November 20, 2023

Worth the Cost

Alliance workers share “what makes this a hard place”

compiled by Alliance Life staff

Whether serving in the slums of Africa or the metropolitan cities of Europe, the many international workers you send around the world enter difficult contexts with joy and expectation, sharing the light of Christ with those who are still living in darkness. Recently, we asked them to tell us what makes their place of ministry a hard place. Although they agree that Jesus is worth the cost, the challenges are weighty—even crushing at times. As you read their responses, be mindful of their constant need for our earnest prayers. 

What Makes Your Location a Hard Place?

Our country is not open to anyone who comes to share their faith. For this reason, the only way we can be here is by running a business. But running a business in a developing country is not an easy thing. There is a steep learning curve, and many Western business practices don’t work here. This also brings the hardship of trying to do spiritual ministry while having to also work hard at our business, all while operating in a language and culture not our own. 

—an Alliance international worker (IW) serving in central Asia 

Animistic practices have become deeply intertwined with Christianity, what Paul Heibert calls “Christian Paganism.” 

—an Alliance IW serving in Southeast Asia 

Isolation. As we’re a one-unit team and also geographically far from any other international workers, we feel the isolation more acutely. Getting a residency permit is also difficult. We have constant stress from the uncertainty it causes. The government also changes the policy almost every year, and there’s no clear guideline to follow as we prepare. 

—an Alliance IW serving in central Asia

I have worked in France for the last eight years. France is a hard place because of its emphasis on secular values. There are many atheists in France and many more who are agnostic. There is an underlying belief that the government will take care of them, which leads them to believe they do not need a deity. This belief has been challenged by COVID-19 and other changes. A culture of despair has resulted in violent demonstrations in many areas of France. 

Many French families live isolated lives. It is difficult to bridge this divide but not impossible. This does give us an opportunity to speak to people about our reason for hope in the coming Kingdom of God. 

—an Alliance IW serving in France 

The city where I live is one filled with transient peoples and a difficult history layered with complexity. It’s also a city that has historically collected social outcasts and is filled with people who have experienced pain at the hands of the Church. The city is known as the capital of loneliness and overwhelmingly lacks an understanding of meaningful or consistent relationship. The deep work of chipping away at the strongholds can be difficult, time-consuming, and discouraging when we are seeking to help them imagine that a deeply meaningful, trustworthy relationship is even possible, much less that God longs to restore them to relationship with Him. 

—an Alliance IW serving in Berlin, Germany 

We’re it. We are the only witness for a community of over 600,000 people. Our environment is very modern. We have grocery stores, delicious food, and a reliable infrastructure. Our challenge is the people. The local religion mixed with an oppressive political climate has everyone without hope and on edge. People ask us all the time why we would want to live in such a terrible country. Our children have no choice but to learn the local language—without it they are friendless. So, as a family, we lean into the language, the culture, and the relationships, pushing ourselves to understand the mindset so that we can share the hope we have in a meaningful way. For there is no place too far, too dark, that the love of God cannot reach (see Ps. 139). 

—an Alliance IW serving in Africa 

In the Balkans, believers can often face varying levels of persecution for choosing to follow Christ, but most often it is on a social level which means they could be disowned from their family, lose their job, not be able to find a spouse, or lose their friend group. Although I regularly have opportunities to share the gospel and talk about spiritual topics with local people, they often lack courage to take the step of putting their faith in Christ or even becoming associated with other believers because of what it could mean for them. 

—an Alliance IW serving in the Balkans

The Lord is our strength in hardship. 

What makes the place we serve hard is being separated from our children and grandchildren. We are not there to be with them through challenges or with our grandchildren as they grow. 

—an Alliance IW serving in Southeast Asia 

In our modern, urban, secular, atheistic context, electricity is never cut, and you can safely drink tap water. But masses of people hurry everywhere and nowhere all at once—to work, to school, to hang out—without time to reflect on life or eternity. Some slow down to think openly but are so skeptical that it is difficult to get below surface level topics. The city has been exposed to institutional Christianity, so when you finally get a chance to talk about Jesus, many assume they already know what you’re going to say and have rejected Him. This work of making disciples from scratch is often slow and discouraging. But that’s why we go. The Lord is our strength in hardship, and He prevails in the long haul. 

—an Alliance IW serving in Berlin, Germany 


Paraguay is not hard to reach in the sense of persecution or isolation. People will listen to a gospel presentation; they are usually courteous and not offensive or nasty. What is difficult is breaking down religious barriers, people encrusted in tradition who don’t have a relationship with Jesus and don’t sense a need to seek God because the church here promises them eternal life without a change of heart. Also, they are happy with their lives the way they are. Only a work of God in their hearts through prayer, perseverance in faith, and our continual work to love and challenge them through relationships will bring new life. 

—an Alliance IW serving in Paraguay 

Every day we face spiritual opposition where we serve. There’s a real battle going on for the hearts, bodies, and souls of the people in this place. This country is also extremely physically hard: exposure to extreme weather and terrible air quality, danger of injury, exhaustion, and mental and physical struggles without the security of access to decent health care. It’s lonely and isolated. The work we do is complex and demanding, as well as vital to the development of a network of faith communities. It sometimes feels like we’re making bricks without straw or standing in a downpour without an umbrella. We need the deep engagement and support of your prayers and giving to maintain presence in this place. 

—an Alliance worker serving in Mongolia

  • Uncertainty about visas, work roles, and living situations; 
  • Suspicion/scrutiny, often having government minders around or appearing at random times and places; 
  • Lack of privacy, personal time, and space; 
  • High turnover among expat and local staff leading to weariness as we expend effort in getting to know people, having difficult conversations, adjusting to new coworkers, and developing deep relationships; and 
  • Materialism that impacts both believers and non-believers. Roots don’t go deep, so there is a lack of commitment to service and growth in faith. There is also temptation among many to take shortcuts to make money to improve their standards of living. 

Thanks for bringing these things before the Lord in prayer. 

—an Alliance IW serving in Southeast Asia 

Our context is hard because the needs are so great, and there are so many cultures all living together. It is impossible to learn one language or contextual approach that can be applied across the board in our city. Standard ESL classes or ministry center approaches do not work because the various cultures are unwilling to learn together. Therefore, even though the needs are enormous, we must approach them individually, one by one, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide us to the next person or family in need and to give us what we need to love them well in His name. 

—an Alliance worker serving in Atlanta, Georgia 

My unhealthy and un-Christlike response to the circumstances I am in makes where I am a hard place. I am my own worst enemy, therefore being sanctified is key. 

Satan will always try to take us out of action by messing with our marriage or family. We can live at the gates of hell when we have a strong family united toward a common purpose, but I’m not sure we can even stand to live in heaven if we are living with division, disunity, and strife in the family. 

The third thing that makes this place hard is trying to work with teammates, especially us Westerners who are so individualistic and have such a hard time laying down our rights. 

Overlaying all three of these is the spiritual warfare that Satan tries to use to make our lives so hard that we give up. Facing demon-possessed people, groups who want to kill us, no electricity or running water, and disease is all small in comparison to the spiritual warfare we face. 

—an Alliance IW serving in Southeast Asia 

Diversity is a beautiful thing, but in our region, diversity means division. As we work to build bridges of peace between God and people, and between different people groups, we face many challenges. Crossing barriers between neighborhoods, religious communities, and ethnic groups with the gospel of peace is difficult in our city. 

—an Alliance IW serving in the Middle East 

  • The ongoing marginalization of the Deaf community through the prevalence of an incorrect bias that views Deaf people as less than hearing people; 
  • For most Deaf people around the world there is an absence of Bible translations in their local sign language, which for most is their first and heart language; 
  • Deaf people without a church background are resistant to church due to past mistreatment and stigmatization coming from church people; and 
  • When it comes to mobilizing Deaf believers, churches overlook the uniqueness and giftedness of the Deaf community. 

—an Alliance worker serving in Washington, D.C. 

  • Hearing missile alert sirens once or twice a day; 
  • Enduring missile attacks almost every night around 3:00 a.m.; 
  • Caring for people who are losing or have lost everything; 
  • Listening to stories of death and loss; 
  • Feeling guilty when we experience blessing; and 
  • Knowing we can leave but they can’t. 

The blessings and privilege of serving here outweigh the hardships. God is working in incredible ways through faithful believers. 

—an Alliance IW serving in Europe

The places we serve are hard because: 

  • People are very resistant to the gospel; 
  • There is a lot of turnover among the international workers due to the challenges of living here; 
  • There are many opportunities, but there aren’t enough international workers to meet the needs; and 
  • There are frequent demonstrations due to social unrest that disrupt the work. 

—an Alliance IW serving in Africa 

  • The limited capacity I have to address the injustice and inequality in the lives of the adolescent girls I serve; 
  • Being obedient to the Spirit’s voice and telling a friend “no” when approached to help with a financial need; 
  • Walking through life with people experiencing extreme poverty and feeling overwhelmed to know how to respond in a healthy way to so many in need; and 
  • Witnessing poverty force my friends to put their children into child labor. 

—an Alliance IW serving in Africa 

Many things make this a hard place: the arrival of radical religious sects in our country and region a few years ago, daily news of threats and attacks, 10 percent of the population being displaced, overwhelming needs, etc. Even so, Jesus continues to build His Church! 

—an Alliance IW serving in West Africa 

Even so, Jesus continues to build His Church!


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