still in the grief of the moment. Across from me on the floor sat Elizabeth. Listening to the story of her first grandson’s arrival, she smiled. She added some bakhoor to the coals and the sweet pungent smell filled the room with smoke. Elizabeth then shared her life story, and when it reached the events of the week before, the arrival of her grandson, she sat back on her heels.
“Do you see how all three of our life stories are the same?” Elizabeth asked.
I remembered the birth of my firstborn seven years ago, and the silence that filled the room when I had been expecting cries. The feeling in my arms as my baby turned from warm to cold, and the deafening silence of my home in the weeks to follow.
I leaned back, wiped the sweat from my brow, and choked back tears, content that the redemption of my grief was in the bonding it was giving me with these dear women.
Elizabeth smiled again and began to paint an image of words inside that small hot room. “Abuk, my life is like a twisting road. I never can see what is around the next bend, but I know Who is waiting for me around the corner, and that makes all the difference … this is why our life stories are the same.”
Walking home to cook dinner, her words danced in my head. Our life stories are the same not because of what we experienced, but the way that God met us.
Two hours later, I unexpectedly found myself running back down the dirt path that led from my house to Elizabeth’s. My feet stumbled inside and I rushed into that small room and cried wrenching sobs with Rachel. Elizabeth had a bad heart episode and was rushed off to the capital of South Sudan. Several months later, after fighting with health issues, she was ushered into the presence of Jesus. Her last words to me told the story of her life, summed up in the image of a path stretching into the unknown with a firm assurance of Who journeyed ahead her.
The sharp bend in each of our life roads came when Elizabeth died, and South Sudan plunged into a civil war. We had no idea sitting in that smoke-filled room that death, medical evacuation, war, and refugee status was in our immediate future, but my sister and I had a bond that went deeper than the commonality of events experienced or places lived. Our bond lay in Who we trusted would continue to be with us as our life paths twisted onward.
I came to South Sudan with ideals of bringing education, discipleship, and gospel truth to my neighbors, and I left the land I love in the flurry of an evacuation and the unknown. I left with a sister and a mother I hadn’t realized I had, or needed. We had been united in our confidence that whatever trials lay ahead, we knew Who would be waiting for us, and that his presence would be enough to journey into the unknown.
A small bead of sweat dripped from my nose and made a ripple in the coffee cup clutched between my hands as I sat in Egypt and my computer chimed the friendly sound of an email from my sister. I greedily ate up the words she had penned to me from Khartoum. She was having a baby, a girl, who would be called Elizabeth in the hopes of a heart that, like her grandmother, would seek God at each bend in life.
The ripples in my mug slowly reached the rim and I thought of how I had come to South Sudan aware of what I could give, and left aware of what I had been given.
Abuk Cross and her husband have served with SIM SOUTH SUDAN since 2012. A graduate of Biola and Torrey Honors Institute, she has been married eleven years and has five children. She writes about reflections on life overseas and raising family under the umbrella of God’s grace at www.gospelwater.net.
Grace in Shame, Hope in Destruction
TOMORROW IT WILL BE CLEAR TO YOU—like a bright light! You will know it is true!” Surprised by my boldness, the words seemed to float from my mouth and take on a life of their own. Rachel’s dark eyes filled with desperate longing. “I hope so,” she said. “It will happen, you’ll see,” I promised.
As if to remind herself of her past, Rachel adjusted the woolen cap that covered her shaved head. Self-inflicted, it continued to protest the shame that her Kurdish family was experiencing. Months before, Muslim extremists had destroyed everything in their town of Grace* in a failed attempt to control it.
Rachel and her family are Kurdish refugees staying in Grace, where our team is doing ministry. Since she and her three sisters speak English, they had been translating for all the teams who had been coming there.
I was working alongside my friend David, who was partly Kurdish and had come to this area from his home in Europe in order to bring physical relief as well as the good news of Jesus. With him was his daughter, who reached out to Rachel and her sisters with unconditional love and friendship. For centuries, the Kurdish people have been highly resistant to Christians. But the people and local governments of the towns of Hope* and Grace welcomed David and his bold witness for Christ with open arms.
The mayor of Hope had recently asked David to oversee one of seven refugee camps in the town of Grace. All other relief organizations were to report to David. Through his connections with churches in Europe and the United States, David brought food, clothing, medical teams, and supplies for almost seven thousand refugees. Teams put up two large tents and built bathrooms, showers, a kitchen, and even a playground for children. None of the other camps had these.
The mayor’s words demonstrate the new openness towards the gospel: “One hundred years ago there were four churches in our village, but the Muslims destroyed them all. We’ve been in misery ever since. Look at this river, for example! It has been completely dry for years.” At the time of this writing, the people are returning and rebuilding Hope. David has been given permission to buy land for a church and a Christian school. The leaders of Hope want their children to learn Christian values.
David invited me here to train the few Christian Kurdish leaders to teach the people who were coming to faith in Christ. He also gave me the opportunity to see the first six people in this area to be baptized in years. I knew I was taking part in a truly momentous occasion and my bold words with Rachel had come from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on these formerly unreached people.
The next day, Rachel and her sisters came to see the baptisms and translate. Afterward, I was walking with them. Everyone had been deeply moved by the intense love, prayers, testimonies, and joyful singing of God’s people.
“I know you still feel confused and doubtful.” I said, “But just put everything aside for a minute and think about two things. Do you know deep within your hearts that you need a Savior?”
They responded wholeheartedly and in unison, “Yes!”
“Do you believe this Jesus everyone is worshiping and talking about is that Savior?”
“Then let’s talk to him!”
God gave me the honor of bringing them before his throne of grace for the gift of salvation in Jesus’ name. These young women who lost everything had now received much more than they will ever need.
The sisters stayed with us all day and late into the evening as we sang, ate, and rejoiced together. Since it wasn’t safe for them to return home in the dark, two of us drove them back to their house. As they were getting out of the car, they invited us in to have tea and meet their father. He welcomed us with a big smile and invited us to sit down on one of their few possessions—a rug—and shared his remarkable story.
He and his wife have thirteen children. They lost their home, farm, cars, and business to Muslim extremists so they moved to Hope. After two years, Hope was also taken siege and for a second time, they lost all they had. I told him what a beautiful family God had given him and he began to cry. I asked if I could share a story from the Bible. With his permission, I told a short version of the story of Job. Afterwards, he wept and repeatedly kissed me on the head. The story planted seeds in his heart as I exclaimed, “There is hope for restoration through God’s Redeemer!”
Weeks later, I was back in the U.S. and received a Skype call from David. A female voice was on the other line, “Do you know who this is?” I wasn’t sure until the camera focused on Rachel’s face, beaming with joy. She held up a picture of her and her sisters wearing white robes. They had just been baptized the day before—a very significant and brave act of obedience in their part of the world.
My experiences with Rachel and people like her leave me speechless and humbled before God because I cannot comprehend their suffering. But I can see in them how the overwhelming power of God’s grace and the true hope of his redemption in Christ Jesus can reign even where wickedness is at its fiercest.
Before being baptized, one of the sisters gave this testimony: “I found the truth and I’ll never turn back. It doesn’t matter what they do to me, I’ll never turn back to Islam.”
*not real names
John Fornelli has adopted the moniker “equipping evangelist” from Ephesians 4:11 to describe his calling to win non-believers with the good news of Jesus and equip God’s people for ministry. He partners with national leaders in the U.S., Africa, Europe, Latin America, and Near and Middle East. He and his wife, Cheryl, have a special passion for learning, telling, and teaching Bible stories.
Entering the Darkness
SOMETIMES, MISSIONARIES ARE CALLED to “enter into the darkness of others” to direct them to our High Priest, Jesus, who brings healing.
My husband and I have worked as missionaries with SIM in Nigeria since 1982. When we were on home assignment in 2007, I struggled with the idea of returning to Nigeria. We had experienced so much loss and knew too many Nigerians who had suffered. Nigeria had become a place of darkness to me, and I wanted to avoid the pain.
During my personal time of reflection in a spiritual formation class, I grew in my desire to listen to God. During that time, I came across Exodus 20:21: “The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.” I could identify with the people who stood at a distance because of fear. I had seen enough. But I now felt God challenging me to follow Moses’ example of entering the darkness. How was it that the darkness was where God was? I wondered. I knew I needed to return to Nigeria.
Within a few months of returning to Nigeria, I received training in trauma healing. Our manual included a chapter on rape. Since that time, I have entered the personal darkness of several women who have been raped. Entering their personal darkness means listening to their anger, sadness, frustration, and questions. My part is to be Christ’s comfort and a listening ear to them.
But I have seen God transform their victim mentality into one of survival. One woman had been raped nine years before and had given birth to a son as a result of the rape. But she had not been able to raise him as her own or love him. After nine years, she was able to forgive her mother (who had abandoned the family) and the man who had raped her. I saw God bring her out of darkness to a place of forgiveness, freedom, and joy.
Another woman needed a way to express her anger toward her rapist. We went to a remote area and she threw rocks at a boulder, which represented the rapist. She wrote on the rocks, shouted, and cried. Then, she handed some rocks to me. I entered into her darkness by throwing stones with her and acknowledging my own sadness and anger about what had been done to her. I saw God enter her darkness and bring her to a place of peace. In fact, she is completing her degree in counseling to help others find healing.
Since 2007, my husband and I have worked with many victims from northern Nigeria, especially the northeast. Many have lost their homes, farms, churches, identity, and livelihood. Many pastors feel lost, like shepherds who have lost their sheep. We enter the darkness of individuals who have seen their loved ones slaughtered in front of them. One woman saw Boko Haram kill her husband in front of her. They slit her throat, but somehow she survived. Her smile is evidence of the healing of the Master’s touch in her life.
One participant from Kano was a former student of ours. Radicals had burned his home and church three times. He and his family had to run for their lives. But at the end of our workshop, he said, “Thank God that I could attend this workshop where I have finally forgiven a fellow pastor who hurt me.” I realized that in the Christian community it is often harder for us to forgive one another than to forgive our persecutors. Through trauma healing, we enter the darkness of a pastor’s heart. Forgiveness seems to be one of the most powerful tools of transformation in northern Nigeria. God is in the heavy darkness, bringing hope and healing when people open their hearts to him.
Recently, a woman lost her husband to illness. Her husband traveled all around Nigeria to teach people how to love Muslims and reach them with a message of hope. She struggled with the difficult questions of why, and she had “friends” who suggested she must not have prayed hard enough for healing.
We wanted her to attend a trauma healing workshop, but she was not able to come to the first two we suggested. God had a special reason for her to attend a particular workshop. During one large group discussion, a man at her table stood up to tell a story he heard at a workshop. As he started to tell the story, she looked at me and I knew that the man who had told him the story was her husband! During the break, he began to explain how her husband had ministered to him greatly during several workshops. This was an important way for her to receive healing as she heard new stories about the way God had used him before he died. They were both comforted and I was touched by the way I was seeing God in the midst of the darkness.
Recently, this widow called and thanked us for inviting her to come to the workshop. She said she was doing much better and working through her grief and that the workshop helped her tremendously. After she hung up she immediately called back and said, “It was taking my wounds to the cross that really gave me freedom. And whenever I begin to believe any of the lies, I remember that I nailed my pain to the cross and that God is healing me.”
I thank God for the courage to enter the darkness where God is and to see the healing he is doing in Nigeria. Recently, we met with twenty-one parents of the kidnapped Chibok girls. God is still bringing healing and hope in the darkness.
Lorraine Foute has served with SIM in Nigeria for thirty-three years in various roles of theological education, special education, pastoral counseling, and member care. Lorraine and her husband, Bill, have facilitated numerous Trauma Healing Workshops since 2007.
Disciples in a Far-flung Land
BOLD’S BRIGHT, OPEN FACE shines with the love of God. Tall and lanky, he is married to an Inner Mongolian lady named Nandin. They have two small children and Bold, from Ulaanbaatar, now lives with his family in Inner Mongolia. He and Nandin are working quietly, traveling through their province, sharing the gospel, discipling, and encouraging new pastors. We listen, excited to hear stories of the tiny groups of Christians meeting in locations where there have never been Mongolian believers before.
“Yes,” Bold said, “God is causing the Outer Mongolian Church to rise up and take the gospel to the wider Mongolian diaspora. In fact, God spoke to me about these things in a dream,” he said, placing his finger reverently to his lips:
I saw a small army of strong knights mounted on sturdy horses. They stood waiting, their eyes fixed on the southern horizon. The land beyond lay in deep darkness and the people there lived in fear. But every now and then the knights saw a dim light piercing the blackness. Glancing at one another, they nodded, knowing they must move forward and strengthen the lights until together, they burned brighter and banished the darkness.
The vision Bold carries in his heart is one many Outer Mongolian believers share. Over the past twenty-five years, they’ve watched their country begin the transformation from a Russian, communist state to a democracy. But they’ve also watched the extraordinary growth of Christianity. In the early 1990s there were reported to be only a handful of Christians, whereas today, conservative estimates suggest the Church numbers more than 100,000. For many, the wonder of knowing Christ remains vibrant and fresh, and fuels their passion to share the gospel with the Mongolian diaspora and beyond.
Traveling in western China, we visit Outer Mongolian workers. Buddhist monasteries line the hillside as we drive to our hotel while rows of prayer flags flap in the wind. Otgoo and her husband meet us; they have been living in the city for seven years. As we sit and talk, it is obvious they are struggling. Hurt and wounded and diminished by disappointments, they have backed away from relationships. They want to change and grow, but the challenges are real and the souls of these people are held in the grip of the enemy.
But God is working. We pass street-sellers and monks, with their rosary beads and amulets, on our way to a shabby apartment block. Dollar, an Outer Mongolian working with three others, welcomes us. We sit on brightly-colored cushions. One by one, students arrive until the apartment is full. Nara leads us in worship. Dollar encourages us to follow Christ and live for his glory. Golden, a petite young woman from the distant steppe, is newly married. Her family are herders, and she is the only believer in her entire area. I ask the Lord to protect her and fill her with a holy boldness.
Rose tells us a little of her story. She and her husband’s lives have been threatened many times, and when they thought they could endure no more, God rescued them. Her faith is simple, but astounding. She challenges us to the core and reminds me not to allow my inadequacies to prevent me from living to the fullest.
Dollar has prepared a meal—a bowl of stew. She fishes two mutton bones out from the boiling broth, and with a knife we shave the meat from the bone. The meal isn’t elaborate, but in the company of these dear believers, it’s a banquet. These folk live with a courageous commitment to God. They live in hope.
Tumee leaves with a precious copy of the book in her bag—a new translation in her mother tongue. She’s a woman of action, someone who, despite dangers, lives in the assurance that a new reality is being constructed in and around her. Maybe her hope is not yet fully visible, but it is rock solid, connecting her to God’s promises, enabling her to venture deeper into him as he in turn draws her into participation in the future that is now coming to life.
At the invitation of friends, we travel to eastern China. After meeting the small Mongolian church, our friend hires a car and we head south towards the Outer Mongolian border. The landscape is familiar: vast swathes of grassland, and here and there a lone ger. After two and a half hours, we arrive in a small town. New apartments under construction stand tall at the edge of the streets. There’s rubble everywhere; a pile of dust swirls in the air while tumbleweed cartwheels haphazardly down the street.
We meet Batjargal and Tuvshin. Batjargal is a radio presenter and Tuvshin is a writer for the local government. They are two of the five Mongolian believers in this town. Amazingly, in this far-flung corner of China, they have heard the gospel and come to know the Lord. But they are struggling. Ten miles from the Outer Mongolian border, the Inner Mongolians protect their identity by cherishing and celebrating every Mongolian tradition. Batjargal says, “This makes it hard for us. It’s hard to hold on to Christ and see the gospel clearly when our families and friends want us to honor the god of the blue sky and worship the high and sacred places.”
All too soon it’s time to go. We are reluctant to leave. Prayers tumble haphazardly from our lips: “Please God, set your guard of protection around these people. Protect them from confusion; strengthen them. But you know they cannot stand alone; send them others to stand with them.”
And then we realize that he is already doing this. Bold’s dream is becoming a reality. Outer Mongolians are being called and sent to these remote areas and they are joining these flickering lights and seeing them strengthened.
Richard and Stephanie Scott (pseudonyms) have been working among Mongolians for more than twenty years. Initially, they were involved in church planting and discipleship, but now work alongside Outer Mongolians involved in mission.
Yes, We Can Have a Missionary Movement
PASTOR PANYA BABA came to Bolivia in November 1992. As a leader of the mission movement in Nigeria, he was invited to the first national mission conference in Bolivia. He held nothing back as he challenged the Bolivian Church to fulfill the Great Commission: “You may think that only North American or European churches are able to send missionaries out, but we serve the same God and his command is for all of us. The command to go and make disciples is for every church.”
For many Bolivian church leaders, this was a startling message. At the end of one session, an older pastor approached me and asked if I would translate some of his questions for Pastor Panya Baba. He asked, “Are you saying that the Bolivian church should be sending out Bolivian missionaries to other countries?” “Yes,” was the reply.
This was followed by, “And the funding for this Bolivian mission movement will come from outside Bolivia?” “No, brother,” was the answer. “I have not been in Bolivia a long time, but I believe that Nigeria is poorer than Bolivia. But we have sent out over one thousand Nigerian missionaries and all of their financial support comes from our own churches. You are responsible to support your own missionaries.”
That was the end of the conversation. This elder pastor immediately turned and left. As he did, I heard him say, “It is impossible.”
But his reaction was not the same as the young people who attended. Many of my seminary students approached me with excitement in their eyes. Again and again they said to me, “Teacher, we can do this! Our God is able to make this happen!”
During the years that followed, I saw the Lord call one after another of my students to serve as missionaries. Nelson was one of the first. When he finished his seminary studies, he began w