By Laura Wood
Twenty years ago Jay Bowyer and Colette Ladan never would have imagined themselves living in Poland, working with a community of believers. Although both women went to a Bible college in their native Canada, Jay worked as a district sales manager for a women’s retail chain and Colette worked as a corporate trainer for a telecommunications company. Neither of them planned on working cross-culturally, but something changed on a short-term mission trip in 1997. God made it clear to both that they should give up their corporate jobs and serve him in Poland.
In the Beginning
Their ministry began as an outreach to middle-class business people in a small city north of Warsaw. They spent seven years there, learning the culture, language, and hearts of the people. Eventually they moved to Krakow to start a community of seekers and believers called Sequoia. According to Jay, “Our main focus is discipleship with a goal of establishing a community of Christ followers.”
They begin with people they meet through their Christian English school for business people, which they call Graceland. They write the curriculum themselves, focusing on Bible stories, Christian novels, and biographies of believers to encourage people to open up and think about their own spiritual states. “Once people get over the initial shock of talking so openly about their personal beliefs and lives, they realize how hungry they are for more.”
Many of the business students then become a part of the Sequoia community, gathering every second Friday evening to share a meal, study, and discuss God’s Word, sing, and pray together. They learn what it means to follow Christ in their daily lives. Jay and Colette say that their greatest success has been developing a culture of trust and sharing. The members of their community feel safe and are open to deep spiritual and personal discussions.
The Graceland school doesn’t just benefit those whom Jay and Colette teach. The community built through this has been a support to the entire ministry team as well. The ministry team lives in different apartments in the same building, and they meet daily for prayer and once a month for fun and games. “We spend a lot of time doing ministry together, so we grow close and learn to rely on each other,” Jay said. “Many of the people we minister to have become friends and help us with all sorts of things, including ‘breaking and entering’ our apartment when we locked ourselves out one Sunday afternoon!” They’ve also become Canadian aunties to about 30 Malaysian students who live in Krakow, sharing family-style celebrations with them while they are far away from home.
These two women enjoy the learning curve that comes with living overseas. “After all these years, we are still learning new things, and we love that.” They also like that focusing on their mission keeps life simpler with fewer distractions than they had in North America. They see friends from their old life struggling with busyness and endless distractions and remember the long hours of work they put in for their bosses in the corporate world. Seeing this, they realize that working long hours to make Christ relevant to their adopted culture feels much more rewarding.
Of course not everything about living cross-culturally comes easily. They also feel the tension that comes with ministering in Poland, running the English school, and fitting in the promotional travel in Canada and the U.S. that is necessary to help their ministry expand. Since Jay and Colette also host many short-term mission teams and provide internships for students, these ladies have their work cut out for them!
Having lived cross-culturally as long as they have, Jay and Colette have plenty of tips for people considering full-time cross-cultural ministry. They advise people to make sure they and their ministries are bathed in prayer. “Don’t worry about the current school of thought on missions,” they said. Instead people should learn from those doing the work—nationals and missionaries. They advise people to allow themselves time to travel and see the important cultural and historical places in a country and to meet others in ministry there. “Keep the main thing the main thing! Don’t try to have a finger in every pie. Do what you’re called to do well—with all your heart, soul, and passion!”
If you would like more information on Jay & Colette’s ministry, check out their website (gracelandministries.com).
Laura McKillip Wood formerly taught missionary children in Ukraine and now works in the academic office of Nebraska Christian College. She and her husband, Andrew, have three children (lauramckillipwood.com).