by Abbey Gottinger
I grew up on the east side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was home-schooled until high school along with my two brothers and three sisters. When I was in 9th grade, I attended Riverside University High School. Needless to say going from being homeschooled to a Milwaukee public school was challenging, but also a crucial part of my journey. I learned quickly the world does not satisfy and purpose and meaning is in Christ alone. I had been told this as a child, but I learned first-hand in high school what it truly meant, as well as the reality of forgiveness and acceptance by our heavenly Father. I graduated from Riverside High School in 2008 and attended UW-Milwaukee, graduating in 2012 with a BA in German and Linguistics.
One of the greatest blessings in my life are my parents. My dad is the best man I know. His patience, wisdom and spiritual insight always astound me. My mom was an amazing, godly woman. In March 2013 she passed away from an unexpected brain aneurysm, but her legacy of love for Jesus and others continues to inspire me and remind me of truths in hard times.
I have been part of Eastbrook for 25 years. It is the church my parents served with in East Africa and the church I’ve grown up in. I got involved in serving refugees from a very young age, because my parents used to take us along to teach English and visit Somali refugees in Milwaukee. Their example gave me eyes to see people in need and fall in love with other cultures. I would say the first time I developed a passion for serving refugees was in 2010 when I studied abroad in Germany. The German church I attended had an outreach to refugees from the Middle East and East Africa. Visiting women and children in the refugee camps soon became the highlight of my time in Germany. When I returned to Milwaukee, I continued to serve refugees with Eastbrook.
After being around Arab refugees in Germany and the States, I began to develop a deeper heart for refugees, specifically Arabs. I realized that I could more effective if I learned Arabic and understood Arab culture. I began to look for language programs in the Middle East. When I found a two-year language program in Jordan, I decided to go for it. I didn’t feel like it was a specific, miraculous call, but I knew that I had a heart for the Arab people and this seemed like the logical next step.
I moved to Jordan Fall 2013, planning to study in this two-year Arabic program in Madaba, Jordan. However, through a series events I am no longer studying there, but find myself in the city of Mafraq, ten miles from the Syrian border. I am currently teaching English and co-directing a school for Syrian refugees. My job consists of coordinating teachers, organizing curriculum, creating the school schedule, and teaching English. Accepting this position was one of the most challenging, uncomfortable decisions of my life. I was committing to live near the Syrian border and I had never before had such a position of leadership. In fact, I found out I was going to have this responsibility three weeks before the school was going to start. I knew I was inadequate for the job, but I also knew that God equips the inadequate when they are obedient to him. By faith I accepted this position and I’ve never had more peace that I am exactly where I’m meant to be. It’s a privilege to show my students that God loves them and cares about their futures.
If you feel strongly that God is calling you to do something radical with your life, remember Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Just like with Gideon and Moses, God’s only requirement is total obedience. Through your obedience, God will show himself mighty in your life and the lives around you. In my own life, I have never regretted being obedient even in seasons of hardship and pain. When you are obedient to God, he blesses you with an even deeper awareness of his presence and delight.
One of my favorite passages of scripture is Romans 8:35-39. It talks about how nothing in this world can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. It also lists all of the things that could happen in this world: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword. These are given occurrences in life, but so is God’s faithfulness to us. This verse reminds that I have nothing to fear. When I am ten miles from the Syrian border, when my mom dies, or if I’m in the safest place on earth, God is with me and gives courage and the strength to overcome anything. I have complete peace that my God is with me and as I walk with him and am obedient to his call, he blesses me even in hard times.
If you’d like to support my work, pray for Syria. Pray for the Syrian children whose childhoods have been stolen, syrian mothers who are watching their children die from hunger and cold, and syrian fathers who are helpless to protect and provide for their families. Pray for the church of the Middle East that it will rise up and be obedient to God’s call to love its enemies.