August 14, 2023

Community Center Thriving

Through your faithful giving, gospel presence is expanding in hard places.

Thanks to the generosity of U.S. Alliance people, a community center is having a meaningful, impactful presence among lost and overlooked people in a Middle Eastern city. The brainchild of a vision team, it started in 2008 with a building funded by an Alliance church in the United States. “It is the only English-teaching school in our city with native English speakers as teachers,” said Jay*, who manages the center with his wife, Jean*. “Our classes are usually full, and sometimes we even have waiting lists. Most want to learn English from Americans because they like the accent; it’s what they see in the movies.” In a country where English proficiency is highly desirable, the center meets a significant need while providing a safe and inviting place to learn, make friends, and have spiritual conversations. One student at the center said, “In the future, I think learning English will be a key for opening many doors for us.” Another shared that learning English was the hope of his dreams. “That’s how important English is to them,” said Jay. According to British Study Centers, “English is the language of science, aviation, computers, diplomacy, and tourism. Knowing English increases your chances of getting a good job in a multinational company within your home country or of finding work abroad.”

Initially, the center accepted all applicants, and it would be standing room only. Classes now average 12−15 students per level, with six levels, twice per week. The center also hosts a weekly conversational coffee shop for students to practice their English, which is open to anyone in the city who wants to come.

“Our estimate is that only one out of every 10,000 people in the city is a believer,” Jay said. Most students follow the Middle East’s majority religion. Jean added, “Although we are not a Christian school, a surprising number of students sense something different as soon as they walk in the door, even the first night they register. Although they’ve never stepped foot in the building before, some say, ‘There is a different feeling in this building.’ And that’s the first open door.” Another one is the perception among the students that all Americans are Christians. “They expect that we’re Christians, so that will naturally lead them to ask questions. This leads to natural conversations, and they have no problem talking about religion, unlike many people in the United States.” A major challenge is that most of the students blindly follow their own religion without question; whatever they’re told, they believe. 

Thankfully, there are exceptions. When six women started inquiring about Jean’s faith, she asked if they wanted to study from the Bible; each said yes. Thus began a journey that led two of them to Christ. Since the center’s inception, about 35 people have put their trust in Christ through their relationship with it; there are numerous others who have had seeds planted in their hearts as well. Because the center is affiliated with an international church, it is natural for Jay and Jean to invite students who wish to learn more English to attend services, which are all in English. “There’s no commitment, and they can just sit and listen,” said Jay. “So, they come.”

One student, Felicia, approached Jean one day looking distressed. “Would you be willing to teach me from your holy book?” she asked. “I have to believe there’s something more than my religion has to offer.” She was especially disillusioned with its treatment of women.

Jean said, “This is someone who had never touched a Bible, did not know what sin is, did not know anything. So, we started in Genesis.” At one point, Felicia told Jean, “All our chats on the phone, the Bible app. . . if the police find them when I cross the border to see my family, I’m going to be arrested. And if I’m arrested, at a minimum, they’re going to hurt me, but I could be killed. And my concern is, if I’m put in prison, I don’t know the rest of the story. . . the part about Jesus. What’s the rest of this story? And how can I hear if I’m in prison?” That night, Jean shared the truth about Jesus and prayed for Felicia. She made it safely across the border; when she returned, she surrendered her life to Christ. Like other believers in this region, she lives with great fear because of the risks of following Jesus. Jay said, “One of our believing friends was beaten by coworkers and ended up hospitalized. His family threatened to kill him, so he had to leave the country.”

Currently, Jean and Jay are on home assignment. Their prayer is that while they are gone, Christ will go before them to remove the veil from their students’ eyes so they will understand the truth of the gospel. “Until He removes that veil, they will remain lost. We are grateful for Alliance people who have enabled us to see, up-close and personal, what God is doing in a very difficult spot.”

*Names changed