“God has not called me into missions, and he never will!” Jennifer Rowland confidently stated to a friend who wondered why she had never participated in the annual mission trip the church singles group took to Mexico.
It was around the turn of the millennium, and her Las Vegas congregation, Central Christian Church, had a thriving outreach ministry, with many opportunities to do cross-cultural work, but Jennifer saw herself as an elementary schoolteacher, not a missionary. Over time, though, her relationship with God deepened.
She moved from Las Vegas to South Carolina in 2004 and continued her teaching career, but before she knew it, she was taking a big step of faith: she committed to a short-term mission trip. She felt terrified. Where would she get the funds? Would she really be able to do this? When she poured out her concerns to God, she felt the Holy Spirit reassuring her that he would take care of her, so she followed through with her plans. Over the next three years, Jennifer went on three more similar trips, and by the end of that time, she felt a burden to make a career change to become a long-term missionary.
Jennifer eventually chose to work with United World Mission (UWM), thinking she would go to London, where she had been on several short-term trips already. However, UWM told her they needed workers in Belgium, where only 1 percent of the population are born-again believers. She has worked there since 2016 and now realizes she is exactly where God wanted her.
As outreach director with LifePoint Brussels, she coordinates outreach activities and events in the community. LifePoint is a bilingual church whose members speak French and English. One of their ministries is an English-language learning program called Café Anglais. People sign up through MeetUp to join a one-hour session where they read current event articles created for second-language learners. They then discuss both the topic and the grammar. The sessions take place at the church, which meets on one floor of a business building. This offers the opportunity for unbelievers to attend the group sponsored by the church without the stigma of a church building, since Belgian people often do not want to go to a traditional church.
When the students attending Café Anglais learn they are in a church, they often become curious. The church is unlike any they have been to before. The group leaders assure members they can visit the church services, and since services are bilingual and provide an opportunity for practicing English, the members sometimes decide to attend. Jennifer also offers to meet with students at a café, and those meetings sometimes lead to sharing the gospel.
Ivan immigrated to Belgium from Romania. Since most jobs require a person to speak English, he began attending the group meetings to improve his language skills. His wife urged him to attend as often as possible, and his language skills improved so much that he soon got a job working in customer service. He also grew curious about the church, and now he and his wife and daughter all attend services.
Jennifer celebrates stories like Ivan’s, but she also celebrates “small” stories as well. She loves it when she sees interest in a person’s eyes as she shares the gospel with them. She appreciates the diversity in the Brussels community as well.
“Due to this wonderful church, I’ve been able to share the gospel with people from literally all around the world,” Jennifer says. She explained that Europeans of all stripes live in Brussels since the main headquarters for the European Union is located there. NATO also is headquartered there, and it draws people from all over the world. Not only that, but thousands of refugees from the Middle East have come to Brussels.
“I’ve shared Jesus with Muslims, fallen-away believers, and straight-up atheists,” she says.
Living in a country with three official languages—Flemish, French, and German—is challenging for Jennifer.
“I’m still not fluent in French. Because Brussels is so international, English has become the unofficial fourth language. Not being fluent makes it difficult to share the gospel sometimes,” she admits.
Daily life can be tiring, as well, living in a culture not quite her own. She heard it described this way: “As a missionary, you are a square going to a circle country. As you are in this circle country, your corners get rounded off a bit, but you will never be a complete circle. When you visit your home country, you are no longer a complete square. It changes you in many small ways.”
These changes remind her that she is not a native in the culture she has chosen but is doing the work God has planned for her.
She also faces challenges related to support-raising. She always must wait to see how God will provide for her financially, which sometimes makes it hard to focus on the tasks at hand. Through the challenges, though, she knows God is providing for her, and he is with her in her host culture.
Jennifer sometimes marvels at how far God has brought her and how he has worked in her life. She has faced challenges, but he has carried her through.
“I’m just a regular person with a heart for God, but I’ve seen that when you truly are willing to say to him, ‘not my will but yours be done,’ it is an amazing ride!”