17 September, 2021

An Ending and a Beginning

by | 1 March, 2021 | 0 comments

Maureen closed the book she’d been trying to read and switched off her bedside lamp. Burrowing into the covers, she tried not to think about the future. She felt her spirit stirring, as if God was about to do something big and different, but she didn’t yet know what that would be. “God, here I am. Send me,” she prayed for what seemed like the millionth time. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep, still unsure of where God would take her.

Several months later, an insightful missionary friend invited Maureen to attend a Global Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course. Maureen felt conflicted about it. On one hand, she was interested in the material and really wanted to learn more about what God was doing around the world. On the other hand, she suffered from anxiety that resulted in daily panic attacks.

The idea of walking into a large class in a church full of strangers almost paralyzed her, but she decided to take a step of faith and go. She entered the church and saw the room where her class was supposed to meet across the auditorium from her. A woman at a table looked up and then walked over and met her midway into the auditorium. She told Maureen, “God told me to meet you halfway.” This further confirmed to Maureen that she was where she was supposed to be.

Over the next few months, Maureen got emails from three different friends, all telling her about a Christian school in Eastern Europe; they encouraged her to look into an open teaching position at the school. She deleted all three emails, but soon became curious enough to investigate the school and the area via the internet. At about the same time, she met the founders of the school at the International Conference on Missions. When doors opened for her to begin teaching in the school, she went through them.

By August 2014, she had moved overseas to begin her work as a missionary teacher. Within two years of working at the school, Maureen’s anxiety had almost completely disappeared. Her steps of faith led to her own healing.

New Ministry Opportunities

About three years into her teaching ministry, Maureen felt led to ministry in a church in the community where she was serving. There she opened a community center where she now teaches English to adult women and children in grades 3 to 12; she averages between 85 and 120 students.

“I work to build bridges between the church and the community,” Maureen says. “I use teaching as a tool to meet people I wouldn’t otherwise meet, and I’m often the first Christian they meet.”

Maureen and the students cannot talk about faith in the classroom setting, so they form relationships outside of English class, and that eventually leads to people talking about their beliefs. Maureen shares her love for Jesus in those settings. “Most of the time, it’s a conversation over a cup of tea or dinner where I get asked why I’m here and [then I] get to talk about Jesus. I pray I’m always prepared to give answers for the faith I proclaim.” 

The work has become more challenging with the restrictions brought on by COVID-19. People have struggled financially and emotionally. Businesses have faltered, and the already weak health care system has become critically poor. Medications are scarce, and those who are able to find what they need must go into debt to afford it. People are not allowed to meet together.

Maureen has been praying and believes the Holy Spirit has led her to focus on teaching well, loving the students in front of her, and being as consistent as possible in a chaotic time. Her long-term goals have been put on hold for the time being, but she hopes to someday move to a larger facility and open a lending library and coffee/tea bar in the community where the church is located. There is only one library in the country, and recent testing showed that 85 percent of the students who graduate from schools are functionally illiterate. A library and coffee/tea bar would allow her to meet some of the educational needs of the children and adults in the community and also get to know more of the people in her town. She also hopes to create a neutral space for high school and college kids at church to invite their non-Christian friends to hang out, providing an entry point for those who would not normally attend a church event.

Rewards and Challenges

Maureen says one challenge she faces in her work is understanding the honor-shame culture (an operating system for life prominent in Majority World cultures in which people avoid disgrace and seek status in the eyes of the community).

“Where I live, the language does not have a real word for grace,” she says. Perhaps because of that, people do not exhibit a great deal of grace in their lives. They do not give and accept forgiveness, and it is not uncommon for someone to lie to another person to protect their honor or that of a family member or friend. This lack of understanding of grace and forgiveness makes explaining the gospel difficult.

Maureen says one of the most rewarding things about her work has been seeing so many people attend church for the first time.

“Nationals are told things like if they come to church three times, they are automatically Christians,” she says. Naturally, people are reluctant to go, thinking they will have to relinquish their own religion and culture. “To see people I’ve met through an English course or outreach event come to church for the first time is pretty amazing. The relief on their faces is real. One friend told me she loves coming because she feels such peace and joy when she is in the building.”

That makes Maureen’s hard work worth all of the effort!

<a href="https://christianstandard.com/author/lauramckillipwood/" target="_self">Laura Wood</a>

Laura Wood

Laura McKillip Wood, former missionary to Ukraine, now lives in Papillion, Nebraska. She serves as an on-call chaplain at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha. She and her husband, Andrew, have three teenagers.

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