Life was good for Eric and Rachel Rolston. They had full-time jobs (Eric in HVAC maintenance and Rachel as a teacher), two children, and were involved in church, volunteering with the Bible Bowl program and children’s ministry. With a third child on the way, Rachel decided to leave teaching to focus on their growing family. That wouldn’t be the only change God placed on the Rolstons’ hearts. He began stirring within them a desire to go beyond serving here at home. Since 2018, the Rolstons, along with their now four children, have lived in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania in East Africa, where Eric and Rachel are missionaries.
Living in a new culture thousands of miles from home hasn’t always been easy, but just as God has remained faithful to them, the Rolstons want to remain faithful to Him, serving and loving the Tanzanian people for as long as He directs them.
When did you hear God’s call to serve in the mission field, specifically in Tanzania?
Eric and Rachel: We took the Perspectives class at Southeast in Fall 2016. We can’t say we had a specific call to a specific place or task, but we learned more about the heart of God and what His mission has been since the beginning—that we were “blessed to be a blessing” (Genesis 12) and that there are many people around the world who have not been as blessed as us.
As God continued to place this burden for the unreached on our hearts, we felt we would be missing out on an opportunity God was giving us if we stayed in America.
How did you prepare spiritually and financially before moving overseas?
Rachel: We did a year of training called D-Course with our mission organization, Team Expansion, that allowed us to reflect on many topics in Scripture and our walks with God, as well as to practice disciple-making principles before moving overseas.
Personally, as a planner, all of the uncertainty was overwhelming at times, and so it was a must for me to get up early before my kids woke up and sit before God and ask Him for help in surrendering my kids and our future, asking God to grow my faith and trust in Him.
One first big step of faith was Eric quitting his job for us to train in D-Course for a year without being sure where our support would come from. I wrestled with God for a while about it because it felt unwise in my human nature, but God kept providing. And this gave us a jump-start on raising support for our time overseas. We are so blessed to have wonderful, generous supporters and a great supporting church in Southeast.
Tell us about some of the ways God has used you during your time in East Africa.
Eric: Our main mission in Tanzania is to implement disciple-making movement practices. A big part of that process is being part of the lives of Tanzanians, sharing the Gospel, encouraging and discipling as we go. Many Discovery Bible study groups have been started, and we have been slowly walking alongside a few key leaders.
Rachel: We pray to be a witness where we are. We’ve seen the face of a worker light up after sharing the audio Bible and Jesus Film with him in his native language for the first time. We’ve done Advent devotions with nine neighborhood children, read portions of the Gospel of John in Swahili with a neighbor child, and made connection with a new Muslim neighbor.
God also has allowed us to start a Bible Bowl program at the international school. Fifteen students participated last season, and we have almost 20 this season.
The international school is going through some leadership transition, and God placed on my heart to start a Moms in Prayer group there to support the school.
What challenges have you faced in your ministry?
Eric: There have been many. Learning a new language takes a lot of time and effort, we have had some health issues, especially during our first years, and we had internal conflict with our teammates that we had to work through. And learning and understanding a new culture can be confusing and frustrating.
We dealt with these challenges by doing our best not to grow weary in doing good, but remembering that at the right time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. We try to take it a day at a time and be faithful in whatever comes up. We pray to not be discouraged.
Being so far from home, what does your support system look like?
Rachel: In addition to our immediate family here, it includes family, friends, supporters, and Southeast church family back home in the U.S. The Southeast Missions Member Care also has been great, and there is another missionary family on our team here with us. We’ve also had the benefit of a community through the international Christian school our older children attend as well as an international church we attended at the beginning of our time here.
What have you learned from the people you’ve encountered while in Dar Es Salaam?
Eric: I have learned many things and am amazed at how much I have personally changed. I read the Bible in new ways and have a much wider perspective. I have seen people who live out their faith in ways that still challenge me. I have seen true suffering by people who have nothing left to fall into other than Jesus. It has also been refreshing to be around people who have such a hunger to learn more about Jesus.
Rachel: I’m also amazed by the hospitality of the people. For example, it was humbling to be welcomed into a one-room house and served a meal by a woman with far less means, when I sometimes feel inadequate to have others over at my home with plenty of space and resources. Also, seeing the poverty but also the joy from people is remarkable.
What motivates you to continue serving overseas?
Eric: My motivation is still to reach those who haven’t heard or don’t know fully about Jesus. So many people still live in darkness and simply don’t know about the truth of the Gospel. I am also motivated by seeing how much our family has been blessed as we step out in faith. We look at the world differently now, and pray that our kids would, as well.
Rachel: It can be tempting to want to go back to the U.S.—to our family and comforts and familiar surroundings—but I also don’t want to waste this opportunity God has given us and short-change others and ourselves. God continues to provide and be faithful to us, so I want us to be faithful to Him and His plans for us. We continue to ask God to direct our hearts and trust He will let us know when our time in Tanzania is complete.
Click here to learn more about how you can experience God's heart for all peoples through the Perspectives class.