Feature

Finding Favor

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In our language, Sunny’s name literally means full of sunshine—but when I first met her through our education center, Sunny was anything but that. Though she felt a clear call on her life to educate and help others, her path had taken a downward turn. A local church had sponsored her to attend training in another country, but depression and a lack of ongoing emotional support sent her home crippled with deep shame and severed relationships. Sunny had become unable to maintain healthy relationships and had not been able to hold a job for more than six months. In this condition she came to us looking for a job—talented, desiring to serve and make a difference, but ashamed, defensive, and broken.

Sunny’s story—not unlike dozens of others we’ve encountered—is the inspiration that fueled one of the boldest and most important decisions we’ve ever made.

Coming to a Crossroads

We serve in a host country that has seen decades of varying government ideologies, requiring our team to find creative, helpful ways to continue providing a meaningful, impactful gospel presence here. In more recent years, the government has cracked down on corruption, modernizing and streamlining policies in many sectors of the economy. New laws affected our current small education-related business, bringing us to an agonizing crossroads.

It came as a shock when we were told visas would no longer be issued if we continued teaching English to children. Not only did this mean losing natural access into local families’ lives—not to mention the majority of our company’s income—it also meant we would no longer have a place and means to hire local staff, develop them professionally and spiritually, and send them out for greater impact in their own contexts. In reference to John Stumbo’s 2019 Council address*, our team faced a “Perga” moment (see Acts 13:13). The choice was this: completely change the focus of our business and risk losing both our viability and impact, as well as having to say goodbye to our beloved students and their families and lay off many of our national co-workers—or take the daunting step up the rugged, uncertain terrain of opening a full-fledged English training school. If what seemed improbable came to pass, an education business would provide a long-term opportunity for us to have a meaningful, impactful presence. 

Under a new education law with next-to-impossible standards, no local competitors even considered making the step. The stakes were high, the risk was great, and the knowledge and ability to do something of this magnitude felt far beyond our resources.

But with firm conviction and faces like Sunny’s before us, we knew that not trying to open a school would feel like giving up. Our great desire is to develop local leaders and teach sound, God-honoring business principles and practical skills that they can, in turn, take to harder, unreached places. The thought of losing this long-term vision—as well as our relationships with co-workers who had become like family—felt like a death.

The timing seemed ludicrous. To meet our host country’s lofty standards for accreditation, we would need to more than quadruple our space, our student enrollment, and our monthly revenue. And this all in a matter of a few months. It really seemed impossible—yet corporately we decided going back to the harbor at Perga and boarding a ship home was not an option. Work had been established in our city many years before and we had a sense it was not yet finished.

Taking the Rocky Road

The following months were filled with late nights praying as we walked the streets of our city, asking God to show us a property to rent that met a very detailed, safety-conscious code. After looking at dozens of properties, coming close to signing contracts only to have them fall through at the last minute, we were very discouraged, nearly despairing. One employee’s family’s visas would soon expire, and without a valid property for the school, there would be no chance of securing the necessary documentation needed to renew their visas. They would be forced to go home prematurely.

One co-worker’s journal entry that summer reflected the mood of our team:

I’m like Martha—I know Lazarus will be raised at the resurrection on the last day—like I know that all of this will be for Your glory eventually—but losing our building and needing to let over half of our coworkers go! These are hard things. It seems like our hopes, our work, our desires to make a difference are all being put in the grave! So God, today I say I trust You that it is for Your glory! Help us to trust You and not our circumstances. Please make a way!

With many fervent prayers from the Alliance family around the world, God did make a way.

“Living in a Miracle”

One week before the expiration of our employee’s family’s visas, we still did not have the paperwork needed to apply for the visa renewal. Like the persistent widow before the judge, we begged the appropriate government official once again after already being denied twice. Late that evening, he consented to meet one last time, saying “Be at my office tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. with a translator.” The next morning, he asked again why he should grant us the visa renewal without proper proof that we were opening a school. We simply stated the truth: “We want to run this business completely according to the law. We don’t want to use loosely connected/grey area visas to do our business. There is a law now and we want to abide by it 100 percent! We just need a little more time.”

With a long look at us, he said, “You have 18 months”—and by his authority, he made an exception and stamped the paperwork necessary to extend the visas. This was unprecedented favor! It also speaks to our host country’s efforts to provide a legal, process-oriented path to open a new business. Our team is so humbled to have been granted this favor and allowed the opportunity to open a school that will serve the community. Once outside, our national co-worker exclaimed, “I’m living in a miracle!”

Soon after, we secured a building that met the extensive standards and began an arduous renovation project. We spent countless hours negotiating with the renovation company, buying furniture and light fixtures, and cleaning. In times of exhaustion, it seemed as if the project would never be complete—and as each month of the renovation dragged on, we were losing valuable student tuition income. But God continually gave us encouragement and strength to continue with His truths such as Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

“You Guys Are the Legal Ones”

Finally, we opened our doors for business and proudly hung the official licensure front and center on the wall! Looking back, we truly are amazed and extremely grateful for the favor granted. We were the first for-profit education company to receive official licensure in our area of more than five million people! Although the completion of the project took much longer than expected, in retrospect, God’s providential timing was  guiding it all. New laws and a very short window made it next to impossible to start a foreign-owned national company providing educational services—but the window was open just long enough for us to get started. Other training centers attempting to go through this process paid tens of thousands of dollars in bribes, using the old ways of doing business here. We never did that. When asking the government sector overseeing our business how we could prepare for their periodic visits to ensure that we have all our “ducks in a row,” their response has been, “Don’t worry. You guys are the legal ones.”

Although the government has made great strides in cracking down on corruption, it is still very much alive in the business community here. In light of this, we are humbled and grateful for the favor granted to ensure we are “the legal ones!”

A Place for Sunny

Remember Sunny? Due to favor granted upon favor, our education business was established—and for Sunny, that meant an emotionally safe place to be every day. At first, she simply volunteered and helped wherever needed. With time and allowing Sunny to engage in a supportive, grace-filled work environment, she became a teacher at the school, where she’s been for more than two years now—and she is one of the most requested teachers among the staff.

God has truly done a work in Sunny—and although there are days when depression and shame threaten to overwhelm her, Sunny’s name now fits who she is. She is becoming a bright light—even facilitating a seeker study with the mom of one of our customers.

In retrospect, the terrain has been rugged and uncertain at times, and there is still a long road ahead to a fully sustainable business. The past two years were immensely intense, and it has left our team in great need of restoration on many levels. As we celebrate God’s faithfulness in providing all that we needed at just the right time, we invite you to also stand with us in prayer for healthy personal lives, interpersonal relationships, and wisdom managing the business.

We are grateful that this “Perga” moment in our team’s history did not end in us going home too soon. Times in our host country are changing. Having a legitimate, profit-making business is quickly becoming one of the only means of maintaining a meaningful impactful presence here—and gaining further access to areas that remain unreached and in need of the services and ministry we provide. We celebrate the privilege of continuing and building on the work started here many decades ago—and invite our Alliance family to celebrate with us!

*View John Stumbo’s “Perga” message from Council 2019 here.

Snapshots and Stories of Our Work

  • 260 students enter our classrooms weekly for a high quality, fun educational experience. Due to the teachers’ care for the individual and our student-centered teaching style, one parent commented “This is the only time in the week my son gets to be a real boy. I see him through the window during class, and he is so bright and happy!”
  • 25 local staff participate in weekly heart-, soul-, and mind-oriented trainings. Three of those staff in the past two years have made decisions to follow Jesus!   
  • Throughout the year our company runs trainings for parents to meet each other and learn biblically-based truths about how to view themselves and their children. 
  • We also offer a gathering place where adults can meet regularly to practice their English. The topics are chosen carefully to help facilitate discussion about biblical truth. In one session where participants were asked to reflect on a time when they felt treated like a person simply for who they are, the mother of one of our students said, “It was here. I came for my daughter to learn English, but you all cared about me.”
  • We host fun, large-group events about once a month to serve the community and allow people here to “let loose” a bit in this highly driven, competitive culture.

 

How You Can Help

Pray: For continued favor with the local government; wisdom in managing the business; and healthy personal and team relationships.

Come: If you're at least 24 years old with a bachelor's degree, or newly retired but not ready for retirement, come bring your skills! Click here to find out more.

Give: To help us maintain a meaningful, impactful gospel presence, give to our work through the Great Commission Fund:

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