Getting to Know Raleigh and Opal
Hi Raleigh and Opal! First of all, where are you from originally and where are you now living and working?
Opal: I grew up at Turkey Run Mennonite Church near Logan, OH. As a junior in college I transferred to Eastern Mennonite University, met Raleigh through his sister, and eventually married him! We’ve lived in Harrisonburg most of our married lives, excluding a year we spent in the Middle East.
Recently, our family went through some changes, and I now work while Raleigh stays with the children. We are really enjoying this transition. I work as an instructor at EMU in their Intensive English Program and love interacting with students from around the world. Before the recent change, I spent three years in graduate school and in the life-giving work of raising our two children.
Raleigh: I grew up in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. My dad was a pastor at Dayton Mennonite Church, where I spent my formative years. I’m thankful for the many friends—both peers and mentors—who nurtured me at Dayton and continue to bless me with their friendship and encouragement.
The last three years I’ve been the executive director of a grassroots Christian organization in Harrisonburg called Our Community Place, which seeks to love the people on the fringes of society. It was an incredible time of growth and learning as my staff and I sought innovative ways to bring the gospel to life, build trusting relationships in community, and effect healthy transformation in individuals’ lives. Presently, I am very much enjoying my new role as stay-at-home dad for my two lovely little children! My oldest calls me “Baba,” which is Arabic for “Daddy.”
Please introduce us to your sending church.
Opal: Raleigh and I have been involved in Early Church since before we were married. Early Church is an eclectic group of believers from many backgrounds that meets in a community center in a poorer neighborhood. The church grew from a few people who were passionate about the Bible and Jesus’ love for the poor to include middle class professionals, university students, homeless and addicted folks, and young families. We still meet in the community center because we feel a passion to live among those who are poor and hurting. We enjoy alternative and intentional expressions of what it means to follow Christ in a raw, hurting world.
Could you share your call to missions and what drew you to North Africa specifically?
Raleigh: I first felt drawn to missions when I was a young adult. After serving on a several-week team in Jamaica, a mentor who had been a missionary there for many years challenged me to consider serving with the Mennonite Church in Jamaica for longer. I decided to pursue a one-year assignment part-way through college and it was an incredible year—I’d never felt so alive in the midst of ministry, service, and cultural challenges. I knew that this was going to shape my life trajectory! Later, it was the class Perspectives on the World Christian Movement which drew me toward the Muslim world.
Opal: Almost as long as I can remember, I have felt drawn to participate in the outward commission of Jesus, particularly to those areas where witness is nonexistent or hardly visible. As Raleigh and I melded our visions, we discovered that we were on the same trajectory. Raleigh has been a real visionary as we continue to ask God for direction as to where we should settle. We have both felt drawn to the Muslim world for many years. When we received an invitation from our family (RMM workers Josiah and Sarah) living in North Africa to join their work, we watched God provide for us as we were gently led in growing vision and excitement.
What will your first year in country look like?
Opal: In our first year in North Africa, we hope to live in a city that is a gateway to the people group with whom we are most interested in interacting. We will begin to learn three languages used in the country, and be a presence of Jesus’ light as we get to know the ancient cultures and vibrant people of the area.
Raleigh: When I think of our first year, one scene I often picture is of befriending “the man with the store on the street corner” (who I have not yet met), and getting to know our neighborhood through his eyes. I want to sit with him in the late evening as customers come and go—to hear the language spoken, to try to speak, to learn the intricacies of culture, and to enjoy the people on my street. Our first year will include learning public transportation, being introduced to the politics of visa renewals, and much more.
What are some of your fears and what are you excited about?
Opal: People ask if I’m excited about the move. I think of this move with excitement and sobriety. I feel that my whole life has led up to moves like this one. I am excited about my children growing up in another culture. I’m excited to participate in a different culture. I’m excited to see what God’s Kingdom looks like in cultures so different than a Western one. I’m excited to participate in the artistic beauty of North Africa. I’m excited for the adventure of it all!
But just because I feel that I’ve been headed in this direction for a long time, doesn’t mean I’m not very sober now. I’m fearful about what this move will mean for our children. What will it be like to raise a child with Down Syndrome in North Africa? What will it be like to raise girls in a Muslim context? What about education and their belonging and their safety? Will I seek the Kingdom first in such a way that all these things fall into place? How can I adequately hold what/who matters and trust God at the same time? Will we forever struggle with language? Will we never understand fully why we are doing what we are doing, especially in the long, lonely months and years?
Raleigh: Excitement and fear are often holding hands. The fear that we will not make a difference—that no one will come to know Christ through our witness; the excitement of knowing that the Spirit can transform lives in powerful ways and can use us for his purposes! The fear of our children being alienated in school because they are different; the excitement of hearing our children speaking other languages and making friends in our community. The fear of being lonely without our larger biological and church families nearby; the excitement of building a new Jesus-community in a place that desperately needs him.
Has God given you any promises or are there songs or verses that mean a lot for you right now as you think about this big change?
Opal: The greatest promises I’ve experienced from God are promises of provision. We’ve seen God provide peaceful transitions, unexpected funds, exciting new work, a cozy home, and beautiful family time along with a wonderful support team. We’ve also seen God’s favor in our times interacting with our family in North Africa. I need these little moments and gifts to see God’s love, knowing this love is for all of us.
Raleigh: Our home group is currently studying the book of Acts. This has been a blessing to me as our family prepares to step into the wild adventure of overseas missions, because these are stories of courage and weakness, language and culture learning, failures and successes, truth spoken in the most outrageous places, miracles happening in the name of Jesus! What greater encouragement can there be than in drawing from the example of our Lord and his followers as they risked their lives to offer God’s grace to the world?
How can we pray for your family right now?
Opal: I often thank God for those who are praying for us. I’m grateful for those who pray for our children, for all the transitions they will experience in the next years. I’m grateful for those who pray for Robbie as he grows and learns and blesses the world. I’m grateful for those who pray for him to have all he needs. I’m grateful for those who pray for our marriage. I’m grateful for those who pray for us to learn language and make friends as a family. I’m grateful for those who pray that Jesus would always dwell in and around us, shedding his light to the world. I’m grateful for those who pray for the little details, like packing, getting rid of beloved things, saying goodbyes, flights, new environments, time to know each other and God.
Raleigh: If I may extend the invitation a bit further, I would ask you, friends, to be praying right now for those we will meet in North Africa as well. We know God is going before us, and we ask that the Spirit would soften hearts to hear the good news of Jesus. Pray that those Muslims who desire to draw near to God would find us and “ask us to give a reason for the hope that we have.” And pray that we, in that moment, will be ready to answer “with gentleness and respect,” pointing to Jesus (1 Peter 3:15, NIV).
If you’d like to partner with Raleigh and Opal and their family, join their team of supporters today at donate.rmmweb.org, or email your contact information to email@example.com to receive news and prayer updates and on their journey.