Listening and leaning in

written by Sarah Freymuth

A listening ear goes a long way.

Terry* and his wife, Marie*, workers who have lived in Central Asia for seven and a half years, equip and encourage local women leaders to run small groups, where women can come together, tell their stories, and lean into each other’s life circumstances to share in struggles whilst discovering the truth of their identity in Christ.

In the city where Terry and Marie serve, a miniscule percentage of the population is Christian. Their team has slowly built relationships that create a safe haven for women who have newly arrived in the city, connecting them with those who are more established in the area. The local small group leaders, themselves from a Muslim background, are perfect to reach into these communities and build relationships with other Muslim women who come from extremely difficult circumstances.

“Because it’s a Muslim group, you can talk about God and how to be right with Him,” said Terry.

In these groups, stories are told, heard, and emphasized with, and women take comfort that they aren’t alone. In a culture where it is easy to be overlooked, these women find solace in sharing hardships.

“In the Muslim world, women are vulnerable,” said Terry. “They come from abusive relationships, loss of family, have children with disabilities--very hard things.”

Terry added women don’t receive much respect, so they often arrive low on self-esteem. “They are not seen and valued. In our group, we introduce the importance of relationship with God, relationship with self, and relationship with others.”

It’s a small group, but word has travelled fast, and news of this group has reached the western part of the area. “People have started coming into the city to visit this community and seek it out,” said Terry. “One woman came and said she had heard about this group from where she was in her region and she wanted to share her story too.”

Terry believes that’s the key: listening. A sense of being heard and understood. "These women just want people to listen and hear their story," he commented. Terry explained one of the most important parts is lending an ear and walking through challenges with care, and to call out God’s truth about their identities.

Seeing the Spirit of God

“The culture is very harsh. Women are single and people place blame on them, like it’s all on the woman. Someone has a kid with a disability, and people wonder what wrong you did to have a child this way,” said Terry.

It can be especially hard for mothers of children with disabilities. Some share that they have contemplated suicide, but Terry and his team go and visit, and it’s often just at the right time. One woman, who is a believer, said: “God always sends you when I am low. It tells me He sees me.”

“We come and affirm them, see God is at work,” Terry added. “People see the spirit of God—not judging or condemning, but they see God’s grace. When a little grace and love is given, it makes all the difference.”

As Psalm 30 states, “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (NKJV). Healing is done, one story heard at a time.

Terry shared a story of a woman who was telling the group about her rough situation when all of a sudden some of the women started giggling. The woman asked why they were laughing at her, but the women replied with a spark in their eyes: “We are not laughing at you—we were just like you! We remember where we were and how you felt, and we see how far we have come and where we are now. There is hope!”

The women saw where they once stood and how, over time, a support structure provided the comfort and confidence to move out of their pain and into the life God was calling them to.

It’s the power of community, of connection and empathy. To hear hard stories and stand with those who lived them means genuine trust is built, and a navigation towards restoration is begun.

Listening builds trust, which strengthens the foundation of Terry’s desire to see thriving communities introduced to Jesus in Central Asia. “God’s kept the groups going and doors open, even if it’s just a few people,” he said. “Seeing an assurance of God at work is very encouraging.”

A long-term vision

Terry and Marie always knew they wanted to move somewhere God’s love wasn’t known.

When the couple visited friends leading an OM team in Central Asia, God began to grow their hearts for the area and its people. Since their friends were established there, they wanted to build on what was already a strong team and moved to the area. Both Terry and Marie found opportunities to utilise their professional skills, with Marie using her skills and Terry helping with church and group gatherings. God continues to encourage Terry and Marie as they serve in Central Asia, through the ups and downs of life, and they try to make the most of every conversation and friendship that comes their way.

Praise God for the work He is doing among people in Central Asia who do not know Him. Pray that these women’s groups would continue to meet and grow, and workers would boldly take opportunities to speak about God whilst trusting in His timing and goodness.

*name changed

Technology is transforming Central Asia. A young mom snaps a selfie during a shopping trip at a local mall. Photo by Jay

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