When Loss is Gain | A Missionary Shares Her Story
EvanTell president David Souther (DS) recently sat down with long-time missionary and author Emily Foreman* (EF) about the cost of the gospel. Not only to hear her story, but hear her thoughts what it looks like to live a life that displays “the gospel at all costs.” You can read more about Emily and her incredible story of faith and sacrifice in her 2016 book, “We Died Before We Came Here.” The full interview follows.
DS: Emily, when I think of “The Gospel at all costs” I think of you and your first husband Stephen*. The gospel was a huge priority in his life. What were some ways that Stephen lived out “the gospel at all costs” both in thought and practice?
EF: To Stephen, neither time, money, talents- nor even his own life- surpassed the supreme value of Christ and His gospel. So ultimately, counting the cost was simple; the gospel is worth more than we could ever pay. Stephen spent all he had to offer with joy because he knew it was an eternal investment. He was a man who took his faith and purpose seriously. The gospel is more than just a great option, it is “a matter of life and death” and a matter of urgency. Stephen not only said what he believed, he lived it with conviction. If one did not know what Stephen’s faith was about before they met him, they would certainly know for sure after the first encounter.
DS: What were some of the “costs” to you and Stephen when you decided to move to the mission field in North Africa?
EF: The preparation to move to the mission field was exciting yet in some ways very hard. We were giving up the American dream, our comforts, air-conditioning, financial security, and being close to our family. We had four children, and we were not unaware of what we were giving up for them as well. Apart from the material assets we were leaving behind, there were also the unknowns of where we were going. The “costs” we were paying to go were in essence in our control. We chose to relinquish those things. However, the risks we were to face were daunting, and once on the field would not be so much of our own choosing. We did not know if or how those risks would be realized, but we believed whole-heartedly that the risks paled in comparison to the reward; namely glorifying Christ and making Him known among a people who had never heard. Inspired by the apostle Paul who suffered more than any other apostle and yet brags again and again of his incomparable joy, we put our trust in God, believing that even if our obedience cost us everything, nevertheless, we would be filled with joy and lacking nothing.
DS: How were the two of you able to live out a lifestyle where the gospel was the top priority in a country where sharing the gospel was illegal?
EF: The short answer to this question is: tea, couscous, and conversation.
In the beginning we thought we were supposed to be extremely cautious in sharing our faith to avoid offending someone. We weren’t sure how far we could take our faith in a conversation before compromising our ability to be there. Eventually, we learned that it was in fact very easy to live out our faith in everything we did and to speak it openly with people. Muslims in that country are very spiritual. Nearly every sentence begins, ends, or is summed up by “Praise God,” “God-willing,” or “As God has willed.” Therefore, it was natural for spiritual matters to be brought up in conversation. In fact, when we did speak of spiritual matters, we noticed that we were given an elevated level of respect by those with whom we conversed; in spite of the known fact that we were Christians.
In addition to easy spiritual conversation, we discovered that the most effective way to show the gospel was through hospitality. The most meaningful gospel conversations and discipleship took place over a cup of tea (or three cups to be exact). This is not a new strategy. Eighty percent of Jesus’ parables in the Gospel of Luke involves food and drink.
DS: Stephen paid the ultimate cost when he died as a martyr during your time and ministry overseas. How did that sacrifice impact the community and country where you served for the gospel’s (kingdom’s) sake?
EF: Obviously, Stephen’s death was a tragedy for my children and me. And of course, it was a tragedy for our friends and family in the United States. We had not anticipated how deeply Stephen’s death would grieve the community and country where we served. Stephen’s life had challenged, inspired, and changed the lives of so many of whom he served through our project work and his friendship. His sacrifice made a deep impact on the lives of countless people there. After his death we began to see just how deep and wide his impact extended. The faith of fearful believers was strengthened, and several who were impressed and drawn to the gospel, but had not yet made a commitment, surrendered their lives to Christ after Stephen’s death. To this day his reputation as a “godly man” remains and has given us increased favor among the people and the government to continue our work there.
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DS: Several years ago, God brought someone into your life who has the same heart, drive, and passion for the gospel. He is now your husband. What are some ways you and he make the gospel a priority as a couple? How do you make it a priority for your children and family?
EF: Yes, God surprised me with a new, unexpected chapter. I could never have dreamed there was someone who would share my heart and passion to see the gospel go to the unreached, specifically in North Africa where we served. Lewis and I have been blessed to continue overseeing the work in North Africa. We spend several weeks there a year. Lewis and his late wife had pioneered a work to reach people from unreached countries who have migrated to our major cities in the United States. God continues to give us countless opportunities to share our faith with people within the context of our own freedoms here in the United States. The primary tool is the same- hospitality. People are hungry and open. They are waiting for us, as the host, to invite them in… to our homes and to the Kingdom.
DS: You both live in a community where there is a church on every corner. Some find it difficult to find opportunities to share the gospel in such an environment. How do you find opportunities for the gospel there? How are you cultivating relationships where the gospel can be shared?
EF: Lewis and I have certainly found it much easier to share with immigrants and refugees here than with the American-born. We found it necessary to ask God to intensify our burden to reach our fellow Americans. He is just as passionate about saving them as He is about saving the most remote tribes of the Amazon. He answered our prayer by placing us in a home that is right beside a trailer park. We asked the Lord for a way to reach out, and once again, His answer was hospitality. We felt led to start our initial introduction to the neighborhood by hosting a backyard VBS. We were amazed at the reception. Several children and teens gave their hearts to Jesus! At the end of VBS we hosted a cookout for the all of the families, and they came! The door is wide open thanks to hotdogs and VBS. Now we are hosting periodic cookouts and the relationships are growing. We are planning to start a Bible study soon, as well.
DS: How do you maintain your focus on outreach personally? In other words, how would you recommend that someone cultivate a lifestyle where reaching others is a high priority?
EF: I am an easily distracted person. I can easily lose my focus on the main thing when I have too much on my plate or when I am simply tired. To combat this weakness, I have to commit the top of every day to prayer. Not just a monologue to God but abiding and communing with Him. The more I pray, the more my mind is filled with His thoughts. The more I pray for the lost around me, the more my heart is filled with His heart for them. Consequently, reaching out to them has become a natural desire. It starts with a personal choice… choose to love God so much that we can’t help but love the people He loves.
DS: Do you have any particular verses or passages that inspire you to keep outreach a priority?
EF: All of the life of Jesus in scripture challenges and inspires me. I constantly read the gospels. When I’ve finished all four, I start all over again (this is in addition to other scripture of course). Jesus is the perfect example of what a lifestyle of outreach should look like.
Of course, the primary verses would be the last command Jesus gave before ascending to heaven after His resurrection, Matthew 28:18-20. “Go…”
Matthew 25:31-46 greatly inspires me. I want to be a sheep! Not a goat! In this passage Jesus simplifies ways we can be doing outreach. “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink” (Hospitality) “I was a stranger [foreigner], and you invited me in” (Hospitality) “naked and you clothed me” (ministering to the homeless) “I was sick, and you visited me” (ministering to the sick) “I was in prison, and you came to me” (literal prison ministry/figurative prison ministry- e.g., ministering to addicts).
Other verses include:
Matthew 5:16 – In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
John 12:26 – Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
Romans 12:1 – Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
DS: COVID-19 has brought new challenges to cultivating relationships and sharing the gospel. How are you and Lewis navigating those and have you found any new opportunities brought about by the crisis? Do you find people more or less open to relationships and the gospel these days as opposed to before the crisis started?
EF: As I mentioned before, we have had amazing opportunities to reach our neighbors. To a great degree, this opportunity was a result of COVID-19. People need human interaction and community. Our ministry to our international friends in our city has also been enhanced. We haven’t been able to continue English conversation classes, so it has pushed us to be more intentional in engaging them individually. We have been doing more outdoor activities with them including cookouts, gardening, and hiking. Many of them have no other family here, so we are much like a substitute family for them. These intentional interactions have given us greater opportunities to share the gospel with them. They love hearing Jesus stories.
DS: Emily, speak to the person who wants to make evangelism a higher priority in their life, but feels hindered by fear, lack of self-confidence, etc. How would you encourage that person?
EF: Pray without ceasing. When we pray and ask for things that are perfectly aligned with God’s will, He always answers. Don’t create an agenda, genuinely love on people. People know when we are disingenuous.
I’ve heard it said that faith is not the absence of fear, it is stepping out in spite of that fear. Courage and confidence are cultivated by steps of faith. Until we are willing go for it, courage and confidence will continue to lie dormant. Fear of rejection is probably the most difficult fear I had to overcome in sharing my faith; at least until I realized how much more affirming it is to know how the Father’s heart reacts to my sharing His truth of salvation, regardless of the results! (Matthew 10:32).
DS: Address the person who may be holding back from surrendering to God to ministry or missions because they fear the cost may be too high or more than they want to pay. What counsel would you give them?
EF: Remember who you serve. Our earthly pursuits are temporal. God’s purpose for your life is eternal. In his book, Risk is Right, John Piper asks a thought-provoking question, “Is losing life the same as wasting it?” I’ve been especially challenged by a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said, “Fleeing death is the shortest path to a wasted life.” When our decision to obey or not obey is based on our risk assessment, we will inevitably miss out on the most meaningful, fulfilling, adventurous life possible; the one we were uniquely designed for. Will you lose your life if you go? Possibly, but probably not. Will you suffer? Yes, in one way or another, it is highly likely. Even Bill Gates suffers. Why not serve the one who mingles joy and suffering, loss and reward! Christ is more precious than what you can lose, and He is more precious than what you can gain.
“Living without purpose is worse than dying.” -Stephen Foreman
*Names changed for identity protection
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