EASTERN EUROPE – Natalia* is the only evangelical believer among the staff at the Eastern European school where she teaches English. She’s raised her own children in this border town populated by Muslims in a country of nominally Orthodox “Christians.” The reality is that most of the people she knows, Muslim or Orthodox, try to earn God’s favor through good behavior.
For years, Natalia has taken every opportunity to share God’s love with those in her school. She remembered Jesus said everyone would recognize disciples of Jesus when they love one another (John 13:35). Going it alone was hard, so she prayed for others to join her in a vision to connect with students and families at a spiritual level. “God, send people to help me,” she prayed. “Give me an avenue into homes and families.”
Meanwhile, Southern Baptist workers Mark and Annie Crosby* moved to a city a couple of hours away from Natalia to focus on ministry to Muslims. They began praying, “God, give us an avenue.” After a year of praying for inroads, the Crosbys and their teammates got connected to Natalia through the pastor at her small church. The two families quickly forged a friendship and partnership with Natalia.
The Crosbys and their teammates associate with Natalia’s school through a foundation for community development, which works through local schools to offer events and support to the families. Their first big event was a Christmas presentation in the school’s gymnasium. The team was nervous to share openly. But the Muslims in the city were already familiar with Christmas because they live in an Orthodox country, and the event was a success. It was clear—God answered prayer. A door was finally open into the community.
Natalia has also helped the team facilitate food distributions and offer sports camps to the community. They work strictly through the school to differentiate themselves from Muslim evangelists who offer gifts to nominal Muslims to win them over to a more devout Islam. The Crosbys, their teammates, and Natalia want to bless the city and build relationships with no strings attached.
The community has known for years that Natalia is a follower of Jesus. And now they know the Crosbys and their teammates are her fellow disciples who love Jesus. So the pieces are starting to come together. At a recent sports camp, people asked questions. Someone even said to Natalia, “I see what you mean when you say Christians love each other. We’ve watched how this group cares about us.” Natalia is thrilled to finally meet more of the families in the school, especially the parents of her older students whom she’s taught since they were first graders.
Outside of the Christmas event, the team’s activities can’t be openly Christian, but people—even the children—are recognizing their love is a Christian love. “It’s the next generation that’s seeing something different,” Annie said. “It’s exciting to see an open door through community development.”
The city manager and the school administrator know the team are evangelical Christians, yet they say, “Come.” And so the team comes and even brings volunteers from partner churches in the States for their bigger events. Through it all, they rejoice in God’s kind answer to years of persistent prayer that he would make a way into this community.
- Pray God will encourage and provide for their volunteers in the States to continue in this partnership.
- Pray for deepened relationships in the community that lead to gospel conversations and open hearts.
- Pray the believers at Natalia’s church will study the Bible and walk in faithful, bold obedience in their community.
* Name changed
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is by Madeline Arthington, a writer for IMB. She lives in Central Asia.