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‘Our Heart Is to Bring Light and Hope’

‘Our Heart Is to Bring Light and Hope’

After serving in Southeast Asia, Moody alumni couple follows God’s call to share Jesus with Muslims in North Africa

by Jeff Smith

This is the second of a two-part series about William and Anne, Moody Bible Institute graduates who have taken the gospel into closed countries through professional teaching positions at universities. Part one focuses on their ministry in Southeast Asia. Part two explores their current ministry in North Africa. They have been given pseudonyms to protect their identity.

The unexpected end of William and Anne’s work as English teachers in Southeast Asia for leading students to Christ was devastating to the young couple. In many ways they felt their long-held dream of reaching the unreached had been shattered.

But the couple’s sudden departure from a nation they had grown to love hadn’t shaken their commitment to continue evangelizing the world’s least reached people groups. The Moody Bible Institute graduates’ steadfast belief in God’s calling was confirmed when they discovered their sending organization was enlarging its outreach into North Africa, one of the world’s most unreached regions.

“That’s what I always felt the Father wanted us to do,” Anne says.

As a missionary kid (MK) she lived in the Ivory Coast and Senegal and while at Moody served an internship in the Middle East, so she was comfortable working with Muslims in a country where more than 99 percent of citizens are considered Islamic. “They needed guinea pigs of sorts in that region, and that opened the opportunity to us. That whole path made sense to us.”

William and Anne and their now toddler son arrived in their new country in 2015 as the first members of their sending organization to teach in a Muslim-majority nation in the region. Their first assignment was tutoring PhD students.

“Teaching was our professional platform into this country,” Anne says. “Almost all workers here have to have a business to get a visa. We got an education visa.”

Developing a team to serve university campuses

As they learned the Arabic language, adjusted to living in a radically different culture, and helped expand the size of their team to seven members, William and Anne searched for full-time English teaching positions on university campuses. In 2018 a university hired William to teach English, and a year later William and Anne shared a full-time university teaching position.

With the team’s size continuing to grow, William and Anne were eventually appointed country directors for the organization. William teaches full time and Anne handles the team’s day-to-day administrative duties.

“There are now 15 adults on the team,” William says. “This is the most teachers we’ve ever had here. We have 11 teachers, two supporting spouses, and two doing language study. We’re teaching on two university campuses in the country.”

During the COVID pandemic the couple was even able to find a full-time English teaching position for themselves and negotiate two other positions for teammates in another city at a university that had previously resisted hiring foreign teachers.

“Almost every worker coming into this country is having to make their own business, so it’s amazing we have these opportunities with these schools and are able to get permanent visas,” Anne says. “We’re on a five-year visa. The next visa is 10 years.”

Though their English teaching responsibilities give them a foot in the door to discreetly share Christ in the country, William and Anne’s team takes its professorships seriously.

“One thing we emphasize is we’re real teachers. We place a big emphasis on professionalism,” William says.

“We get hired and work on behalf of our company. We have an agreement between the company and the school. The university takes on teachers to teach English classes. Their goal is to create an emergent experience for their students to have an American teacher in the classroom. As teachers we take on a full-time teaching load. We strive to do our jobs with excellence.”

A new audience to reach

In Southeast Asia their evangelistic efforts focused primarily on their students. In North Africa they also share their faith with university colleagues and students’ parents.

“We still seek to reach our students as well, but spiritually it’s harder soil to connect with them here because in this country it’s a different dynamic between the teachers and students,” William says. “Our purposes here are to reach out to coworkers and find avenues to connect with students, whether through extracurricular events or campus clubs, game nights, or Christmas parties.”

The university administration encourages faculty to spend time with their students and operate student clubs outside of the classroom.

“I’m starting a book club in hopes of seeing where that could go,” William says, “and hoping more community can develop because what we’re doing here is a cultivating and seed-planting work.”

Whether seeking pathways for spiritual dialogue with colleagues, parents, or students, the evangelism tool that William, Anne, and their teammates depend on most is prayer.

“So many people here are unreached,” William says. “The gravity of it is overwhelming. We are constantly (praying) about who to be concentrating on in our sharing. Each day has only so many hours. It’s a challenge to balance our time with so many needing to be reached. But we have to remember our Father is the One who has the power.”

Relational evangelism

Since Christian proselytizing, outreach, and churches to nationals are illegal in the country, William, Anne, and the other members of their team use one-on-one conversations to witness to unbelievers. William and Anne look for ways to share Christ with friends, neighbors, and anyone else in their daily sphere of influence.

These discussions can arise in all kinds of situations and from even the most unexpected of topics.

“A friend of mine I work with was reading a French book about Mary. He asked if I wanted it,” William says. “This was an opportunity for me to tell him here’s why that book doesn’t resonate with me. He had read the book and hid it in his office. He didn’t want his wife (a fellow Muslim) to know he was reading this book. It was interesting to me that he would be so uncomfortable walking around with a book about Mary. It was a window into what it would be like for him to make a decision (for Christ) and the consequences of walking around with a book and being ashamed to have that book on him.”

Always be prepared to give an answer

Whether on campus, in a taxi, at a store, or on the phone, William, Anne, and their teammates strive to practice 1 Peter 3:15—

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

William shared a recent example: “A colleague approached me wanting to practice English. As we built a relationship he wanted to talk about the Dead Sea Scrolls. He has an interest in talking about faith.

“There are many opportunities to share the good news with him in a variety of ways. He’ll ask, ‘What is Easter?’ That’s an opportunity to share about our faith. It’s the type of thing where I don’t go in and think this is what I’m going to do. Opportunities come up throughout the day that you just need to be prepared for.”

Visions and dreams

In a Muslim-ruled country where most nationals have never heard the gospel, numerous people have confided in William and Anne about dreams and visions involving Isa, the name given to Jesus in the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book.

When Anne was doing Arabic language study, she asked her language teacher, “Have you had an interesting spiritual dream?”

The teacher said, ‘‘I had a dream where I saw Isa and He was wearing (regional) clothes with a white robe. He had a figure of me He was holding in His right hand. He was saying, ‘I’ve got you. I am protecting you, and I am guiding your way.’’’

“After hearing her describe her dream, I felt like Isa is watching over her life,” Anne says. “Many individuals have shared (Christ) with her. She is teaching at a language center where our team sends people to learn Arabic.”

Wise as serpents, innocent as doves

Because Christian evangelism is illegal in the country, William and Anne and their team have to exercise discernment in when and how they should share biblical truth. One faith-based conversation reported to governmental authorities could lead to deportation for them and their teammates, or worse.

“There’s a really tough balance for us being here in a closed and unreached country,” William says. “We want to keep our jobs and we want to be salt and light. We don’t want to jeopardize the opportunity we have here. That’s hard. We have to be very wise. We also want to be faithful when people do want to talk about faith here.”

Though the countries where William and Anne have shared Christ are hostile to Christianity, witnessing in a Muslim country has provided different challenges than the couple encountered in Southeast Asia.

“What I was first struck with when we moved here was they wanted to convert me (to Islam),” William says. “When we were in Southeast Asia, the government there had wiped out religion. Young people were starting from a clean slate. They had never heard these stories before. We’d say the word ‘Bible’ and they’d say, ‘What’s that?’

“Here it is different because your nationality, family, and everything in your life is closely intertwined with the (Islamic) faith, and it is so hard to separate it out.

"Making that decision (to trust Christ) is dramatic. By doing so you are giving up on (Islam), your culture, your family, your nationality. To be (a national) is to be (Islamic).”

Chipping away at spiritual walls

While William and Anne and their team have planted seeds of the gospel in countless Muslims’ hearts over the last seven years, they have personally seen few conversions to Christ.

“It’s sobering the amount of time and number of (Christians) they need to meet before they typically make a decision,” Anne says. “Usually they need to meet multiple believers and hear the truth so many times over a period of many years.

“One young man who (trusted Christ) here had 10 significant relationships with people who’d shared with him. Many people had shared with him, debated with him, and (prayed for) him.

“When he did make a decision it still felt fragile because of pressure from the culture and his nationality and his connections with friends (to stay in Islam). What it takes to (trust Christ) in a country where most nationals are (Islamic) still took a lot of work.”

‘They don’t believe He is God’

One inroad to sharing biblical truth with Muslims is their admiration for the Bible and for Christ as a prophet in the Qur’an. But while Muslims are open to discussing Jesus and Scripture, one hurdle inevitably looms when witnessing to them.

“They don’t believe He is God or rose from the dead,” Anne says. “Though they are supposed to know and respect Him, they might take issue with (Bible) stories because they’ve been told (by imams) that the stories have been changed. A common response they give us after we share is, ‘That’s great, but we know (the Bible) has been changed.’ We have good answers for people when they put up those walls, but it comes down to the point where logic gets taken out of the conversation.”

Those walls can be stubborn stumbling blocks to overcome.

“It’s difficult for someone here to admit maybe they don’t know something or something they believe may be wrong. On the surface it’d be a betrayal of everything they know,” Anne says. “They feel they’re a representative of (Islam). For them to not know something about their faith is embarrassing. For instance, imams say at the end of the day we all believe in the same god and we’re all going to the same place. Our message gets washed out because they say we’re being intolerant.”

The reality of spiritual warfare

Living in a country where practically every national is Muslim, William and Anne and their son and daughter sense and experience spiritual darkness in a range of ways. The prevailing presence of Islam is perhaps the greatest source of spiritual warfare.

“Islam continues to grow. There are mosques all around the city,” Anne says. “It just feels dark spiritually, especially during Ramadan. My kids and I have bad dreams about Ramadan. It’s an intense time. People are irritable during Ramadan because they are not eating and drinking during the day.”

The spiritual darkness is especially noticeable to William and Anne’s family after they return from a visit to America.

“For us it feels like a slow burn, like a heaviness that doesn’t go away till you leave the country,” William says.

“You don’t feel that same sense of spiritual darkness in the US. My other coworkers have felt the same type of spiritual attack. That’s when you know you need to take a break.”

Anne has also felt spiritually attacked through an unusually high number of health scares and illnesses during her years in the country. “It can be difficult to be effective because of the many health issues that seem to come at strange times,” she says.

Under the watchful eye of the government

The pervasive spiritual darkness also derives from living under the close scrutiny of Muslim authorities perpetually on the lookout for suspected Christian activity. As an example, the local police shut down operations for three teams from another sending organization that were working at a language center.

“The government here is making the decisions about whether to continue issuing visas that allow us to stay,” Anne says. “It’s one of the main reasons why people can’t stay here for a long time. There’s a definite feeling of oppressiveness when you have to go through that process. The police are watching our international fellowship building (the couple’s church for foreign visitors), and there can be interrogations.”

William and Anne’s team has also undergone substantial turnover during its first seven years in the country. Roughly two-thirds of the current team are new workers.

“People coming and going is another way we see spiritual darkness here,” Anne says. “Some leave for health reasons, some because it can be frustrating trying to reach people here and they feel like failures. Others don’t feel they can manage raising a family, schooling their children, or any team drama that can happen. We need workers to come to the field for the harvest and have the perseverance to stick it out to reach more people. (Satan) knows this.”

Raising children in a restricted nation

As earnestly as they take their work, parenting their son and daughter is an even more important responsibility for William and Anne. Both of their kids have accepted Christ as their Savior and are active in the family’s small church for international residents. For education, some of their teammates send their children to public schools where study of the Qur’an is incorporated into the curriculum and teaching is done in Arabic. By contrast, William and Anne enroll their kids in an international school.

“It’s not always easy for them here,” Anne says. “They know why we’re here. Letting them know our purpose for being here is healthy for them. Having them be here at a young age has created comfort to them because they don’t know any differently.”

One ongoing reminder of the family’s purpose for residing in the country is hearing the Muslim public call to prayer. Five times a day a loudspeaker at the local mosque blares this announcement throughout the neighborhood.

“That sound spiritually bothers me as well as our daughter,” Anne says. “She’s been hearing it here her whole life. Especially at that age it’s hard. She has lots of questions.”

‘I see a lack of hope and deep discontentment’

So far William and Anne’s team has seen a modest number of Muslims surrender their lives to Christ—“it’s barely 100 within the city,” William says. But seven years inside the country have dramatically revealed a profound hunger in nationals’ hearts that only the Bread of Life can satisfy.

“When you scratch beneath the surface of the culture here, I see a lack of hope and deep discontentment,” William says. “A lot of students here are dealing with depression.

"Our heart is to bring light and hope that they’ve tried to find elsewhere and have not found in (Islam).

"When you’re in the midst of their culture you can see it more clearly than when you’re looking from the outside.”

In spite of the challenges and trials they face living and ministering in an unreached nation, William and Anne have no plans to abandon the mission God placed on their hearts as teens—and continues to nurture in them today.

“We feel specifically guided to this place and this kind of work,” William says. “I was reading in Hebrews about the good works He had ordained in advance for us to do. He knows how much we can handle. He’s called us to this kind of work, whether it’s fruitful or not. The Father asked us to come to the field when we were very young. I feel privileged to have that story because it’s like a stone for me along the path. I can see Him walking us to that point, and that helps too.”


About the Author

Jeff Smith is creative director of Marketing Communications with Moody Bible Institute. After earning a BA in Journalism from Eastern Illinois University, Jeff worked for 11 years in the newspaper industry as a news reporter, sportswriter, and sports editor before serving for eight years as editorial manager of Marketing and Corporate Communications with Awana Clubs International.