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Husband & wife imparting faith in heavily Muslim city in Africa

NORTHERN AFRICA (BP)–Four American women — a missionary named Molly*, a journeyman named Susan* and two volunteers — sit among a dozen or so African prostitutes in a circle of mismatched chairs and a couch. They all listen intently as the Old Testament story of Joseph and Potiphar plays from a cassette. From the hall outside comes the sound of Molly’s toddler, Joshua*, playing with African friends.

In a home across town, Molly’s husband, Mike*, pulls dishes from the cabinet and sets out two pans of lasagna to thaw, getting ready for the evening’s house church. Christopher*, the couple’s 3-year-old, throws a ball outside with a neighbor.

Mike and Molly Turner serve as strategy coordinators in a capital city in Northern Africa, where the overwhelming majority of people follow Islam, while some hail from a cultural Christianity but don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. Evangelical Christians make up a much smaller segment of the populace.

The Turners, who have been missionaries for more than five years, adopted the strategy-coordinator role about a year ago. As strategy coordinators, they do ministry much like a healthy church would, Molly says. They look at the community, assess its needs and look for ways to meet the lost. But they don’t do it alone. They’re building a strong team — joined by other missionaries, African believers, volunteers and even a Southern Baptist church that works with them in the coordinator role.

Unlike many couples in which just the husband or wife is the strategy coordinator, Mike and Molly share the role.

“We didn’t choose to work this way; it’s just who we are,” Mike says. “God has created us to be a team. It’s as natural as it can be.”

Their family team includes their sons, too, who go with their parents as they minister. In a country where family is highly esteemed, the children often open doors for new relationships. But raising children in this country has its challenges. On visits to the market or countryside, Christopher often is spit upon — a blessing to keep evil spirits away from beautiful children. And Joshua has fought off three stomach amoebas, likely received from swallowing bath water.

Mike and Molly don’t fear for their children, though.

“They’re a gift from God,” Molly says. “They’re His. It’s just part of our obedience to bring them here.”

The Turners spend much of their time pouring their lives into others. They have an “open-door policy” at their home. Both Africans and American teammates are welcomed at all times, whether they need prayer, advice or just a home-cooked meal.

They meet weekly as a house church with their teammates — a few journeymen, another career missionary couple and their supervisor and his wife — along with others who happen to be passing through. On this particular night, they have a full house with their team, volunteers from the United States and a few missionary families on their way to other places.

After dinner, Molly takes the children to another room to teach how Jesus called His disciples. In the living room, the adults sing along to CDs of Christian choruses and hymns. They share what’s on their hearts and pray together.

“These are my brothers and my sisters and my mothers and my fathers — a rich family,” their supervisor prays.

Then the journeyman shares the story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Susan doesn’t read the story, though; she tells it from memory. Sharing stories orally helps the missionaries practice for their own ministry, which often involves people who are more accustomed to exchanging information orally rather than through the written word.

Occasionally they invite African friends, such as Matthew*, to join them. Mike and Molly have been discipling Matthew and his wife, Ruth*. Now Matthew leads a new house church twice weekly. Many of the believers in the group are those who have been led to Christ, baptized and discipled. Matthew has started seven other house churches outside the city, with Mike giving him guidance along the way. Though he has asked Mike to visit these groups, Mike refuses.

“I don’t want the white face to be there,” Mike says. “The movement must be self-sustaining. When my family has to go to the next place, the movement needs to be indigenous.”

When Mike and Molly began looking for ways to meet needs and build relationships in the city, education was an obvious answer. With nearly 70 percent unemployment, people are desperate for better education to attain a better life. So the Turners and their team started an education center. For a small fee, members study, use the library and computers, and take classes in reading and writing the local language or learning English. Staff members include missionaries, African believers, cultural Christians and Muslims.

Several individuals have come to Christ through the center, many guided by the gentle honesty of the center’s director, Daniel*, an African believer.

“I show Jesus Christ to students here,” he says. “That’s my main job.”

His wife, Elizabeth*, teaches reading and writing in the local language to some of the same prostitutes who meet weekly with Molly and Susan. The young women hope their learning will allow them to find other jobs. Elizabeth hopes they will find more than new jobs; she hopes to help them find a new life in Jesus.

Mike and Molly’s dream is that in five or 10 years, they will move to another missionary assignment, leaving the work of church planting in their city to people such as Matthew, Ruth, Daniel and Elizabeth. But for now, they’re still sharing the vision and pouring their lives into their teammates and African partners.

“There’s no doubt we’re right where God wants us to be,” Mike says. “That’s a good feeling when you wake up every morning.”
Pray that Mike Turner will:
— have passion for engaging and embracing the region’s lostness.
— be a good model for Africans of a Christian father and husband.
— be a good model of a cross-cultural worker for teammates.
Pray that Molly Turner will:
— have grace and wisdom in parenting.
— be bold in her witness.
— remain rooted in God’s Word.
— Hear, believe and follow God
Pray in the city that:
— people will be saved.
— local believers will have a vision for their city and country.
— more missionaries and volunteers, both African and foreign, will come.
*Names changed for security reasons.

    About the Author

  • Manda Gibson