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January 10, 2022
March 21, 2024

Being Barnabas

“What is your vision, Mint?”

She whispered back to us, almost embarrassed at the audacity of such a goal. "I think God is saying that we need to pursue planting 100 multiplying churches."

"I never thought that God could use me for something like this—I used to be the church secretary! I am just a little seed in God's plans."

My wife and I have been goers in Southeast Asia for the past seven years; Mint is one of our main national partners that we coach, serve, and encourage in the work of church planting multiplication. Through serving and empowering our national brothers and sisters in Great Commission work, we have had the privilege of seeing God moving in mighty ways among some of the spiritually darkest contexts in the world.

Before we launched, my wife and I had the traditional missions mindset: move overseas, learn the language, share the gospel, gather some believers, plant a church, and hand it off to the local believers. But on our vision trip to this country, we heard a shocking statistic: it takes two full-time goers evangelizing for one year to lead one person to Christ in our country because of the language, cultural, and identity barriers of foreign messengers bringing a foreign message.

Of the 70 million people in our country, only 0.7% are Christian. If we wanted to see this country “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14 ESV), the traditional missions approach would be like trying to transform the Sahara desert into a body of water, one drop at a time. Meanwhile, 1,500 people a day are dying in our country and entering into an eternity separated from Christ without even a chance to hear of the hope of the gospel.

These realities drove our team to two questions:

How many people would have a chance to hear the gospel?
What is our role in seeing as many people hear the gospel as possible?

In our prayer and seeking, we learned about church planting movements. These movements of God were happening throughout the unreached world, where simple churches and obedient disciples were multiplying exponentially. We learned that of the hundreds of movements started around the world, less than 1% of them were started directly through foreigners that shared the gospel and led someone to faith that multiplied. The vast majority of the movements happened through those foreigners finding, training, and coaching a national believer from that context towards multiplication.

So when we arrived in our region seven years ago, our team pursued partnerships with local churches. We were looking for national leaders to come behind, like Barnabas was looking for Paul to encourage and empower towards multiplication. That's how we met Mint.

Mint is a church planter in a rural area of our country. She is strong-willed, sassy, and she never gives up. She used to be the church secretary before she received a calling from God to plant churches. With almost no church-planting training and very little support, Mint was sent to a new province to plant a church. In her first year, Mint didn't have a car, so she biked 20 kilometers a day trying to sell second-hand clothes so that she would have enough food to eat. She said she cried almost every day at the beginning because of the many personal, financial, and ministry-related difficulties. But after two years of faithfully persevering and sharing the gospel hundreds of times, she finally planted her first church of about 15 people.

When we first met Mint, we asked her, "What do you hope to see happen in your ministry?" She said, "I want to see my church multiply, so that people throughout my country and the surrounding areas could hear the gospel. But I can't get my people to obey God, much less make more disciples!" She was exhausted all the time from trying to lead the ministry by herself, and her phone was constantly ringing, with her members bringing their problems to her.

So after getting to know her and casting vision for multiplication from the Bible, we, together with Mint, started to train a small group from her church in simple tools for how to share their faith and how to disciple new believers.

In the first month, Mint and her team led seven people to faith. The next month, another eight. After three months, there were 20 new believers. They saw miracles every week—people healed through prayer, evil spirits cast out, families restored, and so many answered prayers. Keep in mind, it took Mint two years of sharing to reach 15 people. In those early months, Mint was more surprised than anyone at all that God was doing.

Fast forward several months later, and 20 new believers multiplied into 80 new believers, and Mint planted five more house churches. At one house church training, a new believer gave us his lunch of sticky rice and ginger juice to use as the communion elements!

Soon after this, the church planting pastor from Mint's network said, "Mint and her team have had more fruit in the last several months than all the other church planters combined. We want to train all of them in the things you're doing with Mint!" Our team started training about 15 church planting teams in early 2019; in just one year they had led over 200 people to faith and started over 30 house churches. From that first statistic, it would have taken my wife and me 200 years of sharing to get to the number of new believers that our national partners saw in just one year.

For us, serving and empowering Mint isn't just about training or methodology. That's honestly just a small part of our interaction. It's being part of her life, being a listening ear, caring about her thriving. It is hours and hours in the car together on our way to visit new believers and train others, discussing and ranting about every possible topic together. Our favorite food to eat together on the road is KFC—which is way better in our country than in the US! When we go to visit Mint, her mom always cooks for us and calls us her own children. Mint has a deep abiding relationship with God, and she is an easy crier when she shares what she's learning from Him.

Being Barnabas to Mint is getting to celebrate with her when there is success and fruitfulness, but also sharing in her burdens and sufferings. We walked together with Mint and mourned with her when she told us her dad decided to leave her and her mom to go live with another woman. We wept with her when she told us that two new believers decided to leave the church because of a conflict. They just left their Bibles on her doorstep and disappeared without a word. She said the hardest part was not that they rejected her, but that they were rejecting Jesus.

We can't do what Mint does. But we can serve her, we can encourage her, and we can equip her with tools for how to multiply. We cannot directly start a movement in our country. But we can help her to do it. We were at a prayer retreat with Mint when she received this vision from God to plant 100 churches. We continue to believe that 100 churches is just the first step for what God has in store for her. Mint is currently overseeing seven church planting teams as a regional leader, and her teams are planting multiplying churches throughout the country, on their way to 100.

I have never baptized a single person in Mint’s province. Mint and her team have seen over 120 people come to faith and baptized them in the river. I have never planted a church among the people in our country, but Mint has at least 10 healthy churches who each have a goal to pioneer in new areas. When I originally thought about missions, I always imagined that I would be the one leading people to faith. But there is something so much richer and better in seeing Mint succeed—because she is a national leader, called by God, and multiplying among her own people.

In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul writes to one of his churches, and his words perfectly reflect what we feel towards Mint. Paul tells them, “What is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before the Lord Jesus at the time of his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and our joy.” We love Mint so much, as a friend, a co-laborer, and a sister in Christ. Knowing and helping her is our joy and if no one ever knows our names, it doesn’t matter, because God is using Mint, and He will reach the people in our country through leaders like Mint.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021 edition of the Field Memo. Read more stories from this edition here.

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Austin Stone Field Team Leader
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For the Nations
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