Jonathan Wright will never forget the first all-night prayer meeting he attended as a freshman at Rocklake College.
He’d been invited to the 8:30 PM prayer meeting by graduate students connected with OM. Jonathan confesses, “I was expecting it to be a typical one or two hour long meeting, so was a bit surprised to see them going strong still at midnight!”
When he asked when the meeting would finish, they answered, “Oh, we’ll be here all night. At least until six in the morning.”
Though Jonathan only held on until 1:00 AM, the OM students he knew made an impression on him through their zeal for world intercession, bold evangelism, radical discipleship, ruthless honesty, and a simple lifestyle.
So when Jonathan decided to go on a short-term mission trip the summer after his freshman year, he plowed through dozens of brochures before narrowing the choices down to two. One application was ten pages long, and OM’s form was only two.
Jonathan, then a busy student, reflects, “Just looking at the length of the forms made my decision easy.”
His decision would shape the next several decades of his life.
A missional heart was in Jonathan’s blood. When Jonathan was young, his parents longed to serve in the mission field, but circumstances prevented them from going, so they decided to be senders by financially supporting missionaries and regularly hosting missionaries on furlough. Jonathan was also impacted by reading missionary Jim Elliott’s Shadow of the Almighty in high school.
The summer before his sophomore year, Jonathan served with OM in Hungary. The experience framed his understanding of his own calling. Jonathan explains, “I was wrestling with whether I should follow in my father’s footsteps and be a businessman, or go into missions.” During his first college economics class, Jonathan began to suspect that business was not for him. He explains, “So many of the business students seemed to have no other goal in life than to get married, have a couple kids, live in a nice house with a dog and a white picket fence.” He admits, “I’m sure many of them had good motives, but at the time it all seemed so shallow and meaningless to me.”
In Hungary, Jonathan says, “Meeting people from other cultures, intense prayer meetings, bold evangelism—all were exciting to me during the OM outreach.” But the one thing that helped Jonathan embrace how God would use him was witnessing others come to know Jesus.
“At our campsite in Hungary,” Jonathan shares, “I got to know a Hungarian university student who prayed to receive Christ the night before we left. We even stayed in touch for quite a few years after that. That helped me overcome my doubts that God could use me in foreign missionary service.”
The year after Jonathan graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, he worked full-time in London as an assistant to OM founder George Verwer. That year the pair traveled to 17 U.S. states and 25 countries together. Jonathan recalls, “He's a fanatic about redeeming the time. I don't think I remember any period of time longer than 2 minutes where he wasn't trying to accomplish something — whether commuting, or while waiting for a flight in an airport, or while in a car. He’d often say, ‘Redeem the time!’”
Jonathan recalls the passion of early OM staff during that season, whose fervor could be summed up in the question "Why should someone be told the Gospel a second time when there are still so many who haven't heard the Gospel once?" Jonathan shared this invigorating ethos, saying, “While working for George I wanted to go to the most difficult, most neglected, most unreached place on the planet, and in 1995 for me that ended up being Turkmenistan.”
Jonathan’s parents were supportive of his foray into missions, as was his church in Boise, Idaho. He says, “They prayed together and then said yes, they believed God was in this.” People who discipled Jonathan gave specific encouragement to go into missions.
Jonathan says that their sending—with the laying on of hands—still blesses him today, “That continues to be a source of encouragement when times get tough, knowing that God’s church has laid hands on me and sent me for this purpose.”
When Jonathan arrived in Turkmenistan in July 1995, there were only about twenty known Turkmen believers in the country and thirty foreign workers. He says, “Everyone knew everyone else, and we all met together for church each week.” One of the Christians Jonathan met was a European woman named Karla, who would become his wife. The two were on the same church-planting team in a town near the capital. Jonathan says he didn’t even consider romance as the pair worked side by side for two years, sharing the Gospel and baptizing people. Today the couple serves in Istanbul Turkey, where they’re also raising three children.
Turkey is 96 percent Muslim and only 0.007 percent Christian. Jonathan adds, “When you’re in a city with over 14 million people and only about 1,500 Turkish believers, you don’t run out of places to go. The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.”
While a typical day for Jonathan often includes meetings, phone calls, and emails about various OM initiatives, his favorite day is when his evangelism team hits the streets preaching to small crowds, distributing church invitations, or simply talking with people they meet. In a country like Turkey, this public witness requires boldness. Jonathan notes, “We’ve only been beat up once and only had rocks thrown at us once. I’ve seen God rescue us out of too many difficult situations to have any doubt about His ability to save.”
Each Sabbath, Jonathan and his family worship in a church of about 80 people, most of whom are native to Turkey. The church was founded 20 years ago, but has only held official status for 12 years. “Whenever we have big evangelistic events or holiday services,” says Jonathan, “the police come and provide protection. We’re really grateful for the freedoms that have been granted to us here.”
Those freedoms have been hard-won.
Over the last decade, Jonathan has been involved in several court cases advocating for religious freedom. At one point, Jonathan was held for deportation, so he and others opened a case against the Interior Ministry to contest their expulsion. Surprisingly, the court issued an injunction to release Jonathan in just three days. When the case was heard, the court ruled in Jonathan’s favor. All charges were dropped. He explains, “I’ll never forget the look on the police chief’s face when my lawyer came to the deportation center with the court’s injunction. He said, ‘In all my years here I’ve never seen someone get such a court injunction.’” Jonathan adds, “The more I live the more I see how God loves to display his great power in and through our weakness.”
Jonathan doesn’t ask why he’s persecuted. Instead he claims, “The question for me, more and more, is why anyone who knows the God of the Bible would ever be silly enough to doubt such a great God's ability to save them from mere mortals. As the Bible says, ‘those who can do no more than kill the body’ (Luke 12:4).”
In Istanbul there are always those who are eager to talk about spiritual things. With a laugh, Jonathan says, “It’s evangelist heaven here! Just yesterday a young man prayed to receive Christ on the street, and last week a neighbor of ours told me, ‘I think I’m becoming a believer like you, but I still have lots of questions.’”
Because of OM’s ministry, Jonathan, his family, and his team are there to answer those questions.
Lord, we thank You for Your heart of compassion toward the lost and forgotten. For us You sent Your only Son. We ask You, in Your great mercy, to shine Your light into the darkest corners of this world. Use us as You will, Father, to bring the beauty of new life in Christ to those who have not yet heard, that they might also believe and follow Him.
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