Jane was in the middle of explaining how God had called her family to one of the toughest areas in Central Asia when the Skype connection went dead.
A few minutes later she and her husband, Jack, called back. Their backup generator kicked on and the conversation resumed. Jane and Jack, who are unable to use their real names for security reasons, seemed almost apologetic about having a generator in a place where most of the locals at that moment were without power and sitting in the dark. Still, through Southern Baptists’ support of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Cooperative Program, this IMB (International Mission Board) couple is able to do their work with as few interruptions as possible. Jack and Jane, both of North Carolina, are two of nearly 5,000 IMB missionaries serving overseas. Most live in challenging parts of the world where there is little to no access to electricity, running water, Wal-Mart – and most importantly – access to the gospel.
For more than a year, the couple and their two children have lived in a Central Asian city. Because of the risks involved with living there, few details about the people, the city and their work can be shared in this story. It’s a difficult and spiritually dark place where fathers have been known to kill their own sons or daughters for converting to Christianity.
“That is a big issue here – persecution,” Jack said.
“What do you do? How do you handle it? How do you spread the gospel in the midst of persecution? I mean violent persecution – even from family.”
The couple already had to move earlier this year out of one house into another because of security issues. Leaving their house to run a simple errand can even become a logistical nightmare.
Being there, however, has already created some unexpected ministry opportunities for the family – especially during the Christmas holiday season.
“The holidays have been a huge way to talk about [faith],” Jane said. “You can actually prepare a little speech,” she added, noting her struggle to learn the local language.
“You can memorize three or four sentences of why you’ve done what you’ve done – whether it be decorating your house or whatever.”
In recent weeks the couple has put up a Christmas tree with all the lights and decorations. But step outside their door, Jack said, and it’s “just another day.”
“We play Christmas music to get us in the mood, but once you hit the street … it’s not a holiday season at all.”
Living in this part of the world as missionaries wasn’t always something the couple thought they’d be doing with their lives.
“We never – as children, as teenagers, after we were married – had any intention of being in any sort of ministry role much less anywhere other than small town North Carolina,” Jane said.
“We were set up on the family farm with our house, and our jobs and our cars and set to do small-town life. It’s very different than we thought our lives would look like, but we don’t doubt that this is what God had planned.”
Early next year, Jack plans to begin teaching a local believer what a church would look like in that part of the world. Jack and Jane also will continue their language lessons.
“Language learning has definitely been more challenging than I was anticipating,” Jane said.
“It’s been a hard thing. You’re pumped up ready to be here, and you get on the ground and can’t speak a word. [But] we’ve seen a lot of God’s goodness and bringing people across our path … who have been a huge encouragement to us.”
Jane remembers telling one local friend – while practicing the language – about how Jesus rose from the dead three days after being crucified.
“Her eyes just got so wide, and she looked at me and she [said] ‘Back to life? After death, he came back to life?’ The truth of such an unbelievable story was really hitting her.”
Jane spoke of another woman with whom she continues to build a relationship.
“She’s not open right now to having a copy of [the Bible] in her home,” Jane said.
“We’re praying she would be willing to take a copy of it and read it herself. She’s very close. Every time we talk about it … I think she is getting close. That’s encouraging to me to stick it out and try to pursue these relationships.”
Jane remains thankful for support from Southern Baptists. It allows her family and other IMB missionaries to live among their people group and build ongoing relationships.
“[Without the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering,] we wouldn’t be able to have the conversations we’re having with people … to be able to tell somebody ‘yea, Jesus is alive’ and them be shocked because they have never heard.”
That support also gives missionaries the opportunity to provide logistical support and advice for churches with a desire to engage – or “embrace” – unengaged, unreached people groups and build relationships over time.
Southern Baptist churches – including many N.C. churches – continue to seek to help engage people groups with no church planting strategy and less than a 2 percent evangelical presence.
Relationships must be built in order to talk about deep spiritual issues, Jane said.
“You can’t build relationships with people … over the Internet or by just sending funds for food distribution,” she said. “You have to have a relationship with these people [for them] to be comfortable … to ask you questions.”
“If there is nobody here [to build those relationships] they’ll never know,” she added.
“They’ll never hear [the gospel]. How can they hear it unless somebody tells them?”
For more information about this year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering go to imb.org and click on “Your Lottie Moon offering resources.” Or for more information about embracing an unengaged, unreached people group, go to call2embrace.org. You can also read more stories at BRnow.org; under “Resources,” click “2011 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.”