High Risk, Higher Reward
Moody alumni couple courageously shares the gospel in two of the world’s most closed countries
by Jeff Smith
This is the first 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.
Anne was a 17-year-old missionary kid in the West African nation of Senegal when she sensed God directing her to take the gospel to North Africa, considered one of the most unreached regions in the world.
That same year, William was attending a Bible school in New Zealand when a guest speaker challenged the teen to serve as a missionary in a country closed to Christianity.
Knowing the risks involved in such potentially dangerous missions, William and Anne each took a step of faith and followed God’s lead to Moody Bible Institute. For the next three years, they poured their hearts into learning how to introduce the least reached people groups to Jesus Christ.
Then, as seniors at Moody, their lives collided when they met in a class studying the book of Romans. As they got to know each other, William and Anne discovered they shared a deeply held conviction for reaching the seemingly unreachable with the hope of Christ. Once separated by 10,000 miles, the couple was now united in love and purpose.
“There are no coincidences with God,” William says.
In less than three years, William and Anne graduated from Moody, married, trained for their ministry assignments, and headed first to Southeast Asia and later to North Africa. Over the last 13 years, they have leaned heavily on God’s provision, wisdom, and protection while finding ways to proclaim Christ in two countries hostile to the Christian faith.
Shining light in a spiritually dark city
William graduated from Moody with a BA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and Anne earned a BA in Linguistics. After getting married a year later in 2008, William and Anne were hired and trained by a missions organization as English teachers at a university in Southeast Asia. William was already familiar with the region. He taught English there for a year after graduation while Anne was an instructor at an MK academy in Senegal.
The university had hired William and Anne through an organization that partners with foreign governments to recruit, train, and send qualified candidates from outside the country to teach in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
“Having foreign teachers was a big deal for the university, especially in a town that didn’t attract a lot of foreigners,” William says.
William and Anne’s teaching positions afforded them the opportunity to build relationships on and off campus, opening doors to engage colleagues, students, and friends about the Christian faith.
William and Anne spent four years teaching English and living in Southeast Asia. Because its government declared the country an official secular state over three decades earlier, it is one of the least reached countries in the world. When William and Anne arrived in 2010, few of the residents in the city followed Christ. Even today, 86 percent of nationals are considered irreligious.
“Very few foreigners lived there. It was a spiritually dark city,” William says.
Building on a foundation of trust
While in Southeast Asia, William and Anne earned their MA in TESOL, taking a mix of online courses and in-person classes through their sending organization. One class, Teaching English as a Foreign Language, was taught by Dr. John Smith. Dr. Smith had taught English at the same university with William and Anne’s sending organization.
“Our team had been the first (TESOL missions) team there,” Dr. Smith says. “Things were tightly controlled when our team was in the city. Our phone was bugged. There were teachers sitting in our classrooms that told the university administration everything we said and did and followed us around campus. We focused on prayer, building relationships, developing credibility on campus by the quality of our work, and praying for God’s work in the hearts of students and faculty.”
William and Anne were arriving in Southeast Asia “at a point where credibility had been established and God had laid a solid spiritual foundation of trust in the school and city,” Dr. Smith says.
“God has a plan for that city and university, and He will do the job of plowing the fields and preparing the harvest.”
Reaching students through a unique English club
Two years after William and Anne’s teaching assignment began, as she was grading papers Anne noticed the email address for one of her students ended with the suffix @loveforgod.com. She learned that this student was a member of an underground group of Christian students. This spurred an idea: starting an off-campus club that would teach English to students using stories from the Bible.
For the club’s curriculum, William and Anne selected a book titled English in Action. It was written by Wally Cirafesi, a long-time TESOL professor who retired from Moody in 2015.
“Each Bible story in the book had 12 sentences that you could act out,” Anne says. “The book took students from creation to various parables, and a young leader in an (underground church) would interpret the stories for us. We weren’t yet fluent in the country’s language.”
Over the next three years the club led dozens of students to faith in Christ. At a Christmas musical hosted by a local underground church, club members were invited to be part of the choir, and 13 of them went forward to accept Christ for salvation. Soon the club was discipling new believers and plugging them into the underground church.
Surprising end to their ministry
As William and Anne responded to increasing opportunities to share the gospel with an ever-widening circle of students, the government promptly shut down their club in 2014. Some fringe members of the club alerted the university administration to the club’s Bible-based teaching. School leaders investigated, grilling student members about the club’s activities.
Eventually the local police called William and Anne in for questioning. After hours of interrogation, the authorities determined the club was operating illegally and made it clear that William and Anne would be prohibited from connecting with students outside of the classroom. At the end of the semester the couple and their infant son left the country and returned to the US.
Having once served as an English teacher in the same region, Dr. Smith says the abrupt end of their ministry in Southeast Asia is an example of spiritual warfare that is common in least reached countries.
“Satan is not going to be pleased at all that there are Christians in his territory,” Dr. Smith says. “Anything he can do to undercut your ministry he will do.”
Although their sudden departure from Southeast Asia was disheartening, William and Anne soon received encouraging news.
“We learned that some of the students from the club began reaching people groups who don’t (know Christ) yet,” William says.
“In many ways it’s a mystery as to what has happened to some of the kids since we left. We heard another story that a student we had worked with in the club was attending an (underground church) and was now married, had kids, and regularly attending the (underground church) with her family. She was one of my students.”
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.