Growing up in a Christian home in Trinidad, Christine Jacob knew that Jesus was the true God, loved Sunday school and could sing all of the Bible songs. A friend had served on and returned from Logos Hope, an OM ship, so she knew about the organisation but didn’t feel that missions (certainly not long-term missions) was on her life radar. But seven and a half years ago, something changed.
“I’d been involved for eight years on the mission team at my church and taking a short-term trip every year,” she recalls. “I would keep going as often as I could, and God kept saying ‘more missions’ to me. It took a while [for me] to figure out that He meant me to leave Trinidad, my job and my family. I said ‘OK,’ but I didn’t know where. I prayed and said: ‘OK, God. I trust You to show me the place You want me to go.’”
After deciding to take a step of faith and attending a missions training week hosted by OM in Trinidad-Tobago, Christine saw God direct her to Albania. “I’d worked in chemical laboratories. What would I do? The leader of the ministry working with the Gypsy-Roma people said: ‘Come and help me work with the Roma people.’” So Christine signed on for a two-year commitment, not expecting anything beyond that.
The team had been working with the Gypsy-Roma people for nine years before Christine arrived. It started with a weekly meeting with about five Gypsy kids to tell them a Bible story and teach them songs, but had grown to biweekly kids’ meetings, a weekly women’s meeting, several house visits and regular visits to the school seven Gypsy children attended.
“House visits are still a big part of our ministry, and those really give the message that we care because we’re not saying: ‘Come to our meeting place.’ We go out to their homes and sit with them, drink coffee, laugh with them, cry with them. This is also a way that we get to meet the men of the family, as we have no ministry for the men.”
Christine’s role with children’s ministries gives her a chance to see young lives changed. At the Christian summer camp they attend (hosted by another organisation), the Roma kids can meet other kids from all over Albania. At the end of the week, they have the opportunity to draw closer to Jesus. “Quite a few of them have accepted Jesus at camp; they come back to the city, and we see the change. We see God at work in them as we continue the ministry.”
“Some of the kids, when I first arrived seven and a half years ago, would put their fingers in their ears when we would sing songs to Jesus,” she remembers. “Now, most of the kids are excited to come; there are very few who come who don’t want to sing or hear about Jesus. It just melts my heart every time to see what God did in those years and what He’s doing in their hearts.”
One practical children’s ministry is a card-making project, teaching the children to make handmade cards to be sold. “Some kids are not academically inclined,” Christine says, “so we’re helping to discover any skills they might have that will help them earn an income that’s not scavenging, begging or relying on others.”
While the strength of those in the programme continues to grow, Christine has a bigger impact in mind. “Now that there is a church plant for the Gypsy-Roma people, I believe that these [people] have been reached, or there is the potential for them to be reached by others. We’ve talked about pioneering a similar work in another location where there is no work among the Gypsy-Roma communities, and now may be the right time. In the beginning, it’s a lot of prayer, digging up hard ground, building relationships. That takes time because we’re foreigners bringing a message they haven’t heard before.”
Over her years in Albania, Christine can look back on her own personal growth. “God has made me wait to see many things, especially the fruits in the ministry… Most times, it’s not your ability, but your availability… It had nothing to do with my 21 years’ work experience; it was just me saying that I would go.”
Long-term missions had not been part of Christine’s life plan, but God has shown her the beauty of His faithfulness. “If God is calling you—if it wasn’t on your radar but you feel that God is calling you—would you be willing to give Him this step/season of your life in obedience? …I was willing to go for this time [2 years], and God said go back. It was in small, clear steps, and I had said yes.”