Around the world, many people are following the command from Isaiah 60 to “arise, shine” in a world that is “covered in darkness.” They let their love for Christ shine around the world in unique ways. Here are three stories from places where the darkness is being overcome.
When Becca* arrived in a rural West African village more than 20 years ago she felt a sense of confirmation. She knew that she was exactly where God wanted her to be.
Living in an area with almost no other Christians, she recognized the challenge she was facing: to show through her words and actions what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Becca quickly became friends with her next-door neighbor. Her visits with this woman over a cup of tea were a natural way to develop her language skills while also beginning a genuine friendship and sharing her faith.
“From the very beginning, I felt God calling me to reach out to this woman,” recalled Becca. “Our conversations didn’t really seem to bear much visible fruit, but we’ve remained friends over the years.”
Becca isn’t really sure exactly how it happened, but her home quickly turned into a community center. The open-door policy she adopted early on turned her home it into a gathering place for youth in the community.
“It’s a place where young people come and play games, share meals and just hang out,” she said. “When it's less crowded, there are times of sharing meaningful conversations. I am always looking for teachable moments.
“It’s like they are my kids.”
Gambo* is one of Becca’s “kids.” Several times each week, he walks over from the house where Becca first went for tea many years ago -- his grandmother’s house.
While these events are great for building friendships, Becca also sets aside time for conversations about faith.
When she first began, she led the conversations, but today this West African town is home to a group of believers that she has helped to disciple over the years. Now they play a significant role in her ongoing efforts to share Christ with others.
“When people see me living out the gospel they aren’t sure if it’s because of my culture, ethnicity, nationality, or religion,” said Becca, “but when they see their own people transformed by Christ, they begin to understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus.”
Becca and some of these believers take part in overnight faith retreats with small groups of Muslims who have expressed interest in the Christian faith. Together, they share what they believe and break down misconceptions that they might have about one another’s faith.
Not long ago, Gambo joined others on one of these retreats. He fell asleep pondering the conversations he had been having, and that’s when he found Christ. He dreamed that while he was away, someone had left a cross at his home. That vision spoke to him of taking up his cross and following Jesus.
Typically at this stage, new believers would be discipled in private by more mature believers. They would not be pushed to immediately make a public confession of faith or to stop going to the mosque, but would be encouraged to follow the Spirit’s leading for the timing of these events.
But Gambo’s case was different. Right away, he boldly confessed his new-found faith, accepting the persecution which would inevitably follow. “I believe that Gambo is the fruit of years of praying for and sowing into his extended family,” said Becca.
Overcoming Persecution in the Middle East
“The Christians of the Middle East can’t forget,” said Noah*, referring to a long history of persecution.
Noah, who serves with Christian Reformed World Missions in this region, explained: “That’s why they’re also wary whenever it comes to a person converting to the Christian faith.”
“Not only will such a person be considered a black sheep who incites pain and anger among their fellow Muslim-villagers, but that person may also be a wolf in sheep’s clothing who will bring more suffering and pain to the church that’s already bruised and bleeding.”
Noah discipled Abdu*, leading him first to take small steps in faith and later bigger ones.
One of the greatest struggles Abdu has had to endure is keeping his faith a secret from his in-laws—who live in the same apartment building as he does, and who watch his children and take them to school.
They are conservative Wahabi Muslims, and Abdu’s father-in-law is a high-ranking official with the secret police.
Still, Abdu has been able to share his faith with his wife, and he wants deeply for her to believe as he now believes. So he lives out his faith through his actions to her and his family.
“I’ve never seen anyone who loves his wife like Abdu,” says Noah. “Abdu not only supports his family, but he also helps his wife experience freedoms that the other veiled women in her extended family will never have.”
Abdu’s wife has agreed to go to church a few times, and she says she sees herself as somewhere in between her “black sheep” husband and her family’s beliefs.
A conversation that Noah recently had with Abdu and his wife gives him hope. She was reflecting on her most recent church visit and said that through her interactions with the people there she realized something.
“She said she saw us in our many ethnicities and ages, and the closeness between us,” said Noah. “She felt the warmth of our fellowship and she heard the worship and prayers, and knew she was seeing something of God.”
“God is giving light to her eyes, and making our little church be a beacon of authenticity and truth.”
Overcoming Gang Violence in El Salvador
For the last few years in San Salvador, El Salvador, Fernanda participated enthusiastically in every Timothy Leadership Training module, a leadership training curriculum that Christian Reformed missionaries use.
“As myself and a man named Gerardo facilitated her second to last course, we saw her eyes brighten even more than usual,” recalls Rachel Beveridge, who serves with World Missions in El Salvador.
The reason was Fernanda’s plan to help transform her community. She recognized that youth spend a lot of time on the street—where they are susceptible to gang recruitment—or at home, alone or with other siblings because their parents are at work.
Fast forward five months, and Fernanda is the director of Timothy Homework Club, a center that serves 28 children and youth, ages 6 to 17. Kids go five days a week, either in the morning or afternoon, depending on their school schedule.
“They receive help with their homework, have access to computers, do crafts, play foosball, and have a safe place to hang out,” said Beveridge.
What’s more, Fernanda joined other leaders who are part of the leadership network established by Seeds of a New Creation, World Missions’ ministry partner in El Salvador. Here she receives further leadership training and gains inspiration from others who have similar ministry projects.
At a recent “Seeds Breakfast,” a time for leaders to share their projects with one another, Fernanda reported on the Timothy Homework Club.
“Seeds is thrilled to play a role in this project and continue to provide training that inspires and strengthens this and other initiatives,” Beveridge added.
Missionaries and the people that they work alongside are shining light into some of the world’s darkest places. In many cases, they are regularly reminded of the power of sin.
Since leaving for school, Gambo has faced more persecution in his new community. Abdu must continually hide his true source of joy from his in-laws. Fernanda has faced threats from gang members and the Timothy Homework Club had to close for a few weeks.
Still, the missionaries recognize that they are called to continue letting their light shine and leave the rest up to the Holy Spirit. They recognize that this hard work is already leading to a brighter future.
“The church is waking up. The church is taking courage. There are times when I think that believers living in these dark places will renew the faith of us all,” said Noah.
*Names have been changed for security reasons.
Please Pray for Missionaries
- Pray that new believers will find the guidance they need for dealing with possible persecution
- Pray for the safety of those who live in communities with high gang activity
- Pray that Christians in North America will recognize ways that we can learn from those living in persecution>