Originally from the USA, Rachel and Jacob have been living in a small town in North Africa for the past two years sharing the love of Christ with those they encounter. When they first arrived, the couple had few contacts and little knowledge of day-to-day life in North Africa. “I think we’ve really appreciated the experience of not knowing anything and learning from all the people around us in our community,” said Jacob.
To start building relationships, Jacob explained: “It boils down to necessity. We need a place to live. We need food to eat. We need all those day-to-day necessities. [Those needs] force you to go and find them. Like, where is the food?” Attracted to the foreigners, people naturally approached Jacob and Rachel to practice speaking English. The couple, in turn, asked “tons of questions” and started new friendships.
Their genuine interest in people and the town where they live naturally leads into conversations about who they are and what they believe. “I have rarely had to introduce the subject of religion or God, that will always come almost naturally, very seamlessly,” said Jacob.
“One of our prayers was—and is––: ‘Lord, lead us to people that You’re already working in. Align our path with others that You’re drawing, that You want us connected to,’” Rachel said. Soon, the couple found themselves running into the same people repeatedly, regardless of where they were. “So we just thought: well, they must be an answer to our prayer and so we will keep pursuing those people,” shrugged Rachel. From their real estate agent to Airbnb host to tailor, Jacob and Rachel have enjoyed seeing who God is working in. “At this point,” Rachel chuckled, “I can barely keep up, like stay in contact all the time with the friends that I have.”
The couple is also connecting with local Jesus followers, though they have found few. Rachel was connected to a new believer through friends of a friend. Introduced to Christ through visiting tourists at the hotel she worked at, the young woman gave her life to God unbeknownst to her family. The woman often feels isolated and alone in her new faith, so Rachel has been working to encourage her through text messages, meetings, and the gift of a full Bible in English.
Moving to a new place is not without its challenges. Away from their family, friends and what they were used to, the couple had to learn a new way of life and language in a predominately Islamic culture. After Rachel shared her struggles with a friend one day, the friend said: “You know, maybe what God wants to do here is so special, and He is just showing you that it’s going to be all Him and nothing of you.”
“That was really precious and comforting to me to think: wow, what does He want to do here? He just wants my complete dependence on Him. In my absolute weakness, knowing that I don’t bring anything here. I’m here. He is in me. And it’s going to be His power working through this vessel,” Rachel shared.
Rachel grew up knowing Christ. At five years old after reading with her mother from a Bible storybook, Rachel committed her life to God. “I knew enough at five that I was a sinner and I needed a Saviour,” she said. “I like to say that Jesus pursued me, from the time I was conceived… I can just see where He has intervened, time and time again, to reveal Himself.”
After graduating high school, Rachel attended a Christian college where her relationship with the Lord deepened and she met her future husband, Jacob, through drama club.
Jacob also grew up in a Christian family. “I think I was always aware of the gospel and memories of my father; before he went to bed at night, he would be reading the Bible in his bed, so there was just always a presence of the gospel and following Jesus,” Jacob said. At the age of nine, Jacob was at a church revival when he was “overwhelmed by the gospel” and become aware he needed a Saviour. “I just knew I needed Jesus,” he remembered years later.
After getting married, Jacob started a landscaping business, which steadily grew. The couple had three children and enjoyed participating in their local church while seeking God’s guidance over their lives. Jacob prayed on multiple occasions: “Lord, if there’s anything else that you have for me to do, if there’s something I’m supposed to be doing that I’m not doing now, tell me. Let me know.”
A few years later, a visiting missionary shared about the need for people to help at a Christian school in Kenya. As Jacob listened, he felt a sense of peace that Africa was in the Lord’s plan for his family. Driving out of the church parking lot he turned to Rachel and asked: “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” She replied: “I’m ready to go to Africa.”
For the next 16 years, the family lived in Kenya at the school and served in a variety of roles such as groundskeeper, administrator, teacher and as dorm parents. During that time, they learnt more about North Africa and the need of the gospel to be shared across the region. “We had heard of someone who had visited Libya… and mentioned that at the time, they knew of maybe 10 believers in a country of what—six million? And that just floored me, I’m like: ‘How do we hear about a need like that and not respond?’ And so our hearts were really stirred for the least reached, the unreached places, and we really sensed that God was leading us in that.”
Jacob and Rachel returned to the USA mid-2020 to visit family and ended up staying longer than planned due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. They are spending this time in the States with their adult children and grandchildren and planning for future ministry. Despite being physically away from their friends in North Africa, the couple has remained in contact with them and continue to encourage each one.
Published: Wednesday, 13 January 2021
Credit: Rebecca Rempel