RICHMOND, Va. – At 4:45 a.m., the Muslim call to prayer wakes Marie Edwards*. In the cooler hours before the scorching heat arrives, the 20-something Christian worker spends her own time in prayer and worship.
Quiet times with the Lord give her strength to make it through the day.
“Worship is really helpful for actually getting out the door,” Edwards said. “If you spend time worshipping long enough, you remember that He’s sovereign,” no matter what occurs.
Edwards and her colleagues are working in North Africa and the Middle East to reach a people group with a history of persecuting Christians. This country where Edwards lives has been hostile to the gospel – proselytizing for a non-Islamic religion is prohibited – but she and her co-workers are there to share Christ’s love.
Despite living in a male-dominated culture, the single African American woman has built solid relationships while teaching English to university students. Although she’s only lived in the region a few years, her ministry has grown to include participating in house churches, hosting discipleship groups and seeker groups, teaching nationals T4T (training for trainers), strategizing with other Christian workers, prayerwalking the city, distributing Bibles and participating in English clubs.
Tea is an important part of many North African and Middle Eastern (NAME) cultures. Because Marie Edwards (name changed) is African American, she blends in with the peoples she works with and is often treated like one of the family, sometimes being asked to help make tea with other women. Though this treatment once bothered her, she now sees it is a statement of trust – and she has a great opportunity to build meaningful relationships.
But the most important thing Edwards does is build relationships and share the gospel.
She’s found that often, as she eats her lunch, “[students] will come and sit with you and chat, and that’s an open opportunity we like to use – ‘Do you know the story of Adam and Eve?’ or ‘What’s going on in your life?’”
Edwards also spends time in the teachers’ lounge, drinking hot tea or coffee with co-workers despite the 120-degree weather.
“They come and you just talk, because that’s what they like to do,” Edwards said. “… It’s very easy to share the gospel that way, and one of our [team’s] goals is to never leave someone without praying for them.”
Initially, Edwards and her Christian co-workers were hesitant to share their faith so openly – being arrested or expelled from the country are real concerns. But they were discouraged by the lack of people coming to know Christ.
“We were tired of not seeing fruit, so we got bolder and that yielded fruit and so we got bolder and now we’re just kind of outrageous, and it works,” Edwards said. “… There is opposition, but the Lord has really protected us from it, so we’re going to continue to be a little crazy bold.”
Her missions heritage
Missions work is in Edwards’ blood. After her mother served as an IMB journeyman (two-year missionary), she met Edwards’ father at seminary. After marrying and starting a family, the couple became IMB missionaries when Marie was 7 years old.
The Edwardses studied language in Europe for a year and then served in West Africa nearly four years before returning to the United States. Edwards’ father then became a North American Mission Board-sponsored chaplain, which led the family to live in various places in the U.S. and Europe throughout her adolescent years.
Though as a child Edwards dreamed of becoming a missionary, by the time she reached college she was determined to work in government relations overseas. But a godly mentor who had caught the vision for missions challenged Edwards to catch that vision as well. After a short-term trip to West Africa, Edwards’ calling to the mission field was solidified.
She began attending seminary, preparing to serve – so she thought – in West Africa, in a place and with a people with which she was accustomed. When given the opportunity to lead short-term mission teams to North Africa and the Middle East (NAME), Edwards jumped at the chance, but soon discovered that these people were nothing like West Africans.
“I really struggled,” Edwards said. “… After about a month and a half, my team leader and God both really challenged my heart to love [these people].”
A broken people
Underneath Edwards’ cheerful manner, a serious passion for seeing North African and Middle Eastern people come to Christ is ever-present. Her passion, though, does not come from herself – it comes from obedience to the Lord.
“It’s a supernatural love for sure,” Edwards said, since the people to whom she ministers are not accustomed to being loved by Westerners and are perpetually “on the defensive.” But their tough exterior is riddled with cracks.
“They are very prideful and they are very good at putting up a good [front], but the bottom line is they are just a broken people,” Edwards noted. They are not used to hearing about a heavenly Father who cares for them.
In one Bible study, Edwards was teaching two Muslims from the Book of John about the Word becoming flesh. The two young women were confused – why would God care enough to put on flesh and come to earth? God doesn’t care about us, they said. He doesn’t see us. Nobody does.
Edwards then asked, “Was it possible for someone to love you and to put on long-sleeved shirts and skirts [despite the hot weather], to pull her hair back and cover her head with a scarf, to leave her family behind, to forsake a career, to forsake a possible marriage and children, and to leave the things she knows in her culture and the home that she thought she would live in for the rest of her life, and come to you and tell you she loves you?”
It was as if a light bulb turned on – the girls understood.
“If a human loves you enough to come to you to tell you this, then surely God loves you enough to send me, and God loved you enough to come,” Edwards said. “That’s my heart for [these people] – God loved them enough to come for them, I can … love them enough to be with them.”
As political shifts occur in many governments across North Africa and the Middle East, Edwards has noticed a shift of attitudes in the country – people who were once closed to hearing anything about Christ are now willing to listen.
“The window is open right now for abundant gospel sowing,” she said.
She also is excited to see how God is moving in mighty ways. Some government security workers have accepted Bibles. A young woman who cried in joy to receive a Bible continues to study it, though her sisters threaten to expose her. Girls who hated men because of past abuse are learning about forgiveness and that the Lord is a loving Father.
“You just never know where God is working, and that’s how we’re doing that broad seed-sowing now, we just shoot it out to huge groups,” Edwards said. “… Because we are doing so much sowing, we are seeing return.
“It’s almost like a physical transformation happens. You can see the burden lifting, the hatred – it takes a while, but yeah, it’s a good thing.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Laura Fielding writes for the International Mission Board. To learn how you can get involved in overseas missions, visit going.imb.org. Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and through the Cooperative Program help Southern Baptist missionaries around the world share the gospel. Gifts for the offering are received at Southern Baptist churches across the country or can be made online at www.imb.org/offering where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at www.imb.org/lmcovideo.)