Mission Possible: Seeing a big dream come to fruition in the hard places
As CEO of CRISTA Ministries, Jacinta Tegman is committed to reaching the lost, even when it means pushing forward into hard places. Hear her personal experiences at The End of the Road.
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CRISTA Ministries CEO Jacinta Tegman is no stranger to remote, challenging places in our world. But hardship, and even danger, have not deterred her from relentlessly pursuing God’s calling on her life and her commitment to the mission of CRISTA, World Concern’s parent organization. Hear her personal experiences in places like Chad, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, as she shares her heart for those we serve at The End of the Road.
Mission Possible: Seeing a big dream come to fruition in the hard places
Cathy: Welcome to the End of the Road Podcast. My name is Cathy, and I'm your host and tour guide as we journey together to some of the most remote, challenging places on the planet. I'm so excited to have you along for the ride. So buckle up, we're going to the end of the road.
Cathy: Our guest today is Jacinta Tegman. Jacinta is the CEO of CRISTA Ministries, World Concern's parent organization. We call ourselves here a family of ministries. I think and I hope it's okay to call CRISTA the parent of that family. Prior to her role as CEO, Jacinta served as president of World Concern. And in that role had the opportunity to travel to some really fascinating places, some hard places at the end of the road. I'm really excited to have her share some of those experiences today, as well as her vision for CRISTA and all the various ways that the ministries here are changing lives around the world. Welcome, Jacinta. Thank you so much for being with us on the podcast today.
Jacinta Tegman: Well, thank you, Cathy. Of course, it's my pleasure to be with you today.
Cathy: I'd love for you to start off with a few stories from the end of the road. What would you say of all the places that you've traveled, and I know you were a missionary for a portion of your life, and so you've been to lots of places around the world, what would you say is one of the hardest places that you've been, where you just felt like this is a challenging, tough place?
Jacinta Tegman: Well, in some ways, it's kind of a hard question with World Concern because so often every place we work is a hard place. I mean, I think that's part of our unique and special call and there's something in that call that I just love, that we go to those places where mainstream humanitarian aid doesn't reach, but that need is still there. Sometimes it's like some of the big organizations that go, they're looking for a place where a really big impression can be made. These places that are small to medium sized are not reached and very small organizations don't have the resources to get there. I think World Concern is sort of uniquely positioned where we're large enough to get to those hard places, and we're small enough that we're willing to do the hard places where very...
Jacinta Tegman: As I said, not even just very few, but no one else will go there. Isn't that just like our Lord who goes to seek and to save the lost and goes after that one sheep, leaves the 99? Something is very special about that. But as I think my years with World Concern the many, probably thousands of miles I traveled, some of the ones that have given me the biggest impression are, of course, where it's just extreme hardship. One time I remember being in Chad and we were going out to this village. It was just the tail end of the rainy season, so much of the roads were washed out. We're going to cross what they call a wadi, kind of like a little river that had formed because of the intense rain. Out in the middle of this river, I see a panel truck on its side in what had developed as a sandbar.
Jacinta Tegman: I asked our driver, it's like, "Tell me what's going on there," and he's like, "Oh yeah. That vehicle was trying to cross last week, got caught in the current, and the driver in the passengers were all killed." There on the sandbar is this carcass of this truck, and now I'm looking at our truck. I'm thinking, our driver's out wading into the water trying to take the depth of it and to see if we could make it. I remember thinking, wow, my prayer life was rich in that moment. As we got in that car and moved forward, I'm thinking, wow, this is where World Concern goes. Is it smart? Is it safe? All the answers are like, no. What am I doing? As president now, I'm in a position to make these calls like, should we even be in a place like this?
Jacinta Tegman: Kind of as this road continued and kind of more adventures on the road, I had pretty much decided, okay, we're not coming back here. This is just way too high of a risk. As we finally reached the edge of this village where World Concern was working, the people saw that we had arrived and they start coming out. And as I'm getting out of the car sort of fully prepared to have to walk my staff through, all right. The staff there, our team, this doesn't make sense. I just felt like the Lord spoke to me in that moment, because the question I had been asking, why do we go to these places? What are we doing out here? When I got there and as these people are coming and our team is coming to greet me, I just felt like the Lord say to me, it's because I care for people at the end of the road.
Jacinta Tegman: One of the things I learned in that experience and that had been repeated so many times after that was I so often thought that I would bring Jesus or World Concern would bring Jesus to these hard places. But what I learned is I meet Jesus in these hard places. That he was there waiting for us to come. He had a plan and a purpose and a call for that area and that village, these people precious to him, known by him. We were actually joining him in his work rather than the converse of that idea that we're there to make this big difference. That's one kind of snapshot, Cathy. I could say a thousand stories I have of how it is difficult. It is hard. It is the end of the road, it is where no one else wants to go, but Jesus is there waiting for us to partner with him to see transformation happen.
Cathy: I love that. Thanks for sharing that. It's so confirming of the call and the mission. Tell me a little bit about how CRISTA's mission and how this idea of reaching people, even in places where maybe the gospel is not shared openly, how that kind of fits into this idea of reaching people in forgotten, really, really hard to reach places where maybe other people would say, "That's too expensive. Too hard. It's dangerous," like you did before crossing the river, 'We're not going out here again," and yet we do. We do. We do. We continue to go back. Let me just clarify for the listeners.
Cathy: Most of our staff are nationals of the countries where we're working. These communities are actually communities they're very familiar with. Some of them grew up in these villages and in these areas. To them, this is a fairly typical day's work to get out to these places. For those of us that go just for a visit, it's much more stark sort of the realization that this is really difficult to reach. How does all that kind of fit into CRISTA's big dream and tell us a little bit about that?
Jacinta Tegman: CRISTA was founded by a man who had such a burden to reach the lost. In fact, as he was felt called into ministry, he felt like he heard this audible voice of God to him that said, "There's so little time and there are so many lost." At the core of who CRISTA is, and then by extension all of our ministries, is this idea that we are called to see new and growing disciples. We are about seeing lives transform by the power of Jesus Christ. That looks very different in all of our ministries. From preschool through 12th grade in our King's School, which is part of CRISTA, that's the discipleship of young people, children, right? And young people. Over our radio stations, over our airways, we're preaching that good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jacinta Tegman: But I think for World Concern, it's this extension that when we are called to make disciples, it's in our local area, as we know in God's word, Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the world. Well, that's where I feel like World Concern comes in. We're kind of handling our neighborhood, right, and the surrounding region to make that difference. Our radio signals cover this huge amount of geographical territory. And of course, now with digital, even circling the globe. But for me, World Concern fits within CRISTA because it takes that piece to the uttermost parts of the earth of taking the gospel, that good news that God loves you and has a plan for your life and wants to see you completely transform and thriving. I love that part.
Jacinta Tegman: I think one of our ministries that was early on in the heart of our founder with his call to missions and realize now all these 65, 70 years later still going strong because the need is still so great in those places. I think it also helps our local outreaches as well, because we don't just care about those like us in those convenient places, but sometimes sharing the gospel is costly. We know it was costly to our Lord who ultimately gave his life to redeem us. I think as we pick up our cross and follow him, there are times and places in our life that sharing the gospel is costly. World Concern is one of those places.
Cathy: I know you've been to some places and had some experiences, as I mentioned earlier, places where openly sharing the gospel verbally is not possible. I remember you took a trip a few years ago to the Southern part of Bangladesh, to the Rohingya refugee camps. This was a place where the people living in those camps had fled horrible atrocities and had suffered just incredible indescribable losses. You went and visited with some of those people. I remember you connecting with one particular young woman that had been really traumatized. In a place like that where you don't speak the language, might not be totally safe to share the gospel, how were you able to communicate the love of Jesus to someone like that woman?
Jacinta Tegman: I think in some ways when we look at the need that is so big, like even a million people crammed into a refugee camp, it's overwhelming. But I think the Lord looks at us as individuals and as we take on that kind of posture where we look at people one by one instead of in this huge mass of people. Quite frankly, that's so overwhelming. What do you even do? In this particular case, I do remember well the story of this young girl. I think she was 15 years old and had been assaulted multiple times. Her brother was shot and killed in front of her, as well as her husband and her parents. She was telling me your story. World Concern was in the camps working and helping with just some really practical things of shelter and food. I heard her story through a translator.
Jacinta Tegman: As she's telling me this brokenness that she had experienced, I saw her I think in the sense where I really saw her, right? Not just one of this mass of people, but I saw her and my heart was so broken that at one point I just said to the translator, "I'm just going to pray for her." I was so overwhelmed and he's like, "Oh yeah, go for it." I'm a mom and I saw her as my daughter. I just wrapped her in my arms and I just prayed for her. She just began to weep and sob. I think she had not cried. She was so traumatized and was still probably in somewhat of a state of shock. I really felt like the Lord threw me put his arms around her as I prayed.
Jacinta Tegman: I know that she could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit and it just melted her and broke open this part of her heart that she had closed off probably as a survival mechanism. I always think of her now that she had a touch of the Holy Spirit. It's familiar to her. As things move forward and she learns more about the Lord, she'll never forget his presence. I think it's the seeds that are planted in a moment like that where the gospel is being transmitted because what was being transmitted to her, and I just happened to be the vehicle, was this tremendous love of God. Just crying with her for the hardship and the brokenness and the evil of the world, and yet to be held in a safe place full of love and grace and truth.
Jacinta Tegman: I know she experienced the Lord in that moment. I think it's not like the four spiritual laws were pulled out and I took her through the gospel, but I held her and prayed for her. I know she experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in her life. And often when we're breaking open new ground and new areas that are hostile to the proclamation of the gospel, I don't think that's an impediment to the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, I can say for sure it is not. As we serve in Jesus' name full of love and truth and grace and willing to walk with, cry with, and journey together in these broken places, isn't that exactly where Jesus shows up? I know for a fact he was with us that moment, and I know she met him there.
Cathy: Absolutely. Incredible. Wow! What a story. It must have been a huge blessing for you to be used in that way to just be open to being that conduit of God's love to that young girl. It really fits with World Concern's sort of essence of who we are of being incarnation, of being present with people in their suffering, of not shying away from that, of not considering our own comfort level, but being willing to be used by God in a situation like that because the need was so great and she just needed to be held. In that moment of just being present with her, you communicated with her in a really powerful way.
Cathy: I think that's incredible and it's great for the listeners to hear. A lot of people ask us that, "Well, how do you share the gospel in a place where you're not allowed to?" That's a really, really clear illustration of how that's done.
Jacinta Tegman: Well, and I think as we pray for people... I think of another story wherein I was in Sri Lanka actually and there was a grandmother. She was blind. Her daughter had abandoned her own children, and so the grandmother was left raising them. They had been abused by local fishermen, and it was one of these most tragic stories. And as the grandmother is telling her story, just the pain that came through, and I think there was something very incarnate. I love how you say that of how Jesus walks through just to listen to her story as she shared. I remember feeling, again, this compulsion, like it was all I could do to restrain myself. I couldn't. Again, with our country director at the time, we gathered this woman in our arms and we just prayed for her.
Jacinta Tegman: I believe, again, the seeds of the gospel are planted in that moment. First, that World Concern would walk with people in their pain, listen to their story. I'm sure we were the first people who had ever taken the time to hear that story. I know for myself when people take that time with me, right, how powerful that is, and think of just the amount of trauma that people experience, and when we walk into that place and become literally the hands and feet, the arms of Jesus, that we walk with them in Jesus' name. We're not shying away. No one has ever refused prayer. I feel like that's a huge key place. Whatever the openness is in the country, if it's close to the gospel, no one has ever refused our prayers.
Jacinta Tegman: I feel like that's one of our main tools, right? To see that transformation. Because as we pray, we invite the Holy Spirit into that brokenness. He's so faithful to come in and to minister powerfully through that expression of his love and care for these precious, precious people. I think more is transmitted than if we were in a stadium giving an altar call at that moment as we walk with people in that broken place.
Cathy: It's so true, and it's really one of the things I think that sets us apart. There's lots of organizations that do good work and bring food when people are hungry and deliver that and give people access to water and help kids get in school. There's lots of governmental organizations and other organizations that do really good work. I think one of those things that really sets World Concern and CRISTA apart is that it's not just meeting physical needs, that it's meeting that greatest need that every person has, that spiritual need for reconciliation with God and for connection with their creator. I love that that is such a big part of what we do, even if it's expressed through a hug with a young woman that's hurting. It's being done.
Jacinta Tegman: I think that when we think of these needs, I almost see myself and you use that word as a conduit, right? Jesus wants to feed these people. I learned long ago in humanitarian work that when a mother is hearing her babies cry for hunger, she can't hear the gospel, right? We have to feed that baby. Isn't that what Jesus would do? But more than just feed that baby, that expression of God's love, so like meeting the practical physical need, sometimes is a precursor to sharing the spiritual truth and the knowledge that there is a God in heaven that loves them. They see that visibly when those physical needs are met. It's not either/or, and I think that's a fallacy, because like just go preach the gospel and who cares if they're hurting or whatever.
Jacinta Tegman: It's like, what gospel are we talking about here, right? Jesus, moved by compassion, reached out, touched the leper, healed the broken, the paralyzed, stepped into those places of brokenness where people were shunned and made to feel like they were less than. That is the gospel, and in that brought the truth that God's love was greater than their sin and greater than their suffering, right? I feel like World Concern in little and in sometimes really large ways seeks to replicate this model that Jesus shared with us, that he did both, didn't he? He was compassionate and kind and loving. It just makes me so thankful that that's the savior that we serve.
Jacinta Tegman: Of course, he wants to meet both physical and spiritual needs, right? Because if it's just that they're fed one day and that their spirits aren't touched and that they don't know that that was an expression of God's love, they'll be hungry again. But as the word tells us, the Lord said himself that if we drink from the well of living water, we'll never thirst again, right? We try to give both physical and spiritual water, right, that will satisfy both for today and into eternity.
Cathy: I want to just pause for a moment and thank our listeners for joining us today. If you're just hearing about World Concern for the first time and you're curious to learn a little bit more about who we are and what sets us apart from other organizations you might be familiar with, please visit WorldConcern.org/podcast and learn a little bit more about what we do. And now let's get back to our conversation.
Cathy: You mentioned a few minutes ago just the power of people having an opportunity to not only tell their story, but have their story heard. I've seen that time and time again. Early in my career, I was a counselor and just really saw that the power of people being heard and having their story heard. That's one of the things that I love about the podcast is that we are bringing these stories to life and bringing them to people that might otherwise not ever hear about what God is doing in some of these other parts of the world, some of these places, people's lives at the end of the road.
Cathy: I wanted to just share a couple of highlights or things that have come up on the podcast recently and kind of just get your reaction to them when you think about the opportunity that CRISTA has and World Concern has to be a part of these kinds of life changing experiences. One of those was recently I interviewed one of our staff members in Haiti. His name's James. He started working for us years ago as a translator. I think you've probably met him in your travels to Haiti.
Jacinta Tegman: I know James. Yes.
Cathy: Yes. Yeah. Wonderful young man. He was sharing about his just traumatizing experience having survived the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince. He actually lost his mom in that earthquake and was just feeling incredibly hopeless and really questioning... He believed that there was a God, but was really questioning why something like this would happen. Through a series of events, he got connected with World Concern and started working with us, helping to translate as we started the rebuilding process after the earthquake there in Haiti. He was sharing with me that it was a staff devotion where he first really felt like God was speaking to him and calling him to a life with God.
Cathy: It was a gentleman named Meredith Long, who used to work here at World Concern headquarters, who was sharing some scriptures and some stories from the Bible during a staff devotion. James said, "That kind of familiar thing, I felt like it was just for me." That was a life changing moment for him. When you hear about someone, a staff member, in a place never having hope or hearing about the relationship that Jesus wants to have with them, hearing that through World Concern, how does that make you feel?
Jacinta Tegman: Yeah. Well, I think it's interesting because we are a Christian organization, but we work in many places that either it's the minority or even non-existent. We always try to have our leadership be believers because you can't give what you don't have. But in order to do that work, we work with local people who need jobs. Often they become staff members in helping us convey the work of World Concern, wherever that context is. James is one of those, isn't he, where he came into a family of World Concern and he was loved on and was brought into this realization through how he was treated and through the spoken word of God that I think God became real to him, right?
Jacinta Tegman: I feel like so often when we think about God, it's hard to describe him, isn't it? Because as a spirit, being the almighty, that can feel very far removed from each of us. But when we, with hands and feet and real flesh, express God's love to people, it resonates in a way in their heart where I think it opens that realization that God cares about them and sees them and is responding to their need. We know God is always at work, right? He is always at work drawing people. I think we get to be the conduit, again that word, of that expression of God's love to people. It's not surprising.
Jacinta Tegman: It's actually a very normal part of what happens where we work, because we're surrounded by people who may not have that realization that God loves them, cares for them, has a plan for them, wants to transform their lives, and even in the midst of great brokenness can breathe hope and even anticipation of a better, brighter future in him. I love those stories. One time I was in Bangladesh and I was on a rickshaw. I was with one of our staff there. In the same context, majority non-Christian nation and sharing the love of God with this individual, and I asked her, "What's keeping you from accepting Jesus? Is it your family?" Whatever. She goes, "Oh, but I love him." I wasn't sure I understood what she was saying.
Jacinta Tegman: I mean, "Do you love Jesus?" She goes, "Oh yes." Because every day they would open in prayer and a devotion. Over the course of time, she grew to love the savior through the stories of God's word. I don't know. It's like, wait a minute, this is outside of the box of how I think people are supposed to come to faith, right? There's a moment where you raise your hand. But in this case, over this course of the Lord speaking to her through his word, she was drawn into a love relationship with the savior. I am certain that she is a believer. She knew Jesus. She spoke to him, and she knew he loved her and she in turn loved him, right? I think that is that story, like James' story, that's repeated over and over and over again in our work.
Cathy: Pretty amazing. I think I was on that trip to Bangladesh with you.
Jacinta Tegman: That's correct. You were.
Cathy: Let me just say that traveling with Jacinta was an amazing experience, but there is no whining and no complaining. I remember you saying as we left, "It's going to be hot. It's going to be uncomfortable, and there will be no complaining or whining." It was important. I mean, we laugh about it now, but it was important. Because to our staff and to the people who we serve and who live in these places, this is their home and this is what they live with day-to-day. But they're very proud to invite us into their homes, aren't they, and to show us. If we were at all expressing our physical discomfort, it would just really hinder the purpose of why we're there.
Jacinta Tegman: Right, right. There's this verse in the Bible that says to eat everything that is set before you, right? Or like it's this idea that we accept the hospitality. Because in doing that, I think we're also demonstrating the graciousness of God to them. While it may not be much, I think there's something powerful for them to be able to give something to us. Of course, we want to accept it with gratitude and joy and affirm them in that, right? That they're seen and that their offering is beautiful to God and to us as well.
Cathy: Yeah, absolutely. One other quick story before we finish up today that I just kind of want to get your reaction to. I did an interview recently with a young man who lives in Samburu, Kenya. His name's Rafael. Rafael had the opportunity to go to school and through that came to know the Lord, became a Christian as a young boy, but also had to follow the cultural practice of becoming a Moran warrior, which meant that he lived separate from his community. The Morans are kind of the protectors of the community. They live out in the bush and protect the villages basically from other threats and things. But there's also some not great cultural practices that kind of happen.
Cathy: They do a practice called beating with younger girls where they sort of claim them as their girlfriend, even though they're not married and stuff. Rafael had an interesting younger life as he was growing in his faith, but also was required to go through this process of being a Moran. I asked him in the podcast interview if now as a World Concern staff member, I knew that we were doing some outreaches and different interactions with the Morans. He shared that that put him in a really unique position because he's one of them. He can go to his own people, the other Morans, the other young men, and be able to share Jesus with them and minister to them and show them that there's a different way.
Cathy: I loved that and I wanted to just kind of get your reaction to that in terms of why local staff, why staff that are part of the culture and know people, and just kind of the opportunity. When you hear about someone like Rafael that's positioned so uniquely, how does that make you feel?
Jacinta Tegman: I think global missions has really changed in our lifetime, because the gospel in many places has gone out. People through various means, in his case, through education came to faith in Christ, but we're working in areas where there's still great need, but at the same time, there are people who have come to faith in Christ. We have a choice there. We could continue to kind of do missions the old fashioned way, where we're the ones that are out there preaching and teaching and doing that work, or we come alongside the believers that are there and we empower them, train them, resource them so that they can do the work. I think it's a powerful model.
Jacinta Tegman: First of all, I think it extends the reach of World Concern, and by that, I mean the kingdom of God because there's so much more that we can do. But I think you're right in this fact that the positioning of one of their own trusted, understands the language, understands the culture, has lived through it and preaches the gospel in a really powerful way that I don't think I, as a foreigner, in that context could do it. Now, I know that there are places still on the planet where there is no viable church and expatriates are out doing that kind of missional work. But I think wherever we can find people that are part of that culture who have come to faith in Christ and they become workers in his kingdom, in his vineyard, if you will, I think it's just a powerful way to reach the lost.
Jacinta Tegman: It's a powerful... Sort of I would say too, it's like economically the smartest thing to do, right? Because we're actually empowering that community by bringing resources to it. We're using kind of like that local talent and local heart kind of in a way that we empower people to tell their story. You were saying earlier, like we all have a story. The Bible says that they overcame by the blood of the lamp and by the word of their testimony. I always think of that as like by their story. What we're doing is that we're creating a platform for Rafael to tell his story. Powerful, right? And that he's able to tell it in a way that reaches people we never could reach, touches in a way... Understands, right, at that level.
Jacinta Tegman: Again, to the reference of the incarnate work of Christ that he walks among us, right? I love that. I love that as our model with World Concern. I think it's powerful. I think it's effective. I think it's God honoring. Wherever we can, we try to employ it.
Cathy: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, Jacinta, it's been such a pleasure today to talk with you. I love hearing your stories and I know the listeners are really going to enjoy hearing some of your experiences, as well as just how those experiences have led to where you are now in the position that you have and the opportunity that you have to oversee so many various ministries that are reaching people in so many different places and in so many different ways and so many different stages of life all over the world. Thank you again for taking the time to join us today. I really appreciate it.
Jacinta Tegman: My absolute pleasure. God bless you and God bless the listeners.
Cathy: I want to thank our listeners for joining us today. I hope that your mind has been opened up a little bit. Your heart has been touched through some of the stories that you have heard today. As I mentioned earlier, if you're curious about learning a little bit more about World Concern, about our work beyond the end of the road, you can visit WorldConcern.org/podcast to learn more. I want to thank CRISTA Ministries, World Concern's parent organization, for making this podcast possible. I also want to thank Casey Helmick and the whole team at Terra Firma for their production and editing and consulting expertise, for helping us bring these stories to life and bring them to you. Thanks again for joining us today. We look forward to more stories at the end of the road next time.