The Christian Embassy ministry center for New York City is in an office building two blocks from the United Nations.
Diplomats from all over the world take the elevator to the 7th floor and after turning a corner are welcomed into a large family living room. The large room offers two comfy sofas and a few easy chairs.
John and Joanne Austin watch time after time as diplomats and their wives let their guard down upon entering the room. The couples exhale and take a seat. For the past 12 years the Austins have been offering international delegates friendship, understanding and the truth of Jesus Christ.
There are approximately 2500 United Nations diplomats in NYC, representing 193 countries. The community is tight-knit and news gets around about who attends what social functions.
“Once we have the privilege of being on the inside of that relatively small and elite circle it means a great deal of trust has been given to us,” says John.
Over the years God has opened this door wide. Thanks to faithful staff members and high quality events such as the International Prayer Breakfast which is held each September and a high class Christmas dinner in December, the ministry has acquired a positive reputation.
With that trust comes an opportunity to build relationships enabling the Austin’s and the CE team to present the truths of Christ to some of the most influential men and women in the world.
Many times these relationships don’t begin with the person holding diplomatic office. Life change frequently starts with the diplomats’ wives. The women have a more flexible schedule and a great desire to make personal connections in their new home.
Most embassies provide little help for the transition time. No one sits down with a family and helps them think through what the cross-cultural experience will require emotionally, socially, or spiritually.
Christian Embassy staff members seek to love delegates by meeting these felt needs. “It’s all based on friendship and trust,” explains Joanne, “We are not forcing religion on them.”
English practice, transition seminars, Bible discussions and a friendship tea offered in the spring and again in the fall are all services Christian Embassy offers to help make wives feel at home. These opportunities also open the door for spiritual discovery and conversation.
The Austin’s and their CE team connect on deep levels relating from their own experiences living internationally. Serving with Cru for 42 years, John and Joanne spent 16 of those years ministering in 4 different African countries.
They raised their children in various cross-cultural environments and know first-hand, the challenges transition can bring.
There are 30 to 40 wives involved. “We have seen God use the wife so many times,” states John. “The husband observes something at work through their wife’s involvement with us and often, that translates into spiritual hunger and life-changing involvement for the husband.”
In the last year, the Christian Embassy team hosted an event featuring the Art of Marriage study which was created by Family Life ministries.
The idea began with a wives’ Bible study group. Some of the women became so excited about their study on ‘How to Love Your Husband’ that they decided to plan a special dinner event and invite their husbands to attend.
A short time later a dozen couples arrived at the CE ministry center for a dinner event. During the evening the women showed the first video in the Art of Marriage series. John and Joanne remember the overall opinion of the evening being positive.
Several couples indicated an interest in completing the remaining 5 sessions of the Art of Marriage series. However, due to busy work schedules and frequent visits from presidents and other foreign dignitaries, the small group never formed.
Recently, Giselle Timbe, a fellow CE staff team member, reconnected with a couple from Africa who had attended the dinner that evening. She knew this couple had been struggling in their marriage.
The couple had just finished their 3-year term in New York and they were scheduled to return home for another political appointment.
They told Giselle that after the dinner event they had taken the initiative to order the 6-week series and completed it on their own. “They said it changed their marriage,” says John with a chuckle of delight.
The diplomat and his wife have now returned home, eager to share what they have learned with other couples.
Sometimes the whole Christian Embassy team will stop and marvel at how God is choosing to work through them. “We are all just very ordinary people.
There is nothing that stands out about any of us on the team,” says Joanne. “God is letting us connect with these people who have incredible influence in their world. We are in awe and we thank God. It’s humbling and exciting.”
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