OneWay missionaries complete their first year on the field
What does it look like for a young family to leave everything they know and move to a Muslim-majority nation to reach people with the gospel?
During their first year in Central Asia, Mark* worked as an English teacher at an international school, while Emma* lived at home with their son as they learned the local language and developed new community. Meanwhile, behind closed doors, these OneWay missionaries are building relationships they hope will produce fruit for Christ.
A world away from the familiarity of the States this past year, they both struggled with culture shock, loneliness and the challenges of learning a new language. But even during this time of change, God has been faithful to teach them how to rely on Him and follow His calling.
“This year was very foundational for the rest of our time,” Emma said. “[God has] provided space for us to develop relationships.”
When Mark and Emma met in college, they felt God calling them into missions and began to pray for an opportunity to take the gospel to Central Asia. Ten years later, shortly after they were married, God answered their prayers and opened up a closed nation to foreign influence. In 2019, Mark and Emma officially partnered with OneWay as their sending organization, and in 2022 they set off for Central Asia to begin their ministry.
For their first year overseas, Mark and Emma’s focus was on learning the local language.
“Our primary goal,” Emma said, “was to become as fluent as we could be in the language because we wanted to reach the heart of the people,” she said. “It was really daunting, but we have come pretty far … and we’re grateful for that.”
Mark and Emma worked with tutors to learn their new language using the Growing Participation Method. This approach models how babies learn their first language, first by listening and then by speaking. Mark and Emma used pictures and toys to connect foreign words and familiar concepts, and after a few months, they were able to piece together short stories and conversations.
The couple also used their first year in Central Asia to develop relationships with the local community. So when they found a young adult group that played volleyball near their home on Tuesdays, they decided to join in the fun. Despite language limitations, they quickly developed friendships within the group.
“[One girl] was my very first language teacher,” Emma said, “and she taught me so much about her belief system. We had multiple conversations about Scripture, our differences and what we believe, and that was just a really unique time.”
In the country where Mark and Emma are serving, it is very common for women to employ a house helper to maintain their home. Emma took advantage of this custom to build a relationship with another woman. Emma’s house helper is a Christian, but her husband is not, so Emma was honored to comfort and encourage her during a difficult time.
“It's a really unique opportunity to speak into life and my house helper,” said Emma, who is trained in counseling. “It's been really heartbreaking because she's coming many days just weeping with me because of the hardships she's walking through and the difficulty of being in that type of dynamic and how her kids are processing it.”
But despite all of Mark and Emma’s progress, the first year on the mission field has been challenging. Culture shock and isolation have made life difficult for both of them at times. Locals are also often wary of Mark and Emma as foreigners.
“It’s really hard a lot of times,” Mark said. “It can be lonely. All of our relationships are new, and we can barely speak the language, so it’s hard to have deep relationships.”
Despite these challenges, Emma took the year to learn how to rest, while Mark listened for God’s calling in evangelizing the local community.
“I think of James, which says, ‘Consider it pure joy when you face trials,’” Mark added. “That hasn’t made sense, but I wanted to understand it, and this season has helped me. Before, I was trying to figure out how to have that attitude, but when you’re facing it, the only thing you can do is go to God and that makes you happy, I guess. It feels good to have trials.”
Mark and Emma will remain in the United States through the fall as they welcome a second child to the family! Please pray for them and their growing family as they prepare to return to Central Asia and continue their mission of reaching people with the gospel.
*Names changed for security