Christine Caine: Eyes on the Promise—Part 1

Christine Caine is a speaker, author and activist who has served the local church globally for over 30 years. She and her husband, Nick, founded The A21 Campaign, an anti-human-trafficking organization that is working internationally to end modern-day slavery. They also founded Equip & Empower and Propel Women, and have planted three Zoe Churches in Europe that are not only bringing the gospel to the region, but are also serving the most vulnerable through humanitarian outreach during times of crisis.

Additionally, Caine is a best-selling author of more than a dozen books and studies, and shares her message of hope and empowerment through podcasts, television and social media.

With her new book, Don’t Look Back: Getting Unstuck and Moving Forward With Passion and Purpose (Thomas Nelson), Caine challenges leaders and everyday Christians with a simple, powerful message—this is not the moment to remain stuck.

Outreach editor-at-large Paul J. Pastor caught up with Caine to hear more about the message, and her personal story of hope that has shaped her dynamic international ministry.

For readers who might not be familiar, tell us your story.

I was born in Sydney, Australia in 1966, the daughter of immigrants. Around that time, there was a mass migration of Southern European and Middle Eastern immigrants to Australia. My parents were Greek, but had been living in Alexandria, Egypt, until the overthrow of King Farouk in the 1950s. It was the classic experience of the immigrant family: a bubble within a larger world.

If you’ve ever seen the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, it would give you the picture. I spoke Greek before I spoke English, we had Parthenon columns in the front yard, everything was concrete, Windex was in every cupboard, the whole thing. So I had one life at school—my English world—and another at home. Rarely did the two mix. That shaped me.

Anyone who’s heard me speak much will have heard me say that I was the victim of childhood sexual abuse for a long time from an extended family member. There was a culture of silence around all that. Further, when I was 33, I found out for the first time that my parents had adopted me within the Greek community there in Australia from a young, unmarried 23-year-old woman. Home life was very mixed, very nuanced. There was a tremendous amount of pain and shame clouding everything. My mother wanted a ballerina daughter. I wanted to be a soccer player. She wanted me to play with Barbie dolls. I wanted to read books. I felt like I never fit in, like I would never be enough.

What did faith look like for you?

Well, to be Greek is to be Orthodox. Church for me was a three-hour liturgy in ancient Greek, which a kid doesn’t understand. I would look at all the icons in the church, which were awesome, and think, I want to get my picture on the wall. I wonder what you have to do? But then when someone told me that you had to, like, die, I thought, Oh, that’s not so cool. So I was drawn to faith but was still about as messed up as you could get, with a certain volatility and instability tied into my whole situation. I didn’t fit into Australian culture. I didn’t fit into Greek culture. 

In school we had an hour of compulsory religious education. Back then, there were only two choices: Protestant or Catholic. Not knowing what to do with me, they put me in with the Catholics. But I would sneak out of the Catholic hour to join my Protestant friends. That’s where I really began to hear the gospel. I didn’t know people even read the Bible. I thought you just kissed it on Sunday. But in these Scripture classes, I started to be drawn to faith. I was drawn to Jesus. But I had a very long, messy journey ahead of me.

Can you give us a few of the waypoints?

By the time I was 21, my life was a relational mess. My dad had died when I was 19, and by then I had a very complicated relationship with my mother. I had made a lot of bad decisions out of the difficult circumstances I had found myself in. No one talked about abuse back then in the 1980s. I didn’t even have language for what had happened to me. On top of that, in a very traditional Greek home, what happens in the family stays in the family.

I was studying at the University of Sydney, and a friend invited me to church. I decided that I wanted to be a fully committed follower of Jesus. But you have to understand that at that point I had barely even gone into any kind of Protestant church. I didn’t know what any of it meant. I was so drawn, but so confused—I thought that I was signing up to basically be Mother Teresa—to be some sort of nun. I just didn’t have any other framework for a big religious commitment. But I was ready to do that. When we drove up, it was just a warehouse in the western suburbs of Sydney. I didn’t know you could have church in a warehouse. I had Greek Orthodox cathedrals on my mind.

Anyway, I remember it vividly. It was January 29, 1989. I walked in. There were a few hundred people in a Sunday night service. There was a band—guitars, a drum set, people singing. I had no frame of reference for any of it. Am I in a disco or something? I thought. That night, the speaker was a female youth leader delivering a message from the Bible. I didn’t know what to do with it. But there was something that was so captivating to me. I couldn’t move. And I never stopped going.

What led to the beginning of your ministry?

Well, desperation is a great gift. At that time in Australia, especially for churches of more Pentecostal theology, we had all the people leading that no one else knew what to do with: immigrants, women, the marginalized, the poor. Someone like me back then would have had little shot at leadership in a more established church structure, but I was invited to help start a youth center with the associate youth leader. I knew nothing about it but began to research other youth centers around Sydney.

The point of all that? Well, my entry into the Christian world had been seeing a woman speak and then being invited to help serve the community. Little did I know then, but God was protecting me and training me with experiences that would later shape what would become one of the largest anti-trafficking organizations in the world. I was being taught to expect that I would be saved and transformed so that I would go into the world and bring transformation to others.

All the while, Jesus was transforming me. He was renewing my mind through the Word. I was finding increasing healing from the brokenness of my past, and being shaped and formed through church and worship. The fruit of that was that I was being invited into schools and building programs for young people, and running a community-based youth center that was thriving and flourishing. 

I went to a small Bible school during this time, but I call these formative experiences in ministry my “seminary.” My version of seminary was doing youth work with unsaved high school students. Forget raising hands; they’d give you the finger. That was where I learned that the Bible that I read on Sunday had to make a difference on the pavement of people’s lives. I believed that our faith had to be able to work in the context to which Christ had sent us. It had to bring hope and healing, not just to some, but to all. I was able to share the same renewal that I was experiencing in my own life.

During that time so many simple but amazing things happened. People came to Jesus. We got little tastes of what we might call “revival.” We were being discipled—and making disciples. Lives were changing. The community loved us. Local schools were inviting us to do more and more. I thought I had arrived—that this was it, that this was the goal. I felt so fulfilled. I did that for seven years. But in all of that, God was preparing me for what was going to be coming.

As we hold that backdrop in mind, tell us about your work today.

I’m the co-founder, with Nick, my husband, of A21 (A21.org), which is a global anti-trafficking organization. We have 19 offices in 16 countries all around the world with about 150 full-time staff. The breadth of the work is really huge. We work with everyone, from the U.N. and national governments all around the world, and are very focused on reaching the vulnerable, rescuing the victim and restoring the survivor. So we have a holistic approach. As one example, we have worked extensively in Ukraine to try to suppress the trafficking of women and children during the chaos of the war.

While that’s a huge blessing, I don’t presently hold a formal position or a salary with A21, though I support them extensively through leadership development, etc. If I were to drop dead tomorrow, the organization wouldn’t miss a beat, and that’s just how it should be. It needs to outlast me. I’m out raising awareness and doing what I do best in terms of speaking and working publicly. 

I’m also the director of Equip and Empower Ministries. There are many facets of that, including Propel Women, which helps women internalize their leadership capacity and fulfill their purpose. We help women in cohorts around the world go through a six-month development program, which has to do with coaching and spiritual formation. We also have events and cohorts for professional women. The goal is to help women step into their passion, their purpose and their potential in many different ways. So of course, I have a strong heart for women. We’ve worked hard to elevate women’s voices, including having over 800 women write articles and books. That’s a very big part of what we do—developing them and doing discipleship through storytelling: helping women tell their stories and disciple other women through that.

Then there are the Zoe church plants. Nick and I have planted churches in Thessaloniki, Greece; in Warsaw, Poland; and in Sofia, Bulgaria. We have plans to go through Eastern Europe. We’ve been involved in that for the last 12 years, and have seen some remarkable fruit. The goal is to have outposts of light planted in places that see a lot of trafficking.

The other side would be my preaching and teaching and writing and television, and all the digital ways that we connect. Working to communicate with people. I don’t know how to title that.

I went back when I was about 50 to get a master’s from Wheaton College because I wanted to model, especially in our digital age, that we need to always keep learning and growing. I felt that as my reach grew so did my responsibility to teach and lead as well as I possibly could.

Check out Part 2 of our interview with Christine Caine where she talks about looking back and engaging her past—and the process of looking forward.

Paul J. Pastor is editor-at-large of Outreach and author of several books, including The Face of the DeepThe Listening DayPalau: A Life on Fire (with Luis Palau) and Bower Lodge: Poems. He lives in Oregon.

Paul J. Pastor
Paul J. Pastorhttp://PaulJPastor.com

Paul J. Pastor is editor-at-large of Outreach, senior acquisitions editor for Zondervan, and author of several books. He lives in Oregon.