Two North Carolina Baptist women have established relationships with Yemeni families in the state – the first known instance of N.C. Baptists engaging this unreached people group after four years of prayer, Zac Lyons told the Biblical Recorder July 5.
Lyons, senior consultant for Great Commission partnerships at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, said there are only 35 known believers in northern Yemen.
“There’s no church … God has seen fit to bring those people right here,” Lyons said, referring to the 4,000 Yemenis living in the state.
Joy Mikhail, director of church engagement and training for cross-cultural ministries at Waypoint Church in Chapel Hill, N.C., met two Yemeni women when they brought their children to a weekly backyard Bible club in a Durham community where the majority of residents are refugees or immigrants.
Over the past year, Mikhail befriended both women and their families, “building relationships, establishing trust and sharing the gospel in love.”
“People are not projects,” Mikhail said in an interview with the Recorder July 28.
“It’s not, ‘I’m gonna get to know you so that I will share the gospel with you,’ but rather ‘I love you, and because of that, I’m sharing the gospel.’”
Mikhail’s interactions with them are about being part of the family, she said.
“You can go there and spend hours sitting and drinking tea. … From filling out their paperwork to going to the labor room when they give birth – that’s basically, for me, how it looks.”
Cultural understanding is crucial to this ministry, Mikhail said. She gave the example of how Western and Eastern cultures hold different perspectives on vulnerability, which is essential to establishing trust. She explained that while Americans tend to have a guilt-driven culture, as seen in how often one might hear “I’m sorry” even in casual conversations, Eastern cultures are more influenced by shame.
“For them to be vulnerable is really hard because you would feel the shame of what they’re dealing with. … Be an example for them that it’s OK, we all mess up; we’re all in need of grace.
“One thing the church can fall into is the holy mask. We go there and we’re like, ‘We’re gonna fix you.’ It’s hurtful in two ways. One, if we’re all right and all fixed, why do we need Christ? We’re good, which is not the truth. Two, it keeps them from being vulnerable.”
Today, Mikhail sees growth in the relationships through her friends’ transparency about their lives. She said they are now more open about conflict in their marriages and thoughts on their own culture, and they have even started attending English as a Second Language classes at Waypoint.
In Franklin County, Emily*, a former public school teacher and now part-time tutor, met two adult sisters from Yemen when she accepted an invitation to teach them English in their home.
“At the time, being a mostly stay-at-home mom of two little ones and another on the way and working part-time, I was not in the position to go to the nations to form relationships and spread the gospel, so it seemed this was a way that God was bringing the nations to me,” she said.
Like Mikhail, Emily found herself “staying an extra half hour to an hour because they would share food with me or show me pictures of their loved ones, or we would talk about their favorite soccer teams or TV shows” after tutoring sessions ended.
Emily, too, tried to understand and be sensitive to the sisters’ culture before and during their meetings.
“I worried excessively about what I should wear … I painstakingly proofread the ESL lessons and worksheets that I was using to remove any potentially offensive material,” she said.
It didn’t take long, however, for her attention to shift from their differences to their similarities. “I bonded with these ladies over things we had in common like being mothers to boys, being wives, doing housework and loving our families who live far away,” she said.
When the sisters asked to be excused to pray during lessons, Emily spent the time waiting for them also in prayer – “that God would open my eyes and burden my heart more for them, their families and their salvation.”
Mikhail, with years of missions experience both in the United States and internationally, and Emily, a mother and teacher leveraging her calling, are serving in intercultural ministry by meeting needs and making friends where they are.
“The Church is to embrace her calling and live intentionally as ambassadors of Christ among the nations and be moved by the perfect love that is found in Christ and not by fear,” Mikhail said.
“Step out to create mutually beneficial relationships, and treat everyone with dignity and respect as image-bearers of God.”
Individuals or groups interested in ministering to immigrants or refugees should seek opportunities to get connected, Mikhail said.
She suggested getting in touch with someone else or a church that already has established connections with refugee communities, volunteering with resettlement organizations and intentionally looking around them.
“There might be some immigrants or refugees in their neighborhoods or at the grocery store or the gas station nearby where they can stop by and have a conversation with them that leads to building relationships.”