Every Tribe, Every Tongue
Julia Samuel is a missionary kid (MK) who grew up in Kenya. Her parents, Vinoji and Joyce, serve the Lord in Malawi and spend several months of the year ministering to the people there. Currently, Julia and her family reside in Atlanta, Georgia where she is finishing up nursing school.
Here, she talks about her struggle to adjust during multiple relocations, the friendly people of Malawi, and learning to be independent [in life], yet dependent on the Lord.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born in Kerala, India, grew up in a Christian family, and went to church every week. It was in Kenya that I got saved. In 2006, my family and I attended a conference called ‘Upendo’, which means ‘love’ in the local language, Swahili. Throughout that conference, they talked about the love of Jesus. This stood out to me because I was overwhelmed at how Jesus could love me despite my sins. That prompted me to receive Christ as my Saviour. I remember standing in front of my mirror at home and being so happy after that conference. That was the beginning of my walk with God and, despite my imperfections, I know God’s love for me has not changed from that day till now.
How did God call your family to the mission field?
My parents had individually made the decision to be missionaries before they married each other, and were mainly involved in youth ministry in their home church in India. They always had a desire to serve the Lord outside of Kerala, but they didn’t know God’s plans for them. This is when an evangelist from our church visited Kenya and returned with news about the mission opportunities there. The Lord showed my parents that Kenya and, later, Tanzania and Malawi would be their mission ground.
My parents had individually made the decision to be missionaries before they married each other
We moved to Kenya in 2005 and then to Tanzania in 2008. A year later, my dad decided to visit Malawi with one of the Malawians who attended our church. During the trip, he was encouraged by their friendliness, and this was the starting point of the Malawi Interior Missions ministry. From then on, my parents made frequent trips (two-day drive, around 932 miles) to Malawi from Tanzania. They first started a ministry in Northern Malawi in a place called Nkhatabay. Currently, the main mission center is in Lilongwe, and there are many churches established around this mission centre. My parents go there during the summer and winter months to continue the ministry there.
What were some struggles you and your family had to trust the Lord through?
The biggest concern about moving to Kenya was my health. I used to get sick often with various things like febrile seizures and pneumonia. Many of our loved ones even offered to take care of me when my parents decided to move. However, my parents took a step of faith and took me with them. I rarely got sick once we moved to Africa though, which was a testament to God’s grace.
Also, when my family and I first moved to Kenya, I was sad to leave my familiar life behind, but it was for the better. The same thing happened when we moved to Tanzania to start a ministry there. I was just getting comfortable with my life in Kenya, so it was difficult to leave my best friends and move to a place where I didn’t know anybody. Looking back, however, I made many great memories in the beautiful country of Tanzania.
What encouragement would you give our readers who are undergoing major life changes at the moment?
Leaving Kenya and moving to Tanzania was difficult, because I didn’t know what lay ahead of me. I also had a hard time adjusting to my school, which made me miss Kenya even more. Eventually, I started liking Tanzania and made several close friends there. Today, I count my time there as a blessing, and I have many fond memories of Tanzania.
A word of encouragement that I’d give anyone facing a major life change is that God is with you even if you don’t feel like it in the moment. He has a purpose for you in every season of life and, if you trust Him, He will show you what that is. Like me, you might not realise the purpose in the moment but, later, you will see that God was, in fact, working all things together for your good.
I used to get sick often with various things like febrile seizures and pneumonia. But I rarely got sick once we moved to Africa, which was a testament to God’s grace
Describe the people your parents serve.
Malawi is known as the “Warm Heart of Africa”, because the local people are very welcoming. Unfortunately, they are also very poor, with Malawi being the sixth poorest country in the world. They mainly survive on farming crops like maize and yuca. Although 77 per cent of the population identify as Christians, most of them do not practise their faith. Witchcraft and spiritism are common.
My parents, along with the local brothers, have established 13 churches over the past 11 years. The ministry is entrusted to faithful families when my parents are away. They live in the mission compound and take care of the churches, the Bible school, and the financial aspects of the ministry.
The children in Malawi are another important part of the ministry. Kids, by the hundreds, gather for things like VBS. They are so excited to hear Bible stories. Most of them attend elementary school, but only a few have the determination to make it to high school. Sadly, going to college is very rare for Malawi youth.
How do the local belief systems affect how the gospel is accepted?
Many of the villagers believe that the spirits of their dead ancestors are alive, and although they are poor, they will spend a lot of money to throw feasts to please these spirits, because they believe that the spirits can bring tragedies to their villages if angered. The people who hold these beliefs are against the gospel. Some of the spiritism ceremonies are even held on Sundays, so people are prevented from going to church. Some of our new believers attend these ceremonies out of fear and to feel included in village activities. We have to constantly remind them that they cannot hold both Christian and witchcraft beliefs. Since these beliefs take root from childhood, we emphasise the invalidity of witchcraft and the power of Jesus when we teach the children Bible stories.
What are some personal spiritual challenges you face and what is the Lord teaching you through these challenges?
Not being with my parents when they travel for an extended period is challenging. After moving to the US, my parents usually have to be away for two or three months at a time. It is not easy to be away from them at times like Thanksgiving and Christmas. My brother and I always miss spending time with them, and we make the most of the time we have. Through these challenges, God taught me that He could take care of me even when I was away from my parents. He provided through friends and families; they welcomed us into their houses and made us feel at home. I also learned to be independent with a dependence on Him.
Fear is also something that has been a theme during this pandemic. It is difficult to always surrender my fears and leave it all up to God. But the Lord is teaching me that I must make more room for Him, so that there is less room for fear and doubt. Putting my focus on Him helps remind me that fear will not fix anything (Matthew 6:27) — but trusting in God will give me peace.
We have to constantly remind them that they cannot hold both Christian and witchcraft beliefs
How can we pray for you?
The most important thing to pray for is that God would open the hearts of the locals to hear and practise His Word. In addition, please pray for God’s special protection from the COVID-19 pandemic, as the people in these countries cannot afford a lockdown since they don’t have enough money to survive without working daily. They also have limited medical facilities. The pandemic has also prevented my parents from travelling to Africa, so please pray that they can travel soon. Meanwhile, I will be completing my final year of nursing school well, so do pray that God would give me a chance to use my nursing skills for His ministry.
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