My husband, John*, who was usually talkative, seemed a bit reserved. I could feel there was something going on. Then he blurted it out: “I feel God is asking us to leave our house, our jobs, our life here, and go overseas.” You can imagine his fear of telling his wife.
My reply took him back, “Well, it’s about time! I sensed God saying something big was coming. Whatever that big thing is I am to agree with it.” We were to embark on a new road together.
The primary vision was to “live among the people.” How does one do that? Find a job, have a family, educate your children, and engage in the community just as we were doing in Canada, but we were to do it overseas.
In 2010, we became partners of a two-year-old wool business. The American owner, Rob, had a great product (two colours of yarn) and financial paperwork that was almost unreadable. We invested in the company to bring in capital for research and development as well as help with cash flow. The company was employing the less fortunate locals, so it also fit in well with our ministry vision.
We were questioned: “Shouldn’t you be doing medical work, or teaching, or some kind of charity work? Isn’t that what international workers do?” “What? You invested in a for-profit company?” “I thought we were sending you to preach the Gospel. How can you do that if you have a business?”
In my mind, I had answers but no evidence. After all, shouldn’t we be witnesses for Christ regardless of our physical location? Whether in North America or Asia, shouldn’t our lives speak to those around us?
We jumped into work even before we were officially part of the company. John worked on the paperwork side: the finances were a mess, there were no contracts for the employees, the legality of our location was in question, and there were no systems for anything in the small company.
I knew that my time was limited in the business with homeschooling our three children. Maybe I could give an afternoon or so a week. But what a struggle! If we were here to be witnesses, what was I doing in our homeschool classroom for hours each day? Not to mention the time to make meals from scratch (no fast dinners here) and do the dishes.
I went back to God. He graciously reminded me that we were here to “live among the people.” I knew He loved our kids. I was to be faithful in raising those beautiful little ones that He had entrusted to us. So, homeschooling it was.
We hired a helper to assist with the household tasks. It was a blessing, yet trying at times. We went through three helpers before finding one who was a fit for our family. I struggled with her family obligations that took her from work sometimes, yet I respected her care for family. She had to bring her three-year-old to work with her often, and this child became the preschool part of our homeschool. I appreciated our helper’s diligence, though our homeschool family struggled with her interruptions. I learned greater patience for others whose culture was not part of my upbringing. I learned to sift through my cultural values and find God’s values. I learned to love and appreciate her.
Our partner, Rob, was trying to get more natural colours for our yarn while I was developing the knitting side of the business. With a helper every morning doing my dishes, laundry, and other household chores, I could work on the yarn and design in the late afternoon and evening. We started to employ a few knitters to knit some products with our yarn.
A few years later, we had 40 contract workers. We had a few more colours of yarn and over a dozen knitted products. Then our spinners didn’t seem to be happy. What really was the issue? Why was quality declining? What were the rumblings about? Integrity, quality, and fair business practices were always forefront in our business ethics.
The time had come for me to learn to spin yarn. I sat with a couple of ladies and learned the principles. I watched the process and discussed properly spun yarn and poorly spun yarn. I could now talk “spinner” language to get the quality we needed. We learned something else: the spinners are all women. A woman needs to talk to them, if possible.
As a woman speaking with women, we gained their respect and they were more open to talking. I was able to pray with a few ladies with medical issues. They were seeing Jesus’ hands and feet in our actions to deal with the issues. We were living among the people!
The knitting department was flourishing. Then our helper had a request: could her mom knit for us? My initial thought was, “This woman lives in the boonies and gets to our city once a year. How in the world?” But the Spirit reminded me that we were to be His hands and feet. We devised a plan and let her mom know we were serious about quality. The first two months went wonderfully. God was implementing His bigger plan.
God brought the right helper, one who became a worker in our company, and one who was thinking about how she could help her family. We needed more knitters, and a new deal was struck. We would drive to the village every month if they could find five knitters. From one knitter in the middle of nowhere, God gave us another group of people to live among.
After about two years of monthly visits, I came home excited. I was asked to move a massive grain chest while in the village. In village culture, you don’t ask a guest to do anything. They asked me; therefore, I was no longer a guest. I was a welcome addition to the group that was trying to move it. In village culture, having the strength to help and willingness to do so is respected. I had respect as a hard-working person and became like family. Ministry was happening.
The homeschooling and the time in raising a family? The kids listened to us (most of the time) and were respectful to others. They were accepted into Canadian universities. Our community saw them grow up. We are godparents to that three-year-old child who would come to work with her mom. Our ministry, living among the people, means having the respect to speak into people’s lives. They came to respect us because of our deed, which made them willing to hear the Word of God.
Over the years, we have had opportunities to pray with people, share medical advice, bring people to the hospital, teach them how to raise children, and open our home all while doing business. The long-term business means we are accepted as part of the community. Honesty and integrity mean our words are to be trusted. The business doesn’t make any financial profit yet, but the Word is being shown and sown in people’s hearts.
Irina has been serving overseas for 15 years. She was called into missions while attending Southview Alliance Church in Calgary, Alberta, when she and her husband were first married. They apprenticed at Toronto Alliance Church before going overseas. They have three adult children.
*Names changed to protect their identity
This is from the book Making God Known. Download it here!