By Laura McKillip Wood
When Jennifer and Andy met in Bible college, they had no idea what their future might hold. They did know they had both independently decided that God was calling them to cross-cultural ministry. They also knew they enjoyed each other’s company and, despite Andy’s vow not to date during his freshman year, they kept finding themselves spending time together. They worked in ministry and went on walks, and during their sophomore year they officially began dating and eventually married.
Grow Where You’re Planted
Jennifer grew up as a missionary kid, so she knew firsthand some of the challenges living cross-culturally presented. Through the guidance of their mentors, they moved to Russia after graduating from college. They spent two years studying Russian and then moved south to a predominantly Muslim area. Andy worked as an English teacher. Together they mentored young couples at the church. Since they already had two children, Jennifer was heavily involved in a MOPS group.
They settled in their ministry in Russia and expected to stay long-term when Andy was hiking one day with two other expats and slipped off a cliff. He fell four to five stories and landed on the rocks below. He spent five days in a local hospital before being evacuated to Istanbul, leaving Jennifer to pack up the children and make her way there. They stayed in Istanbul for three months, during which Andy had multiple surgeries to repair injuries to his face, wrist, and ankle. They returned to Russia when he was well enough, a decision which deepened their relationships with the people in the church.
After traveling back to Istanbul for yet another surgery, Andy was detained and sent back to Turkey. Their visas were revoked and Jennifer was given two weeks to pack up their children and their life and meet him in Istanbul.
“People ask us what our five-year plan is,” Jennifer says. “Well, my five-year plan was to stay in Russia. I didn’t know we’d be leaving when we did!” Andy’s accident and their exit from Russia left them wondering just what God was doing and where he wanted them.
They returned to the United States for a much-needed furlough. There they heard about an opportunity in a closed country. This country doesn’t allow Christian workers, so they can’t publicly talk about where they live. This also means that Andy works full-time as the director of an English school, fulfilling the requirements of his work visa.
When they first heard about the opportunity, they were unsure whether they were qualified for the part of the job that required them to lead a team and empower and mentor other teammates, something they’d never done. They decided that God was urging them to pursue this option, despite their lack of leadership experience, and they soon discovered that they loved their new roles!
Life isn’t easy, with a very different standard of living and different expectations on women and men in society. They have a nice house by village standards, but Jennifer’s life is very different from what it would be if she lived in the West. She works at home, plants a garden, cooks, cares for the children, learns the local language, and homeschools their two oldest children part time. She has made friends with some of the women in her village and has learned a great deal about their lives and culture by interacting in everyday life.
Ministry isn’t easy either. Andy’s job as director of the English school gives him many opportunities to touch the lives of those around them in ways he could not do otherwise. “He is in contact with many nationals every day,” Jennifer says. “What better way to reach our neighbors and the people in our village?”
Since they cannot hold public Bible studies or worship services, they hold low-key Bible studies in their home and work to build relationships with neighbors, coworkers, and students. They know that they are seeing fruit from the labor that others began before them, and the seeds they have planted may not mature until after they leave.
No matter what, though, they trust that, just as God saw them through the difficult times during Andy’s injury and recovery, he will guide them and use them in their current situation.
If you are interested in knowing more about their work, please contact Laura McKillip Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org. She will put you in touch with them.
Laura McKillip Wood formerly taught missionary children in Ukraine and now works as registrar of Nebraska Christian College. She and her husband, Andrew, have three children (lauramckillipwood.com).