“It’s fantastic (because) I feel like I’ve found my people,” Jenny says smiling as she begins describing the eclectic group God has brought into her life since moving to the Middle East.
There’s an 18-year-old young woman learning English and her mom who speaks not a word of it. Her Arabic tutor and husband have become good friends, as well as a North American couple in their 60s she met at an international church – just to name a few.
The languages, ages, and nationalities vary, but that’s the beauty of it! It’s a tiny glimpse of the beautiful diversity of God’s world coming together in the form of community.
This is what Jenny and her husband Williams prayed for when they took a step of faith and moved to the region for a job opportunity. But picking up a life and family to start over in a new country wasn’t easy - particularly when it came to finding “her people.”
“We realized why community means so much to us,” Jenny shares. “It’s because we lost everything coming to Christ.”
Both Jenny and Williams lost family and friends when they chose to follow Jesus, so their church community became their family. “Because you don’t have anyone else,” Jenny shares.
So, when Williams accepted a job in the Middle East, they assumed they would seamlessly step into the existing believer community. And the first few weeks, those early contacts proved very helpful: offering rides to the store and tips about where to go and how to navigate their new city.
“But it didn’t go beyond that first week,” Jenny remembers. “So, that was very hard.”
They wanted to connect with local neighbors and build new friendships, but between their lack of Arabic language and being so new to the culture, they just didn’t know how.
“We really came to a place where we were very lonely. I mean very, very lonely,” Jenny remembers. They needed to find their people; this isolated life could not continue.
“Willams and I are very sociable – we love people; we love connecting,” says Jenny. So, they approached community with a ‘yes’ mentality as they began looking for connection wherever they went.
And as it turns out, community is everywhere!
Early on, they found a few international churches in the city. As they showed up and made themselves available, they began making friends and these friends opened more doors.
“There was this lady's prayer group that I went to, and this lady felt that I should meet another couple, and then this other couple,” says Jenny. “His wife introduced me to one or two of the local ladies she knew in the community.”
Eventually, Jenny found herself sitting on the floor of a local woman’s home and having tea. “(I) didn’t understand anything they were talking about, obviously, but that’s ok,” Jenny says. “From this, this beautiful ladies' opportunity started (where) I’ve been teaching creative English.”
“We ask questions. We listen,” explains Jenny when asked how she connects across language barriers and such vastly different cultures. And even with differing levels of English comprehension, the ladies in her class are opening up.
“The conversations taking place, it’s deep conversations, you know? Just working through the layers in life,” she says.
One day, Jenny noticed that one of the ladies in class seemed a bit off.
“I could see that something was wrong. She was a bit quieter, a bit more withdrawn. And so I spoke to her and she just burst out in tears,” Jenny shares.
From small business help to marriage advice, Jenny has become a safe place to unpack all sorts of real-life challenges facing many of the women in her class. And for some, Jenny has earned real trust and developed genuine friendships.
In fact, she’s going to start reading through the Bible with two ladies she’s come to know from that same English class.
Despite the challenges, Jenny has also been very intentional about helping other Jesus followers in her city become more intentional about building community and planting roots in the local culture.
“When we started (the English class), I had no team, no one helping. But now, I’ve got two ladies. One is from an international church we’ve connected with,” says Jenny. “She’s been here for I don’t know how many years and she’s got Muslim friends, but she’s never thought about reaching out to them.”
Thanks to Jenny’s friendship and her involvement with the English classes, this woman now realizes that she too can have a kingdom impact both practically and spiritually in the lives of local, Muslim women.
“This (past) Wednesday, she said to me, ‘I’ve never felt so much purpose in my life!” Jenny shares.
Are you in a season searching for community? Just like Jenny, you too can have a kingdom impact in the lives of those around you. Ask God what small step you can take to impact the people in your city.
After all, community is everywhere - you just have to look!
Read more of Williams and Jenny’s story as they unpack their journey to working and building a life in the Middle East:
Written by Kristin Boyd