When Alicia Jones first heard the rumors of a coming war between Russia and Ukraine earlier this year, a knot formed in her stomach. The North Carolina missionary lived in Hungary, just an hour from the Ukrainian border. The coming war wouldn’t simply play out on a television screen but among people and in places she knew well.
The day the war broke out wasn’t much different from any other. Jones spent most of the day teaching Hungarian children. After teaching, she participated in a Zoom meeting to plan an upcoming discipleship conference. After the meeting and before she stopped for dinner, Jones checked her email. That’s when she saw a note from the director of North Carolina Baptists on Mission (BOM) to the director of Hungarian Baptist Aid. The message was simple: “We heard the war broke out. We’re ready to help.”
“I was the only person copied on it,” Jones said. “The Lord just spoke to me through that, looking at that computer screen, and I knew in my heart immediately, that He had placed me where I am for ‘such a time as this.’ It was kind of comforting and frightening at the same time. I just said ‘yes’ to Him that night, sitting there in my chair at my desk. I said ‘Yes, I will do whatever you have for me to do.’”
Those moments changed the trajectory of Jones’ ministry in Eastern Europe. That night she called her mother, Teresa Jones, who serves as the project coordinator for the Roma Partnership of Baptists on Mission.
“Although I had to say it through tears,” Jones said. “I said, ‘Mom, we have a big job to do. We have a task before us.’ That was the call God gave to me. I can say that from that day until now, I have had no more fear, no more concern about the war because I knew it’s God that placed me where I’m at, and that He wanted me here.”
God had first called Jones to missions as a young teenager from Fairview Baptist Church of Apex, N.C. With grandparents who served on the mission field and a missions-minded church, the need to take the good news to the nations had been a part of her life as long as she could remember. As a young teenager at Centrifuge camp, Jones sensed clearly that God wanted her to give her life to full-time missions.
During Jones’ last summer of college, she took a mission trip to China while her parents went to Eastern Europe to work with the Roma people through BOM. When they returned home, her parents showed her pictures and told her stories about what God was doing among the Roma.
The next summer, after her first year at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, Jones accompanied her family on another mission trip through the Roma Partnership.
“When I went to the western part of Ukraine, working among the Roma, I just saw God at work,” Jones said. “I had this burning desire to join Him. It was a little overwhelming, and I told Him so. God’s response was, ‘Don’t worry about it, just pray.’”
Jones prayed daily for the Roma people, and God kept opening doors. By her third semester at Southeastern, she had committed to serving among the Roma once she concluded her time in seminary, and she began raising prayer and financial support for the work.
Jones’ ministry is part of BOM’s Roma Partnership, where she serves as the European coordinator. She also serves as a bridge between BOM and Hungarian Baptist Aid. Although her work is part of the Roma Partnership, Jones says her ministry includes all Hungarian-speaking people.
“The Roma people are a smaller demographic over there,” Jones said. “I love their culture, and I love being among them. But I also recognize that all Hungarian speakers need Jesus. If I can express the gospel in Hungarian, I will express it to whoever will listen. We maintain the Roma name because it is a large population that we reach, but it’s beyond that as well.”
When she first arrived in Europe, Jones served among a Roma community in Western Ukraine. About six months after her arrival, she moved to Hungary. In 2014, she started working in schools operated by Hungarian Baptist Aid.
Not long after the war in Ukraine broke out in February, Jones received a call from a Hungarian family she had become close to in her first few months in Europe. Jones was able to work with them to help 32 people from their village.
“That’s when we reconnected, and I have watched God do a work in their lives,” Jones said. “They’re already disciples of Him. During this time, they knew where every person was from their village. They knew where people were in other villages who were from networked churches from Ukraine and had settled in Hungary. They’ve sent me addresses. They’ve given me places to take food packages, places to go and hold a church service to encourage people that were brokenhearted.”
Jones says she can see how God has used the difficult circumstances of war to give people opportunities to hear and respond to the gospel.
“It’s incredible to watch what God is doing to move people around the face of the earth, to assign where their borders are, where their territories are, so as to further His kingdom,” Jones said.
Jones urges N.C. Baptists to “pray, give and go” to meet the physical and spiritual needs among the Hungarian-speaking people of Europe.
“It’s an invitation from God for us to join Him in his work,” Jones said. “The way I saw it, as a young person walking my dog one day – that God is in motion. It’s this incredible motion, that is so powerful, because He is God. When we just place our lives, or place our time, or place our focus in that flow, it just takes us away. That’s exactly what I feel like my life is. I never want to get out of it, because it’s so exciting. It’s to the glory of God. We get to partake in that glory. So, I encourage every North Carolinian to step into what God has for them.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Tobin Perry is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of writing experience with Southern Baptist organizations. He can be reached at TobinPerry.com. This article originally appeared in the December issue of the Biblical Recorder magazine.
By Tobin Perry, BR News Correspondent