In 2006, Ivana (not her real name) and her husband moved with their five children from Germany to Canada, where they soon welcomed their sixth child. It was a big move for a big family. Little did they know, eight years later, God would be preparing them for another international move.
One year after arriving in Canada, a missionary visited their church and told them this story:
A woman put her hand on a world map and asked God to show her a town she should pray for. She was led to pray for a town in Iran. After praying for that town for thirty years, an Iranian pastor came to her church. He testified to the great things God had been doing in his town in Iran. After his report, she walked up to him and asked him the name of his town. Because it was very small and didn’t appear on most maps, he didn’t think she would recognize the name. She insisted to know it. When he finally told her the name, she said, “Thirty years ago, I started praying for this town.” He replied, “Thirty years ago, I became the town’s first follower of Jesus!”
Ivana remembers well the challenge that the visiting missionary gave after sharing this story: “He told us, ‘Go home and ask God which town you should pray for.’ Then he added, ‘and maybe someday you will even go there.’”
The next morning, Ivana was lying in bed, and she heard God’s voice: “Your town is Zara.”
“Right away, I thought of our daughter’s name, Sarah” said Ivana, “which, in German, we pronounced the same way. But God said, ‘No, your town starts with a Z and doesn’t end with an H.”
After finding it on the map in Central Asia, Ivana started praying for Zara. “There were times when I forgot about it,” she said, “and then again times when God put it heavy on my heart. As predicted, the desire grew in me to visit the town and to find out what God was doing there.”
Several years later, Ivana and her husband were talking about taking a trip for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. “As my husband was praying and asking God where we should go,” said Ivana, “God drew his attention to Zara.”
On their anniversary trip, the couple visited the town of Zara. “We walked the streets and prayed for the people,” Ivana said. “We also distributed Bibles in the town. I can’t describe the joy we had knowing that the Word of God was now in Zara.”
The Bibles the couple distributed in Zara included contact information of an organization that provided Bible study material upon request. Within months, someone from Zara was actually ordering more material online.
The trip was a turning point for Ivana and her husband. As they traveled, they saw God’s hand of faithfulness upon them. “We were overwhelmed by God’s care over and over again,” said Ivana. “We saw God orchestrating a plan and bringing the right people into our path. On the trip, God gave my husband the assurance that he was calling us to move.”
However, for Ivana, the idea of another move was not easy. “I wasn’t ready for that at all,” she said. “The challenges of moving to Canada were still in my memories. Learning a new language was difficult. Helping our teenage children to adjust to the culture was very tiring. We all struggled in so many ways. Fifteen years later, I didn’t want to leave our home, our children, and grandchildren. And what about our teenage boys who would come with us?”
It didn’t take long for Ivana’s heart to soften. “We serve a gentle Lord,” she reflected. “He showed me his heart. It was his love that was calling us, calling me, to follow him to this new country.”
During their time in Canada, Ivana and her husband had been involved in a variety of ministries through their church family, and they cherished the spiritual lessons learned over the years, which kept pushing them as a couple to trust God with the next big step. However, following God to the ends of the earth, to some unknown town, was hard for others to understand. “We experienced opposition,” said Ivana. “People were trying to keep us back, people that we loved and appreciated. But the call of Jesus remained clear in our hearts.”
For Ivana, one of the obstacles to overcome was seeing her teenage sons embrace the call to go. “God did not conquer only my own heart with his love,” she said, “but he also showed our boys individually that he had called them as well! This assurance gave them strength to say goodbye to very close friends and siblings and a home they loved.”
When the time came, Ivana, her husband, and their two sons were sent off by their home church in Canada, and through a mission organization, to Central Asia. In turn, their organization seconded them to Multiply, to work with a church-planting team that was located literally down the road from Zara.
“We are called to follow Jesus,” reflected Ivana. “We have been learning that our focus should not be on what we do or where we do it, but simply on abiding in him and following him. Wherever we are, we only try to serve the people he puts in our way as we follow him. Our service changes according to the needs of the people. We have to remain focused on Jesus.”
Since moving, Ivana and her husband are fully engaged in language and culture learning, and they are embracing the opportunities that God brings them. Their team is focused on supporting the local church and on helping to plant churches in the surrounding area, which includes Zara.
Ivana reported, “My husband and some other men from our local church are going regularly to meet with seekers in the area near to Zara. A few of the seekers are actually from the town of Zara. One of them, a young man, has recently put his trust in Jesus.”
Mark JH Klassen is a writer with Multiply and a member of Yarrow MB Church (BC).
Are you willing to ask God which town he wants you to pray for?
Are you open to going there someday to serve?
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