When Jena* became a believer in 1992, she didn’t think that three months later she would be in a Spanish-speaking country on a mission trip sharing the gospel.
Neither would she have imagined that years later, she would leave her home country of the USA, and overseas missions would be her lifelong mission.
After years of going on short-term mission trips while working a comfortable secular job, missions was on Jena’s heart. “I told God that I didn’t want to get comfortable in this nice job with a nice salary that required me to travel the world, which is something I greatly enjoyed. I wanted to do what God wanted me to do,” shared Jena.
Through various open doors and confirmations over the years, Jena and a friend moved to the Arabian Peninsula in 2014. After a few months of focusing on learning the language, Jena moved to a different city and started working as a business teacher. The rigorous class schedule with packed classrooms left Jena no time to visit local friends and build relationships. “This first job was very disorganised, and a lot of the foreign teachers were dissatisfied with it. It was a draining experience, especially since I was working for six hours a day and teaching two hundred children who all wanted me to remember their names,” Jena explained. Realising she needed a change, Jena switched to teaching part-time, which gave her the capacity to be intentional in her friendships.
In 2017, Jena attended a prayer weekend in a small conservative town with other foreign believers. “It was an amazing experience to pray and worship with them in that small town, and I just felt like I could live in a city like that,” Jena reflected. Back in 2014, Jena had visited the same town with her language tutor at the time. “My tutor is from this small town, and when we came to visit her, I couldn’t imagine living there as a single foreign woman. I thought it was too conservative, all the women covered their faces, and I didn’t, so the children would stare at me a lot,” Jena remembered.
Jena brought up the idea of living in the small town with her team leaders. Though they were hesitant in the beginning, they supported her and another single lady’s decision to make the move. Jena’s search for a job started off rocky as her first two job offers fell through suddenly, leaving Jena and her friend worried and confused each time. Continuing their search, Jena landed what felt like the perfect job as a conversational English teacher for six or seven students. “I was allowed to talk about whatever I wanted because there wasn’t a strict curriculum. I felt the Lord’s favour on this job because the students loved me and enjoyed coming to class. It was all beautiful for two months...and then COVID-19 came,” Jena recalled.
Losing that job due to COVID-19 restrictions led Jena to begin privately tutoring students in their homes. “I ended up loving it because it gave me so much flexibility to visit them at their home. When the institute called me back for my job, I didn’t accept it because I felt God wanted me to continue doing ministry this way,” Jena shared.
Tutoring students in their homes has opened many doors for Jena to share the love of Christ with her students and their families. “I frequently pray for the peace of God to fill their home, and I’ve had many opportunities to share," Jena explained. "So many of my students have expressed the difference they see in me, and I think they know it’s the love of Christ.” Being a teacher gives Jena a clear and acceptable identity in the community which increases her credibility and helps to build trust in a very low-trust community.
Being able to connect with students in their homes and educational institutions over the years has allowed Jena to build strong bonds and friendships. “It has opened doors to share life and faith with locals. I’ve walked alongside so many friends at funerals, weddings, the births of babies and vacation trips, which then gives me so many opportunities to share truth with them,” she said.
One of Jena’s closest local friends, Ruba* enjoys learning about history in her free time. One day, Jena invited Ruba and her friends to watch a movie about Martin Luther. “I thought this movie about how the Catholic Church first split would be interesting for them because it's very historical,” explained Jena. The group enjoyed the movie, and Jena was surprised that what stood out to Ruba and her friends was Martin Luther’s stance on the authority of the Bible and giving high value to its words. Jena then invited the women to an Easter event where they heard the whole resurrection story. “At this point, they are not believers, but we feel that they are coming slowly, but it’s a spiritual war happening to keep them where they are,” Jena said.
Going into business with another local friend is another idea Jena had as a way to reach more local women. “I have ideas of starting maybe a language school, a daycare for working mothers or a restaurant, but I don’t feel particularly called to do these things by myself. I think it’s more like wanting God would put that desire on someone’s heart, and I would support them in intentionally starting it,” shared Jena.
Jena and her team continue to meet with locals, build relationships, share their lives and pray that in doing so, their local friends will see Jesus through them. Pray for God to bring people to the team who are ready to learn about Jesus. Pray for isolated believers in the Arabian Peninsula to find trusted communities of believers to fellowship with. Pray for new believers to be rooted in the Word and not overcome by a spirit of fear which is a stronghold in this region.