I will never forget meeting Rachel.*
As my husband and I walked into the church for the first time, her appearance was unforgettable. She was a short-statured, stocky figure, wearing mismatched floral patterns and showing a few gold teeth in her warm smile. She had deep wrinkles on her hands and face from the hard gypsy life she had led. Her demeanor was also unforgettable — a bit brash, highly opinionated and quick to point out injustices. Or she might comment on one’s inadequate attire if she thought you weren’t wearing enough to protect yourself from the cold weather.
Rachel spoke the language of the immigrant people group that my husband and I are in Europe to reach. Though her heavy dialect made it difficult to understand her, we understood this: Rachel loved Jesus.
We began attending a small fellowship of believers to encourage them and to learn from them. They all shared a common language and a common faith, but beyond that, they were as diverse as the colors of the rainbow. They came from different cultural, socioeconomic, educational and familial backgrounds.
At first, the group was led by a pastor from Rachel’s home country. Unfortunately, this man turned out to be a person lacking in integrity. Soon after we met this group of believers, they found themselves without a pastor. Although we are not native speakers of their language and far from experts on their culture, the group tried to convince my husband and me to become their pastors. We were humbled that they asked us to lead them, but we declined, believing that it would be more beneficial to them and their own spiritual growth if they could learn to lead themselves.
In the absence of a pastor, our group decided to meet in the church building lobby instead of the sanctuary. We pulled couches and chairs around a coffee table, served up tea and snacks each Sunday and started coaching the believers in methods of Discovery Bible Study (DBS). This was much more contextual for these Eastern followers of Jesus than sitting in rows in the sanctuary. Also, in this culture, it is impossible to meet together without food and tea. After demonstrating the basics of DBS for a few Sundays, we encouraged others in the group to take turns leading the discussion. They started to get the hang of DBS, and we began a study of the parables of Jesus.
It was within this context that Rachel expressed an interest in getting baptized. We were delighted she wanted to take this important step of faith. But to be honest, because of Rachel’s often harsh demeanor, my husband and I had some doubts about the sincerity of her faith. Nevertheless, a small group of us began to meet with Rachel outside of Sunday meetings time to walk her through a series of baptism lessons. Our time together was always accompanied by fellowship, a table full of food and endless cups of tea. During one of the lessons, a fellow believer, Hannah,* asked Rachel why she wanted to get baptized. Rachel’s answer was so pure it caught us all off guard and cut through her often-tough exterior. “Jesus,” said Rachel. “Because I love Jesus.”
It brings us great joy to report that a few months later, on a warm and sunny, summer day, Rachel was baptized in the arm of a local river. She invited as many friends as she could, many of them not yet believers. She professed her faith in Jesus on the banks of the river, and I watched with pride as my husband and another brother in Christ baptized her. We celebrated Rachel’s baptism with a picnic feast and, of course, tea.
Isn’t it amazing how faith transcends culture? The message of the gospel is available for all languages and cultures. Even a short-statured, gold-toothed, Muslim-background, dialect-speaking gypsy lady living in Europe can worship our Lord.
All because she loves Jesus.
*Names changed for security purposes.
Written by a Global Partners missionary. Name withheld for security purposes.