Emily Foreman, longtime ministry worker in North Africa, recounts her family’s story in We Died Before We Came Here.
Though names of people and places have been changed for security reasons, her book chronicles meeting her husband, their calling to North Africa, work among Muslims, and the murder of her husband by al-Qaeda extremists.
“In this life, I have lost. I lost my husband and best friend. My children lost their father. But Stephen didn’t lose his life. He found it” write Emily Foreman.
I love seeing a glimpse into their life overseas—both the risks and the joys. Her family developed several life-long friendships with the people whom they met. Along the way, she shares what worked well and what didn’t as they developed friendships in a new culture.
On her family’s first mission trip to North Africa, she visited a prison. “Nothing in my past experience prepared me for this prison. I had seen heart-wrenching documentaries on life in US prisons, but nothing, save the documentaries on concentration camps during World War II that we were forced to watch in high school, could compare to what we would encounter in the prisons of this country in North Africa,” writes Emily. “All I wanted to do was flee back to the airport.”
But Emily stayed longer and listened to the women’s stories. She found some were simply in prison because they were victims of rape. In this society, where women had very few rights, victims often took full blames for crimes committed against them. Many waited for years to have their case heard in court. Those disowned by family members had no resources for a lawyer and thus might be locked up for life.
“How could we show these women God’s love—especially in a land where our faith was forbidden? We couldn’t do much spiritual work in the prison for fear of harming the long-term ministry in the country. So instead of obvious evangelism or church planting, we ministered in the quiet, patient work of building relationships. A few of us volunteered to help with sewing classes that were being run in the prison. I’d taken home-economics classes at school and had quilted with my grandmother—that was as far as my skills went. But I knew that whatever I had, God could use,” writes Emily.
Later they returned to this country for long term mission work. It wasn’t forbidden for Christians to come, but it was illegal for locals to convert to Christianity.
“We would live our faith out loud through our actions without overuse of words that were offensive in our new home,” writes Emily. Part of this was done through relief work and development.
Her husband began by teaching English classes in the men’s prison, and Emily continued to serve women in the prisons through sewing classes and other avenues. After women who had been released begged for more classes, Emily started sewing classes outside of the prison.
Additionally, they helped form business cooperatives among locals enriching the community and enabling more families to provide food for their children and send them to school.
Some call this place “the country God has forgotten,” but reading her book you’ll discover numerous ways God is on the move. Though their ministry isn’t always a bed of roses, I identify with her concluding line: “To live without purpose is worse than dying.”