Sitting in yet another unfamiliar American church listening to her parents speak about how people were becoming believers in North Africa, young Grace* realised something: her parents were missionary workers. “I thought we were just living there,” she laughed, recalling the memory years later.
For sisters Grace, 18, and Sophia*, 17, sharing Christ’s love with those who don’t know Him is what they are used to. They—along with their two younger brothers—were born and raised on the mission field in North Africa, their parents having moved there before they were born. Growing up in the majority-Muslim country, the four siblings learnt Arabic in public school and participated in extracurriculars such as dance and football alongside Arab youth. “I’ve never felt [like a local] just because I don’t look like anyone else here,” shared Sophia, who has neither lived in the States, where her mom is from nor Brazil, where her dad is from. “But out of all the countries, this is definitely my home.”
A year apart in age but in the same grade at school due to how the school system works, Grace and Sophia share classes as well as friends. “I’m really thankful for it,” said Grace. “It’s helpful when you’re in the same class with your sister because we can study for things together. Or if she doesn’t understand something I can explain. Or if I don’t understand, she explains to me.”
Though the two did not choose to move to, or live on, the mission field, they each have chosen to take up the Great Commission and share the good news of Christ.
Everyday activities—particularly school—have provided the teen sisters with countless natural opportunities to share with their friends about what they believe. Most often, they don’t even need to say a word to get the ball rolling. “I don’t bring up the religious conversations—[others] do,” said Grace.
When a friend was nervous before a big test, Grace volunteered to pray with her. While they and a few other Christian classmates, including Sophia, walked to a quiet area, an atheist classmate asked if he could join in, too, and they agreed. As they began to pray, their Muslim classmates also joined the group and offered an Islamic blessing. “It felt like a moment of unity in a way,” Sophia said. “We were different religions, different nationalities and different ages, but we were all there. We were about to face, I mean, it was just a math test, but we were all going to face the same thing and we were all scared. I think for all of us, it felt really special.”
Sophia explained that many of her peers do not get to have conversations at home where they can be open about their struggles or question their religion. “A lot of the time they just need to let it all out …before they can receive something,” she added. “So just listen to what they have to say and be really respectful… and ask questions.” Questions such as ‘What do you mean by that?’ have sparked deep discussions, the sisters shared.
Many times, after talking about their own beliefs, friends will then ask Grace and Sophia about theirs, often posing questions about things they have heard about, but never understood such as about heaven and hell or the Trinity.
“I’ve found that a lot of times people will ask questions that I myself am wondering. …So it’s not only beneficial to them, but it also benefits me,” Sophia said. When she doesn’t know an answer, Sophia asks her parents or takes the time to research it on her own. She remarked that it is OK to not know all the answers and how having to wait for an explanation allows the conversation to stretch and develop over time.
In instances when conversations have turned into a heated debate, Sophia advises others to “remain calm—not shoving things down [people’s] throats. I think that’s the worst thing I could do with my friends.”
Grace remembered her mom telling her that her actions have the ability to show God’s light to others.
“I’m really quiet,” admitted Grace. “I’m not the most talkative person. But I try to be really nice to everyone and really kind, and I think that’s been really important because, a lot of times, that encourages people to want to come up to me and talk to me.”
That quiet reflection of Christ’s light has led a few of her classmates to open up to Grace and share with her about their struggles and situations at home. Through these encounters, Grace learnt “how loved I am by God and my friends and my family. …I’ve realised how much love you get when you believe in God.” Talking about different world events and situations with friends, Grace’s views were centred around forgiveness and second chances while others spoke of judgement and punishments.
When asked what advice they have for other teenagers sharing their faith, Grace said: “Even if you’re not bringing [faith] up, or you’re not being super talkative or outgoing about what you believe, if you just live your life, showing God’s love, then they’ll be attracted to you… and then want to ask you questions.”
Amidst the global pandemic, Grace and Sophia have used the time to continue strengthening friendships –– both virtually as well as in-person when restrictions allowed. During a country-wide lockdown, a friend of Grace’s opened up via text message about how she struggled with fear of the virus and how it would impact her life. “I told her not to be afraid and to trust God’s plan; that even though this was a bad thing, He could bring something good out of it,” Grace said.
“During lockdown, I felt very deprived of people,” stated Sophia. “So I just decided [as restrictions allow] I am going to initiate doing things with my local friends and not be shy.” Once the teens were able to meet again, “everyone was talking about how they were afraid of the virus and what that means for our world,” Sophia shared. “That led to conversations about [how] they didn’t have to be afraid but that they could trust God because He was taking care of them and their families.”
“Because I grew up in a Christian family my whole life, I always knew what it meant to be a Christian and knew what the Bible said. But I don’t think my faith got much deeper than that until maybe three years ago [when I joined a youth group],” said Sophia.
Grace recounted a similar story. “I feel like [Christianity] has kind of been my whole life….I grew up with it.” As she grew older, however, Grace felt some doubts about her faith creeping in. During a worship session at a camp for missionary kids, a song played about how God knows everything a person goes through and “it really spoke to me a lot …and I felt like God was there with me,” Grace remembered. “That’s when I really, really realised that God is real.”