(EDITOR'S NOTE: Home-Grown Missions profiles missionaries, both full- and part-time, who grew up in area churches. As part of an on-going series, letters home from those serving on the mission field occasionally also will be published.)
When one Nippenose Valley native received her call to serve, she had no idea of the dangers associated with it.
Amy Jean Saal grew up in a Christian home where her parents extended hospitality and member care to pastors and missionaries in her home, which later influenced her to serve. She accepted the call to serve in full-time ministry at a missionary conference in her childhood church - Memorial Baptist. Dr. Dick Sanford, of New Tribes Mission, was the keynote speaker and challenged the congregation to be willing to serve the Lord in full-time ministry.
Amy Saal, left, with a Sudan Interior Missions-USA co-worker.
To prepare, Saal attended three years of biblical studies at Philadelphia Biblical University, where she met her husband, the Rev. William "Bill" Saal.
After Bill received his master's degree, they were called to serve at Blue Church in Springfield, a strong mission-minded church in Delaware County. They served for eight years.
Bill was asked to serve on the U.S. Board of North Africa Mission, which later became Arab World Ministries.
NAME: Amy Jean Saal
HOME CHURCH: Memorial Baptist Church, Williamsport
HOMETOWN: Nippenose Valley and Williamsport
HIGH SCHOOL: Jersey Shore Area High School
COLLEGE: Philadelphia Biblical University
SENDING ORGANIZATION: Arab World Ministries
MISSION FIELD: Administrative
START DATE: 1980
"Bill was always interested in the part of the world that was 'hard to reach' and accepted this challenge serving on the board of directors as their chairman," Saal said. "While serving as chairman of the board, he was invited to serve on the International Council. The International Council encouraged Bill to plan an exposure trip into North Africa. He visited North Africa and came back a changed man filled with passion, compassion for the peoples in this region."
In 1980, the Saals left pastoral ministry to become full-time missionaries with Arab World Ministries. Bill frequently would go on two or three weeklong trips between four to six times a year. Amy stayed behind to raise their children, serving as both mother and father, which sometimes became a challenge.
"My ministry was primarily raising our children, supporting Bill with his administrative-leadership responsibilities and utilizing my gifts in hospitality and member care in our home," Saal said. "As the children grew, I was able to accompany Bill on cross-cultural trips to visit and provide pastoral care for our workers in the Arab world."
Saal would not disclose specific locations of their ministry to protect those involved with the mission.
"They've sent a lot of people out of the country because you cannot go into the Arab world as a missionary on your visa," she said. "You need to go in as a teacher or a professional."
So, when a missionary goes into one of those countries and starts sharing their life and daily experiences, eventually they are questioned why they are there.
"A life of witness is ridiculed in those countries," Saal said. "It's against the law in those countries to be sharing Christ because they will kick you out of the country if you prophesy. It's so different than if you're in America. We have freedoms to go wherever we want to worship.
"Anything that's going to be a confronting fact, they won't tolerate," she continued. "And the reason I don't want to mention countries and names is because there could be somebody right in Williamsport that's Muslim that could trail right down to my name, organization and name names and have them on the list and kicked out of the country."
Despite the dangers involved with sending missionaries there, it still is important to do so, she said.
"They're created in the image of God and they have a soul and they need redemption just like you and me," Saal said. "They need a savior."
Then Saal received a shock.
"In July 1996, the Lord called Bill to his eternal home at the age of 49 years," she said. "I enjoyed my life and ministry with my husband (and) my two children, Joanna and John. My life was full and I was happy and content. Just overnight, my world was turned upside down."
Faced with a major identity crisis, she had to answer hard questions.
"Who am I?" she said. "I'm no longer the pastor's wife, the U.S. director's wife. I'm not Bill's wife. I'm a widow at 53 years old. My children are adults now. ... What is my role at (Arab World Ministries) now? Will I have a voice? I'm no longer Bill's confidant. Where do I belong?"
She also had to decide what she wanted to do with the rest of her life, if she wanted to stay in ministry or if she wanted to get a job in the corporate world. With the help of grief counseling and friends she had found through the organization, she discovered her passion, which she learned from her parents.
"My passion is providing hospitality and member care to missionaries and their families by loving them, encouraging them in their walk with Christ and to spur them on to a deeper relationship with Christ in order for them to thrive and serve more effectively cross-culturally."
She served for 25 years with Arab World Ministries in the U.S. National Office. After her husband's death, she was granted a 2 1/2 year sabbatical to deal with her grief before later serving in development and finance for seven years.
Both in 2004 and 2005, she heard of an opportunity to serve with SIM (Sudan Interior Mission)-USA in Charlotte, N.C. Like Arab World Ministry, it is a sending mission agency. She accepted the ministry in hospitality and member care as a special events coordinator in July 2006.
"God opened the door for me to pursue this ministry," she said.
She enjoyed planning, preparing and serving all of the meals for the training and orientation of new workers and other special events at the campus until June 2008.
In May of that year, she found out her oldest child, Joanna, was diagnosed with rectal cancer at 35 years old. Saal was granted an extended home ministry assignment to return to Pennsylvania to care for her daughter and family until August 2009.
"I had to focus on God's character and I still do and repeat to myself on a regular basis, 'God is God, God is good, and God knows what is best for me and for my children,' " Saal said. "God never wastes any of our life experiences, for He wants to use us and our pain to minister to those in the body of Christ, the Church, as well as people that God brings into our lives during this earthly journey."
Joanna still is battling cancer but has beaten the odds by surviving more than four years, according to her oncologist.
While helping her daughter, she found out the SIM regional director needed someone to provide member care for SIM personnel in his region, covering seven states.
"Here is another example of God's provision and taking care of me and fulfilling His plan for my life and ministry," Saal said.
She started working with Ray Hutchinson in July 2009 as his administrative assistant, corresponding with workers both when they are on the service field and on home ministry assignment, new contacts seeking a mission career, new appointees preparing to go and retirees. She uses a variety of technologies to contact the family.
"Through the life stories of these folks, God continues to amaze me how He loves to use ordinary people to take the message of the Gospel to all nations and He continues to bring transformation in the hearts of broken people, just like me," Saal said.
In the near future, she plans to "retread" rather than retire from full-time missionary service because it is often said people continue serving. Saal will stay active serving in her home church, community neighbors and her family.
"We each have a life story and God has created us and ordained us to proclaim His story and His message, the Gospel, to all the nations and to our neighbors next door," she said. "Are you telling God's redemptive story?"