SBC Life Articles

Right Where God Wants Us

Burning incense makes the air sweet and hazy. 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 three-year-old, throws a ball outside with a neighbor.

Mike and Molly Turner serve as strategy coordinators for a capital city in Northern Africa. They're still working to determine the religious make-up of the city, but they know the overwhelming majority either follow Islam or are cultural Christians, people who follow a kind of Christianity but don't have a personal relationship with Jesus. Evangelical Christians make up a much smaller segment of people.

Though they've been missionaries for more than five years, the Turners 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, look for ways to meet the lost, and then do those things. But they don't do it alone. They're building a strong team — made up of other missionaries, African believers, volunteers, and even a Southern Baptist church that works with them in the coordinator role.

Unlike many couples where 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, too. 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 for 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 learn 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 comfortable 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 that 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 on obvious answer. With close to 70 percent unemployment, people are desperate for better education. 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 includes 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 ten 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."

* Names changed for security reasons.



Partners at the Strategy Table

In 1999, members of a small Houston, Texas, church visited Mike and Molly Turner's city — long before the Turners had arrived in Africa.

They began partnering with Southern Baptist missionaries in the city — but soon those missionaries moved elsewhere. The church stayed, though, and began looking for and meeting needs. On volunteer trips, they taught English, hygiene, and AIDS awareness classes.

When Mike and Molly became strategy coordinators for the city, the Houston church partnered with them. In fact, the Turners consider the church their co-strategy coordinator.

As many as half this small church's members have visited the city. The congregation prays and fasts for the city, missionaries, and volunteers they send. The church's vision statement even includes reaching the city.

Small churches often are valuable partners for strategy coordinators.

To learn how your church can begin a significant partnership with a strategy coordinator, e-mail [email protected] or call (800) 999-3113.

    About the Author

  • Manda Gibson