|Jennifer Graham and Diana Abt|
The power of a positive friendship rooted by faith in Christ can never be underestimated. That type of friendship exists between Palm Beach Atlantic University graduates Diana Abt and Jennifer Graham. The long-time coworkers and roommates will soon live on separate continents, though their friendship will provide solace for changes that lie ahead.
“Jen and I both realize, and live in the reality, that life flows in seasons and each season brings change,” said Abt, who with Graham recently visited PBA to share information on Pioneers, an organization based in Orlando that partners with local churches to mobilize missionary teams around the world. After more than six years with Pioneers, Abt is ending her tenure there, compelled to relocate to Central Asia in 2012 for a long-term appointment with an organization that offers vocational training for local women.
Abt, 29, entered PBA as a transfer student in her junior year majoring in Christian social ministry. During her first summer at PBA, she was a work-study student with Residence Life, supervised by Eric Loudermilk, now coordinator of student missions. As an undergrad, she went on a mission trip to Brazil. After graduating in 2004, she began working with Residence Life full-time as a secretary.
“In the spring of 2005, since I was Residence Life staff, I was able to be an advisor during a mission trip to Haiti,” she said.
A native of Orlando, like her father, and her mother a native of Mexico, Abt believed she had a call to serve Hispanic communities. She hoped to do missionary work in Costa Rica following graduation.
“I wanted to serve in Costa Rica, but God closed that door,” she said.
However, a door did open for Abt leading to a position at Pioneers as event coordinator for the training team. Pioneers currently has 200 church-planting teams serving in 95 countries. It is at Pioneers where her friendship with Graham began.
“I met Jen in 2005 at Pioneers, she had already been there for two years,” Abt said. “We have been roommates every year since. We’re best friends, and travel together for Pioneers.”
Graham, 27, received her undergraduate degree in communication from the University of Central Florida, and earned a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from PBA in 2010.
“I didn’t want to pursue a counseling degree through a secular university,” she said. “I knew the gospel needed to be a part of my schooling.”
Her father born in Panama, and mother, in Cuba, she went on her first mission trip to the Caribbean at 11-years-old. From there, missionary work and Pioneers would be a part of her life.
“My sixth grade Sunday school teacher was a member of one of the first families to serve with Pioneers in Papua New Guinea,” she said.
|Abt and Graham speak with PBA students on campus in Einstein Bros. Bagels.|
Over the years, she remained close to her teacher and family. Now, Graham is the development coordinator for the Arab World Region at Pioneers. She works in an administrative capacity coordinating fundraising efforts, connecting with major donors. And, in the evenings she provides counseling at a Christian counseling agency.
Through Pioneers’ Edge program, in 2007 Graham traveled to the Middle East where she served among the Jewish population.
“The (Holy) Spirit was so strong in that place as we lifted up prayers of petition and adoration to God,” she said recalling an experience during a community ministry event. “I remember hours of prayer seemed like 15 minutes. God was so faithful; our teams came back with great reports of good conversations and opportunities to share the gospel.”
Abt has traveled to many countries through Pioneers, most recently the Central Asia region in 2007, and in 2010 for three-and-a half months. So she is well aware of what to expect during her long-term assignment.
“In the training center women learn handicrafts, how to knit, sew, embroider,” she said. “Women learn biblical principles behind hard work. And, they’re able to go home and train other women in their village.”
The current climate in the Central Asia region is volatile, yet Abt said the reception from women in the center was just the opposite. (She did not interact with local men as it would have been culturally inappropriate.)
“Women young and old invited me to their homes, to travel to meet and spend time with their Muslim families,” she said. “They asked me questions about my culture and my faith and asked for prayer.”
This move will also ironically be an open door to pursue her call to the Hispanic community. She plans to serve as a bridge between her home church, Centro Cristiano Restauración (Restoration Christian Center) in Orlando, and communities in Central Asia.
“I would like to see the Hispanic church ignite with a passion for making an impact among unreached people groups around the world,” Abt said.
While her friend is abroad, Graham will be remain at Pioneers helping to support fundraising projects and endeavors such as Maarifa, an online ministry tool to connect Muslims who are seeking to know more about the Christ. Graham will also work on becoming a licensed mental health counselor, and seek certification in biblical counseling through the Christian Counseling Education Foundation.
“Having such a strong friendship with Jen, and others back here at home, is what will help me to cope with the daily challenges of living overseas and rejoice in the smallest victories of seeing seeds planted, fruit blossom, and a movement of His spirit to be sparked in such a dark place,” Abt said.