In two tag-team mission trips to Germany last month, Houston’s First staff members, married adults, college students — even two high school students — traveled to the European nation to share Good News with refugees who migrated to safety from war-torn countries in the Middle East. During the stay, these messengers found that refugees weren’t the only ones hearing from God.
The Germany trip was not only Tyler Esposito’s First mission trip, but also his first experience traveling overseas. He expressed safety concerns to his wife Megan, who encouraged him to give his anxiety to God as she continued to pray that Christ would develop in Tyler a heart for missions.
A documentary filmmaker, Tyler began working at Houston’s First on the Production team last year, so he fully expected to spend most of his time behind a camera. “I told myself, ‘I’m the video guy; I’ll go and do my job,’” said Tyler. “But God had a different plan in mind.” Initially thinking he would shadow a team of four, his whole mindset had to change when he became part of the team.
Tyler connected with Omar (not his real name), a 26-year-old Iranian and son of a political dissenter. Omar had been beaten and had his arm broken before deciding to board a boat to Greece with 140 other people who were also trying to flee the country. Only 40 made it there alive.
“Omar told me that, in desperation, when he thought they were sinking, he called out the name of Jesus,” said Tyler. “He’s Muslim.”
During their afternoon visit, Tyler presented the Gospel to Omar, but he just couldn’t commit. Tyler heard the following day that Omar had placed his faith in Christ.
“I learned that you don’t necessarily need a heart for missions,” said Tyler. “Take one little step, and then let God take you the rest of the way.”
While ministering to refugees, first-time missionaries and team members Andre and Christen Barron saw God move in extraordinary ways: through salvations, spiritual warfare — and in visions, a method of communication with God they had never expected.
Andre and Christen live in Houston’s Texas Medical Center in an apartment community housing a large number of Middle Eastern families who are here seeking medical attention. Last year, a mosque was built next door and a gate added for access between the two buildings. “We considered buying a home, but postponed it to go on the mission trip,” said Christen. “We decided we had an incredible opportunity to evangelize our community and wanted to learn how to engage our own neighbors.”
Working alongside the Barrons was Nguyen Nguyen, web manager at Houston’s First and a husband and father to three young sons. Nguyen says, initially, he didn’t feel drawn to Germany. “Friends from our Life Bible Study, who I had also worked with at the Faith Center-Harwin, were leading” said Nguyen. “My parents and family members had also been refugees in the ‘70s, so as I prayed, in a short while God began changing my heart.”
Part of the strategy for spreading the Gospel was ‘Treasure Hunting,’ or praying for God to inspire team members to search for specific people to share the Gospel. “Christen told us
as they prayed, she saw a picture in her mind of men’s bright blue tennis shoes,” Nguyen recalled. “Later in the day, she caught sight of a man with those exact shoes. But before she could get to him, he disappeared. Christen’s ministry partner returned just as the man came around a second time, and the two went to talk to him. He only spoke Farsi, but Christen’s partner was able to piece together enough of the language to find out he was once a Christian who now claimed to be an atheist.”
Christen and her ministry partner learned that seven years earlier the man had denounced his faith in Christ because of his struggles and the turmoil in his country. “What would it take for you to believe again?” Christen asked the man. A message from God, he replied. She told him about the picture of his blue shoes that God had planted in her mind that morning. “God heard your prayer, and we are His messengers,” she told the man.
Between street evangelism, Treasure Hunting and meeting people at a local co ee shop, the group from Houston led 13 people to the Lord during their stay. Eight of them put their faith in Christ while at the co ee shop.
“We had no tangible way to help on this mission trip,” said Don Echols, who oversees the Creative Services team at Houston’s First. “We weren’t digging water wells or offering medical supplies — we just had Jesus. Basically, we were coming alongside the teams of long-term missionaries living in Germany — figuratively holding up Moses’ arms.”
Don sees a perilous belief among Christians in America. “We think spending time, gaining trust, or building relational collateral will make people see what you have and want it, too, without actually being bold enough to
tell people about Jesus,” he said. “I have something they need that I should talk about, like a cure for a disease.”
Being in a place where people believe something so radically different from Christianity, or are even hostile to Christ, somehow made it a little easier for Don to share his faith. “But why am I not fervent about telling the people I know best about Christ?” he mused. “I’m still processing it, but going there helped me find motivation to share my faith that I didn’t have before.”
In the airport on their way to board the flight to Houston, the first team crossed paths with the student mission team led by Houston’s First College Minister Derek Nease and Student Minister Justin Holcomb. The group was arriving to begin their work with the missionaries that the first crew had left just hours earlier.
Within a short time after arriving, any reservations the students had began to fade, much like the previous group of missionaries had experienced. The students began connecting with people whose world had been forever changed as they risked their lives to reach a safe haven, one that God had prepared especially so they could hear the Gospel.
“Students saw the power of prayer while they were there,” said Derek, “and they returned excited about bringing back home what they experienced. Learning to love and pray for refugees stretched them, and they became bolder when asked to share their own story of faith.”