“By prayer, we couple the powers of heaven to our helplessness… and make the impossible possible.” – O. Hallesby
Without prayer, nothing happens—no glory for God, no movement of hearts toward God. Praying for internationals and their families is powerful, but praying with them requires both the faith that God hears and answers our prayers and the boldness to call on God’s specific help out loud. Praying with our international friends and their family repeats Jesus’ invitation, “Come to Me.” Prayer builds bridges to distant hearts and draws them safely home to God’s family.
Through our prayers, internationals encounter Jesus’ loving power, which opens hearts and changes families in ways impossible by any other means. And whatever touches one family can affect the world, eventually! The following stories demonstrate such openings of heart and changes.
She looked sad as she watched a small boy run up and down the steps of a nearby apartment. Her clothing said “international.” Karen (IFI Columbus staff) asked, “Is that your son?” “Yes. So active.” God moved me to ask, “Where are you from?” “From Turkey,” she said and burst into tears!
Just days earlier, M. and her son had joined her husband, a researcher who spent all day at the lab. She missed her extended family terribly, especially her mother. M. was promised cable service in one week. (No Wi-Fi yet.) “Let’s pray about this,” Karen said. M. looked surprised, but bowed with Karen, whom God prompted to ask Jesus to comfort M., give her new friends, and bring her cable service sooner than promised. Two days later, when the women met again, M. bubbled, “Your prayer worked! The cable company came yesterday! I talked to my mother for two hours on Skype!” A Christian neighbor who speaks Turkish invited M. and her son to IFI’s International Moms’ Group, which M loved. One simple prayer brought a timely demonstration of Jesus’ loving power and drew the family toward it!
Pain, prayer, and God’s big family.
A Christian family in Eastern Europe was rocked by the news: Mom has cancer. After the parents had divorced several years before, the family began to depend on the oldest daughter for guidance. She, however, had just begun a one-year internship in the U.S. One younger sister was also in the U.S., far from Mom and the other three children. Once the family’s situation became widely known, the daughters’ many friends in the States prayed with them, as did their church and relatives in Europe.
The family longed to be together for Christmas, but the two daughters couldn’t afford the flight home. Prayers for funds brought what was needed. The family spent Christmas together. Over the next year, they felt God carrying them through Mom’s surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. After many months, the cancer was gone!
The oldest daughter tells what the prayers meant to her family: “They gave us more faith and showed us the love of the larger family of Christ. When people prayed with me for Mom, I felt Mom was right here with me, even though she was many miles away. Mom was very encouraged that Christians she’d never met were praying for her! We knew that Mom wasn’t healed by prayer alone, but the prayers certainly lessened the harsh side- effects of her treatments and held us together as a family. Many non-Christians heard our story, too.”
Jian looked so tired that her conversation partner asked what was going on. Jian said that the people in the apartment above theirs often played loud music until 3 or 4 AM. Jian’s husband had asked them to turn down the volume, but nothing changed. Her family couldn’t sleep. What could they do? “We’ll pray,” her conversation partner said. And they did, asking God to solve the problem.
The next time the two women met, Jian looked rested. “Guess what? Our neighbors upstairs moved out about a week after we prayed! They’re gone! We can sleep again!” The two women thanked God together for His intervention. God’s love and care had become much more real to Jian’s family, and eventually they all began to follow Him.
A young Saudi woman had come to faith in Christ while in college in Colorado. She met and married an American who also professed Christ. Over time, though, he became physically and emotionally abusive. The couple moved to Michigan, where she had no family or friends. She met Estera (IFI National staff), who befriended her. For a year, the women prayed together for her marriage. As the Saudi woman prayed for her husband, God gave her compassion for him. She asked God to transform her and her husband and heal their marriage. Eventually, he left. Prayers carried the wife through their divorce and helped her see Jesus as her spiritual husband who would never leave her.
A Chinese girl attending Abby’s (IFI Columbus staff) IFI Bible discussion asked the group to pray for her mother, who told fortunes and worshiped idols feared in the local folk religion. The mother had become very ill. Her doctor could not find a cause. Perhaps it was related to her being post-menopausal. Abby knew there was far more to it: If fortune-telling and idol worship were involved, so was Satan.
The daughter came to faith in Christ and urged her mother to turn to Him, too, but Satan held the mother fast. The Bible discussion group kept praying for the mother. The daughter and Abby prayed with her via Skype and urged her to give up fortune-telling and get rid of her idols. God broke through, and the woman did as urged: She gave everything, including her life, to Jesus. Today she serves others in a church in China.
Samson (IFI Columbus staff) recently met a young, newly married couple from Taiwan on a fall outing. Samson asked the husband how his studies were going, how the couple was settling into life in the U.S., and how his wife was doing. The husband opened his heart to Samson. The husband’s adviser had said she could pay him, but her funding had failed. The husband could not afford the next semester. He didn’t know what to do. Also, his shy wife, who spoke little English, was home alone all day. He was worried about her.
Samson said he’d once been in the same situation as a grad student. He had explained his predicament to his adviser, gotten the adviser’s blessing to seek work elsewhere in the university, and started talking to professors in other departments. Eventually Samson got a teaching assistantship in another department that paid his school and living expenses. He advised the young man to do the same. The fellow brightened immediately! “Talk to your adviser and get her blessing first,” Samson urged. Samson also told the couple about IFI’s International Wives’ Group, where the wife could make good friends. Suddenly life looked much better for the young couple!
A life-changing habit.
“We pray for internationals and their families so much that it’s hard to isolate one story,” Rebecca Sermon (IFI Columbus staff) smiled. “Before I finish a meeting with international women, I always ask for prayer requests and we pray. We do the same at the end of Bible discussions. We pray because the Bible commands us to pray.”
The Sermons hosted a couple from China when they first arrived in the U.S. After the couple got their own apartment, the Sermons continued to invite them to their home. The two families became close. The couple helped the Sermons paint several rooms in their house. Rebecca invited the wife to IFI’s International Wives’ Group, where she became interested in the Bible and open to Christ. She brought her husband to a Friday night Bible discussion group occasionally, but he came mainly to practice his English. When the husband finished his studies, he took a job in California and his wife began a PhD program in South Carolina. Rebecca and her family kept in touch with them sporadically and kept praying for them.
After two years, the husband called one night. He was struggling desperately. In the weeks that followed, Rebecca and her husband had five or six long phone conversations with him, urging him to take his struggles and his life to Jesus. He started attending Bible study at a Chinese church in L.A. He and the Sermons prayed on the phone and texted. For about one year, Sermons heard nothing until about a month before the wife finished her PhD. He had moved to San Francisco; she would join him there. Eight months passed with no news. One day, “out of the blue,” Rebecca says, “we got an email saying they were getting baptized in their church there! We were overjoyed! Our prayers and the time we had spent together in God’s word had planted spiritual seeds that germinated in desperation and finally bore fruit!” Today their friends continue to grow in their church in San Francisco.
Along family lines.
The conversions of Lydia (Acts 16:13-15) and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:25-33) show how one person’s transformation influenced their families, which soon formed a vibrant church in Philippi (Acts 16:40). Jesus’ own family also had great impact on the early church.
How we treat our spouse, raise our children, and open our home to others will also have great impact for or against the spread of God’s Kingdom. For example, because her parents often hosted guests, Elisabeth Elliot (author, speaker, missionary) met missionaries and preachers from all over the world. Their lives and stories inspired Elisabeth to desire God’s will for her life. And what a life she lived!
Not done yet.
God hasn’t written the end of these stories yet. Rebecca points out that after we come to faith in Christ, the pressures of daily living can make it difficult to remember who we are in Christ and easy to believe the lies that the world broadcasts constantly–reason enough to keep praying for and with our international friends and their families. Many will go home to influence their country’s government, industry, agriculture, entertainment, education, religious life, or health care structures. Pray that they will obey Jesus in all they do, raise their children to love and obey God, open their homes to others, and tell others God’s good news.
How can you be part of stories like these? It’s simple but not always easy.
First: Be alert to others and to the Holy Spirit’s promptings.
Second: When God brings you an international friend, ask questions. Samson says, “Usually our international friends are under great pressure here and back home to be successful. Their life may be full of stresses. Ask how their studies are going, how they and their spouse and children are doing. Ask about their living situation. Ask God where He might use you to make their life better.
Third: Listen carefully—to your friend and to God.
Fourth: Do what God shows you.
Fifth: Pray. Ask God to intervene. Ask Him to show Himself to your friend and his family. Ask Him to help you be faithful to act according to His will, love with His love, speak His words, and pray with His heart, that He might shape the world through our international friends and us.
And enjoy the part God gives you in the adventures He unfolds!