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Wherever

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There I stood, eyes closed and hands raised, stocking up on good, congregational, English worship, the kind we don’t get living in the Middle East. We were singing my favorite song, “Oceans” by Hillsong United, and my favorite part: Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders/ Let me walk upon the waters/ Wherever You would call me.

In that very moment, as I sang those exact words, the Spirit whispered in my head, “OK, then go to Albad*.”

If that didn’t ruin my day, I don’t know what would have. Immediately my hands dropped. I looked around the room to see if anyone else heard it. Then I sat down to boycott the notion. How could I finish singing that song? Clearly I didn’t mean “wherever.”

I didn’t want to go to Albad. In fact, I had specifically told the Lord on several occasions how I had already given up enough to serve almost a decade in a creative-access location. Albad wouldn’t be a good fit for me.

The city wasn’t friendly to the gospel at all. Rumors had it that people who came to faith there were killed. An international worker had violently lost her life there. I had personally made several trips to that city and saw for myself it wouldn’t be a happy place to live.

Scripture Speaks

Week after week, no matter where we spoke on our home assignment, just before we went behind the pulpit, the worship leader would sing none other than “Oceans.” It got so bad I started anticipating it so that I wasn’t too disconcerted before getting up to speak.

I turned on the radio, and there was the song. I stopped listening to the radio. Why won’t that song go away? More importantly, was God really in this? Could He really be telling me to go to Albad?

A few months later, there was no denying it. God was speaking to me. When I doubted and questioned whether it was Him or my imagination, He’d call me again. Scripture was jumping off the page and confirming to me this call.

One day it was Isaiah 54:11. “O storm-battered city, [Yes, that describes Albad.] troubled and desolate! [Obviously.] I will rebuild you with precious jewels [Really?] and make your foundations from lapis lazuli” (NLT).

Are you saying, Lord, You are building a foundation of believers in that city? Lord, are You sure this is possible? But . . . but what about my three precious kids? How will they adjust to that place? Won’t they hate it?

Then I read on: “I will teach all your children, and they will enjoy great peace” (vs. 13).

My kids will not actually leave the faith if we go there? Or need intense therapy for what their parents put them through? They will actually grow in faith and live happily? Am I hearing You correctly?

Soon my husband was hearing it too. He heard the word “stand.” He didn’t know all that it meant, but he knew it involved going to Albad and taking our friends Nasir and Mona with us.

A Team Forms

Nasir and Mona were originally from Albad but had left to find work and ended up finding Jesus through our team’s center. My husband and I discipled them for many years, meeting secretly in our little house church. They were growing in the faith but hadn’t seen any other people from their village come to Jesus.

Illustration by Kenneth Crane

Upon returning to the field, my husband and I wondered if Nasir and Mona would be willing to go with us. We waited on the Lord, but we didn’t have to wait long.

Nasir and Mona showed up to our house one night. Nasir said, “I need to tell you something, and please don’t stop me until I get it all off my chest.” He proceeded to say that while we were stateside, the Lord was calling him to take the gospel back to his village, which was now a city of a million people: Albad.

We sat there in silence, trying not to interrupt his speech, which he had clearly practiced. Finally, he concluded, “I think you guys should pray about going with us, and we should reach this city together.” Trying not to laugh, we proceeded to tell them why we didn’t need to pray about it. Tears filled Nasir’s eyes as he realized the gospel would be brought to his own village.

In Harm’s Way

Many months went by as we waited for the doors to open. Our team, who didn’t like the idea at first, prayed and fasted then voted unanimously God was saying to send us out. Our field had a similar reaction and then the National Office. It wasn’t the normal way to send out a team to a new city nor the best timing, but it seemed God was saying to do this. Finally, the way cleared, and plans were set in motion.

Then, out of nowhere, late at night, the telephone call came. Albad is a border city, which adjoins a country to the north that was rapidly becoming unstable. (If I say the name, you will know the place I am talking about.) It seems that the northern border had been breached by ISIS. The call warned us that there had been an attempted capturing of some American citizens near the northern border, and everyone was to stay clear.

My heart sank. My worst fear in serving overseas is that one of us will someday get captured. I asked myself, “Could God actually be telling us to go against the advice of the embassy, to put ourselves in harm’s way? Maybe the call is for down the road, after the war is over and the border is safe again.”

I told my husband all I could think about was the word “captured.” It kept ringing in my head. He wisely said, “Well, if the Lord has called us this many times to go, He can call us again in light of this new information.”

That night we prayed, “Lord, if You really want us to go, even with this new threat, please call us again.” Then we fell asleep in peace.

Prepare for Action

The next morning, my reading for the day was in Jeremiah 1 where God calls Jeremiah into ministry. I chuckled to myself and said, “Lord, it’s going to take more than this ‘I knew you, formed you, set you apart . . . don’t be afraid, I will put words in your mouth’ passage to convince me to go to a dangerous place like Albad.” That’s when I’m pretty sure God chuckled. I read on to a not-so-familiar part of that chapter.

“Then the Lord spoke to me again and asked, ‘What do you see now?’ And I replied, ‘I see a pot of boiling water, spilling from the north’” (Jer. 1:13, NLT).

Gulp. The war was just north of Albad, and obviously terror was spilling from the north. Now I was listening.

“’Yes,’ the Lord said, ‘for terror from the north will boil out on the people of this land’” (vs. 14).

I read on, “Get up and prepare for action. Go out and tell them everything I tell you to say. Do not be afraid of them, or I will make you look foolish in front of them. For see, today I have made you strong like a fortified city that cannot be captured” (vs. 17–18).

I put down my Bible. I swallowed. I knew. We needed to go and not be afraid. We would not be captured.

Better Than Ever

We went to that city, and as the rest of the first chapter of Jeremiah predicts, it didn’t go smoothly. About 18 months in, we experienced great opposition to our work, including lawsuits, threats, break-ins, and loss of our center. We had to visit and revisit God’s call to go.

One dark day, after evacuating our center, accepting the resignation of our precious partners who couldn’t take the stress and spiritual attack any more, and feeling like everything we had set out to do in Albad had truly fallen apart, my husband was reminded of the word God had given him at the very beginning: stand.

There we stood, looking as stupid as deer in headlights but standing. We knew we were supposed to be there and stand—that’s about all we knew.

Over the next few months, God began rebuilding the work. He brought us short- and mid-term workers to labor alongside us as well as people of the majority religion who saw the community development we were doing and said they wanted in too.

To date, we have a better center than we had ever dreamed of and a huge team of people, believers and nonbelievers alike, working alongside us to bring hope-filled programs to the underprivileged and refugees of Albad.

Our majority-religion employees and volunteers say they are learning how to have a relationship with God for the first time in their lives. The Bible is being studied. The gospel is going forth. We praise God that we listened to His call.

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