In a world where missionary visas are increasingly hard to get, Hunter and Wendy* are doing something truly remarkable.
They’re moving to a Muslim-majority country where local churches operate underground. They’ll work to make disciples among unreached people groups. And they’ll do it with the local government’s approval.
It sounds impossible, but opportunities like this are opening around the world, thanks to international churches.
“It’s kind of amazing because it’s a Muslim country, and it’s illegal to become a Christian there, … but I’m going to have ‘pastor’ in my visa,” Hunter says.
Committed to the Unreached
Hunter and Wendy have been focused on unreached people groups for over a decade.
The couple met on a mid-term mission to Central Asia. After seminary, they moved to a New York college town where less than 1 percent of the student population has any connection to Christianity.
Hunter got a role as an associate pastor and had a meaningful ministry. But in 2019, he and Wendy started praying about finding a senior pastor role.
They brought their church into the conversation, walking through an evaluation, talking with a mentor and praying about next steps. During that time, God reminded Wendy of all the cross-cultural skills they already had. Why not consider going overseas again?
Hunter started looking at job boards and found a senior pastor opening in North Africa.
The role was in a city with a thriving expatriate community. And although converting to Christianity is illegal for citizens of the country, foreigners are allowed to practice whatever religion they choose.
This means international church staff can openly minister to unreached people groups — as long as they come from another country.
“[College students] come from countries with almost no accessibility to the Gospel,” Hunter says. When they arrive at Hunter’s church, though, they can openly join the college ministry, study Scripture and declare their new faith.
Serving an International Church with TEAM
Although TEAM missionaries have planted international churches for many years, the new program seeks out existing international churches and helps fill staffing needs with qualified workers.
These workers will minister to unreached expats, as well as teaching believers how to make disciples in foreign countries. Hunter and Wendy are also excited to serve other frontline workers, partnering with them in full-time ministry.
“It seemed like there’s not really organizations out there that are doing what TEAM is trying to do with international churches,” Hunter says.
Hunter and Wendy are the program’s first appointees, but other international churches are reaching out for partnership.
Unity in a Constantly Changing Congregation
Along with the incredible opportunities, pastoring an international church will come with unique challenges.
With expats constantly coming and going, the demographics can be hard to pin down. Hunter and Wendy’s future church has members from 25 nations, mostly in Africa and Europe. Cultural intelligence is critical.
Additionally, the church is the only English-speaking, Protestant congregation in the city. If you’re an evangelical Christian, no matter your denomination, you only have one option on Sunday mornings.
This vast diversity requires strong unity on the essentials of the faith and deep grace on secondary and tertiary issues.
“You have to figure out how to … help them unite around the core of the Christian faith,” Hunter says, “and so there’s something really beautiful and also very challenging about that.”
But Hunter and Wendy won’t be doing that uniting alone.
As they prepare for their departure, the couple has already started getting to know their new congregation, joining Zoom prayer meetings and talking with church members. Hunter will also have the aid of an elder board as well as an associate pastor from West Africa.
Together, they’re eager to see how God can transform not just the lives in the church but their entire surrounding community.