By Ben Brown
Every Christian is called by God to service and mission. Some hear a calling to vocational ministry. And still others hear a calling to vocational ministry in a culture that is not their own.
Karen is called in that final way. “My whole life, I’ve always been going toward people that are different, including cultures that are different than mine. It’s just been kind of natural,” said Karen.
Karen’s last name and precise service location cannot be shared in order to ensure her safety. She serves as CBF field personnel, and was recently installed as a pastor in a local congregation in a protestant national church in northern Africa.
Earlier, as she prepared for cultural immersion, Karen studied French and Arabic. She also established herself as a point of contact for colleagues within the national church. It was through this type of relationship that Karen would hear about a young man named Enoch.
Enoch had gone missing and his roommates were greatly concerned about him. They feared he had been arrested.It is not uncommon for people to go missing in the country where Karen serves. Black people are typically targeted by the police in attempts to restrict illegal immigration.
“If they don’t have legitimate paperwork on them right then, they often get deported. Internally deported or displaced. Sometimes they are taken just to the edge of the desert and dumped. The police take everything—their phones, their money, their everything,” said Karen.
Enoch had overstayed his student visa and now his whereabouts were unknown.
His friends, believing he had been arrested, sought out Karen as a resource to assist them in finding their friend. They met at Karen’s church and prayed together.
“Because I’m white and because I’m a pastor,” said Karen. “They knew this could push things along.”
After being turned away at the Congolese embassy, the group walked to the police station to see if Enoch was being detained there. When they arrived at the police station, they could see and hear maybe 20 people in the holding pen, attesting to their innocence. They did not know if Enoch was among them. Most of the people behind bars were being held for the same reason as Enoch.
“It was easy for me to imagine our guy in that holding pen saying the exact same thing and not receiving any mercy. It was heartbreaking to acknowledge what was going on and there being nothing to do about it. It was knowing what was going to happen to these guys, watching it happen and not being able to stop it or help in anyway,” said Karen.
After a full day of searching and praying, Karen and Enoch’s friends went home without him. Later, they learned that Enoch was jailed in the place they had visited looking for him. He was alive and had been arrested for using false identification.
Karen and the others visited Enoch, bringing him blankets, winter clothes and a Bible. They also supplied him with a lawyer to help.
“I wasn’t sure I could help; the stakes felt really high,” said Karen. “And this was one of my first actions after being installed to the pastoral team.”
Despite the challenge and despite her helpless feelings, Karen did not give up hope. “It was uncomfortable because this was new to me,” said Karen. “But it did feel like it was where I belonged.”
Karen’s calling and ministry helps those who are forgotten and those who are deliberately persecuted. The challenges are immense, but it’s holy work that brings people together for prayer, mission and advocacy.
“This is why I’m here,” she says.
Learn more about Karen and her ministry here.