"Not until we have a church of our own." We're not sure when this idea took hold, but at some point in time, P, one of our partners, began to tell us that Muslims in our country wouldn't be reached until they had a church full of families like hers—a church in their neighborhood, a church of their own.
P came to know the Lord two decades ago. Her aunt shared the gospel with her other aunt who shared with her. Their faith in Jesus has not made life easy. The rest of their extended family, all Muslim, still persecute them to this day, having labeled them "children of hell." While P’s aunts continue living in the neighborhood, relationships have frayed. When P has tried talking about Jesus with other family members like her sister, they reject Jesus in fear. Eventually, P decided to move out and afterwards, she began to attend a local church.
When we first moved here a few years ago, we started going to the local church too. Our team believes that the Lord wants to use local churches to complete the Great Commission—that He wants to use ordinary people to make disciples that make disciples, generation after generation. Some who had served here longer told us that it couldn't happen, that it's not possible to mobilize the local church, that if we want to reach the Muslims in this Buddhist-majority country, we'd be better off doing it ourselves. But our conviction was that our privilege as brothers and sisters from another country was to get behind and encourage our church family here, to see them become who God created them to be.
At first, it was easy to stick to our idealistic philosophies—those other people didn't know what we knew! If only they had gone through the same classes and training we received at The Stone! Here, we found the Lord at work for our good. After a few months of being at our local church, we had made no progress. Like most of the churches full of Buddhist-background believers, it seemed no one was interested in going to share the gospel with the Muslim minority. We were tired. We were hopeless. Looking back now, we were being humbled.
We left that church and began to learn from our teammates and their partnership at a different local fellowship. Throughout the next two years, we began to see how we should come alongside and serve, not for the benefit of our own ministry newsletters, but the joy of our Christian family and the glory of God.
During this period, our team leaders moved to a further part of the city, closer to the minority Muslim communities on which we were focused. They began to go out and meet their neighbors and one day met a girl whose family owned a community space nearby. They became friends and spent time together, sharing about Jesus when they could.
At the same time, some of our teammates began to form a relationship with a group of Muslim-background believing pastors who all had a heart to reach Muslim communities. After months and months of time spent connecting with them, these leaders began to open up and share their vision and how we could play a role in it.
As the Lord does so often, one member of this group happened to be the senior pastor of our previous church. By listening to his heart and sharing ours, one group from our team was invited to do a Sunday school class focused on helping believers share the gospel with Muslims, and that first week, sitting at tables spread throughout the room, were P and her two aunts.
In retrospect, it's laughable really, that a group of Americans would train members of an Asian church with Muslim-background believers on how to reach Asian Muslims in Asia. Praise the Lord for His grace that through the language ability of a B-average high school kid and a cultural understanding with only a tad more depth than tissue paper, our brothers and sisters here heard our heart: the Lord loves you, we love you, and He has given us a very great calling to go to those He loves. Let's be with Jesus, go, and learn together.
For a month, we tagged along as our teammates walked through the Scriptures with these believers. Not everyone stuck around, not everyone would commit, but at the end of the class, there were a few who put their hands in the huddle to go reach Muslims in their neighborhoods, including P, her two aunts, and one of P's friends.
P's ministry started off with a bang, but soon began to slog. Neighbors were unresponsive to requests for prayer, sellers ignored short testimonies, family would brush off stories about Jesus. Through it all, our teammates continued to coach both her and her friend, going out with them to prayer walk, meeting regularly to encourage one another, and asking the Lord for wisdom and changed hearts. When we didn't know what to do, we did what we knew.
COVID-19 showed up in our country slowly at first, but once the situation in the region worsened, it had a devastating economic effect. Tourists fled while the government initiated a lockdown and our team was forced to shelter-in-place. We became very familiar with Zoom and started doing all of our coaching time over video, continuing to meet even when going out was no longer possible. Then out of nowhere, P's friend decided to take a step back from ministry. All the momentum P had built up had gone.
While trying to figure out what our team could do during the pandemic, our team connected with the Muslim family that owned the community space and asked if they knew of any way we could help. They answered that there were over 100 families in their neighborhood who were unable to meet basic needs. The economic conditions made it impossible for them to find food much less afford it and asked if we could help. After doing the numbers, we found that a little over $10 could feed a family for a week. Our team was willing to jump in and help, but we knew that we needed backup.
One Thursday morning, Asia time, we joined The Stone online to pray together as one body. When praying for different needs throughout our congregations, we shared the need before us on the fast flowing live chat: 100 families, $10/week to feed each. Pastor Halim led our home fellowship to pray for our neighbors and soon after we got a few messages asking, "How can we be a part?" After a few emails, members from our home church had completely covered the cost in a matter of days.
On a call with P, we shared with her what was happening around that community space. She seemed encouraged by it, and after the call she decided, "Why can't we do the same for people we know?" She talked with her aunts and together they made a list of people they wanted to reach out to and see how they were doing and if they needed help. Their list had 60 names, each one a member of their extended family. The same people that persecuted them for years on account of Jesus' name, they chose to love in Jesus' name, by the power of the Holy Spirit within them.
P calculated how much it would cost to meet the needs the people on their list had shared and reached out to a local church. The church gave them half of the funds required, and after talking to the senior pastor, she was given freedom to talk to individual members of the church. Soon, the Lord had provided the total cost plus some extra.
A cousin of P reached out and said that they and their family had some needs, too. She included them in the count and calculated the new total. The extra given covered the amount perfectly.
Two weeks ago, P, her aunts, and some members of that local church along with their senior pastor went into the Muslim neighborhood where her extended family lives. They gave supplies and spent time with people, talking with them and showing them the love of Christ. Though we are just at the beginning with P, it is clear that God has been at work since the beginning. Soon, we believe in faith, there will be a church in this community, a church to call their own, through which Muslims all over our country might hear about the Father who calls them His own.
From our faraway country to our never-faraway church, I hope this story about the church here encourages you that the Lord is using the church everywhere, each of us, joined and held together by Christ until we all, those who believe now and those who the Father is calling to Himself soon, will all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.
"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen!"
Last week, I picked up the book of Acts and decided to read through it all in one sitting. There I was, reading about the early expansion of the church and how one of the greatest persecutors of all time became one of the greatest missionaries of all time. Chapter by chapter my anticipation was rising because what happened in a few decades I was experiencing in just a few minutes. I get to the point where Paul is sent off to Rome after being arrested, he’s set to go before Caesar, and then all of a sudden Acts 28 ends. It all ends so abruptly. It ends with these two verses, “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” I was so blown away by how ordinary the end to the extraordinary acts of the apostles is. After 30-35 years of public ministry, of seeing church planting and miracles happen all while being under persecution and death threats, Paul just ends up stuck at home. I couldn’t help but see some parallels between Paul’s situation and our own (although I know it’s not the same). I think it would be so easy during this time, when so much has changed, to be discouraged and unmotivated. Our ministry strategies have changed. Our day-to-day life has changed. It certainly doesn’t look like now as it did six months ago. Paul shows us a great example of how to continue ministry during a time like this. Not only did Paul faithfully continue to share the gospel with all who showed up at his door since he wasn’t able to leave, but as we read through the four epistles he wrote to during his time, we can see more of what God was doing. Not only was this time not a hindrance, as we might think it is, but Paul says that time served to advance the gospel. Clearly, what we would see as a hindrance, God intended for the expansion of His kingdom.
This moment, whatever it may look like for you, is also a part of finishing the Great Commission. Just as when you were able to go out, knock on doors, share the gospel, and see prayers answered in the name of Jesus. As I read those verses, I see how the mission is completed not only in our ministry activity, but also in the perseverance of the saints and the Spirit-filled acts of the ordinary. A few months ago, I was so frustrated because we literally had just found a place to stay in our country when everything shut down. We hadn’t been able to meet a single soul and I found myself thinking, “How the heck are we going to do ministry? Why did You put us here at this time, God? This makes no sense.” I had to be reminded that God intends all things for good for those who are called according to His purpose. I certainly think we were called to this country for a purpose, so I had to repent my disbelief. I had to ask myself, “What is God teaching me during this season? What does He intend for me where I’m at? What does faithfulness look like in this season?” I know many of you are not able to welcome people into your home like Paul did, but I’d encourage you to find other ways to welcome people into your lives. I think that this is a unique situation where you can do that. I’d encourage you to have a ministry of prayer, and think creatively about how you can connect and continue to do ministry. For us, in the last few weeks, every day I got to be a part of a call with 65 pastors and leaders across our country talking about how we’re going to mobilize the church to go to the unreached, specifically targeting 312 unreached people groups. I never would’ve thought that would happen, but God works in different ways.
Our country in South Asia went into lockdown late in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They closed all transportation and businesses except for essential shops that provide food and medicine. This meant that hundreds of millions of workers who earn either daily or weekly wages suddenly lost their jobs. These people worked as domestic servants, cooks, cobblers, barbers, street sweepers, delivery men, construction workers, painters, drivers of auto rickshaws and Uber, street vendors, and countless other occupations. These laborers earn their pay by the day or the week, and they need it to keep their family fed. Many were among the poorest people in the world, even before the lockdown. Now, with no savings and no means to earn income, their situation has become perilous.
The country’s government was ill-prepared to meet the challenge. In America, the government was able to send stimulus checks to almost everyone in the country. This government does not have that ability. Many of these laborers do not have bank accounts, the majority do not file tax returns, and they usually live transitorily in the city, meaning they do not have mailing addresses. Therefore, putting cash in their hands is not an option. The only effort the government underwent was to set up feeding stations in low-income areas, but that made social distancing impossible and was still unable to meet demand.
In response to this, many of the laborers returned to their villages. Many consider this to be one of the largest mass-migrations in the country’s history. With the closure of public transportation, the only way to get home was to walk hundreds of miles. Many died from things like heart attacks brought on by the strenuous effort. Heart-breaking stories arose, such as a mother who drowned her five kids because she could not feed them or families committing suicide in desperation.
The rules of the lockdown made it impossible for ordinary citizens to help. For instance, I live on a major highway inside a city, and from my apartment I can see migrants walking the highway to get home. I can also see a police checkpoint that has erected barriers on the road to screen all vehicles. Because of the police, I cannot even stand on the highway and hand out food and water. Non-Government Organizations (nonprofits) can apply for permission to help these people. However, since the government has shut down over 14,000 of these NGOs, there are not enough to take care of the people.
In Acts 11:27-30, we learn about a famine that hurt the whole world. The disciples gave funds to their missionaries Barnabas and Saul to take with them to help the suffering Christians. The Bible clearly commands us to help the poor (Matthew 6:2, 19:21, Galatians 2:10, Ephesians 4:28). It also commands us to take care of our brothers and sisters in the faith (Galatians 6:10, Acts 2:45, Philippians 4:3, 2 Corinthians 9:12, Romans 12:13). There are debates as to whether Christians should prioritize giving to needy Christians before needy non-Christians. I believe that we should.
Therefore, we decided that during the lockdown, while confined to our home, we would focus on strengthening relationships with Christian partners by empowering them to give aid to the poor and struggling in their areas. We have partners in several cities and we coordinated with these partners to identify what types of struggles the people of their areas faced and how many families they could help. We discussed the kind of aid that would be the most beneficial and how we could implement it.
Most of our relief was simply financial. By putting cash in people’s hands, we empowered them to purchase the things their family needed, rather than what we thought they needed. We showed them that we trusted them and loved them. They were generally able to buy food supplies for cheaper than we could have if we tried to purchase something and send it to them. Plus, it attracted less attention from police when our people distributed cash rather than pushing carts of food up and down roads, which would have been illegal. So, we raised funds and sent money to our partners and had them distribute the aid as they best saw fit.
There were instances where we could not send money. Perhaps our partner did not have a bank account, or maybe he lived in a quarantined area where no one could leave their house even to purchase essentials. For these types of problems, we put together a gift basket on Amazon and had it delivered to the homes of the people that needed it. The gift baskets included a month’s supply of food, soap, laundry detergent, and hand sanitizer. Amazon was able to deliver to anyone with an address and a phone number.
Our country is still under lockdown, and our work is only at a half-way point right now, but we can share some stories already. We run a school in a poor section of the city, and one of the former students was in another city when the lockdown was announced. His father, a street vendor, was unable to sell anything in our city with the roads closed, so he walked hundreds of miles to be with his family. We were able to send them some money. One day, we quietly opened our school and called the parents of the students one by one to give them cash. The teacher that distributed the aid cried as she thanked us because she felt like she had actually saved lives. There was a man who sat outside of our office who cleaned and repaired shoes. He became a close friend to our employees who walked past him every day. He passed away of a suspected heart attack, and we gave enough money to his family for a month’s supply of essentials.
When the lockdown was first announced, on that day, we started calling our closest disciples to ask them how they would manage without income. We sent money to those who would lose their jobs. One disciple has a mother who hates Jesus and hates that her son associates with us. But, when she heard that we immediately called them looking to help them, she started crying and praising Jesus because of our behavior. Our disciples live near a poor area in which all the men earn their living by making flip flops. They all lost their jobs, and our disciples have been handing out cash to their neighbors and others that they are ministering to. One partner has distributed aid to 19 families so far.
When the nationwide lockdown was announced, one of our partners was able to slip into a more restricted area. Because he was there, we were able to send him money that he used to feed the churches. Most of our families and churches in that area earn their income by making products sold in local stores. Because of the lockdown, they were no longer able to sell their products, so they lost their jobs. As of now, our partner has distributed a month’s worth of food to 45 families either in or connected with our house churches.
Our objective was to strengthen our Christian partnerships and feed as many families as we could. I believe that we’ve accomplished both those things. Our partners believe they have saved lives. In one case, the breadwinner did die, and we could do nothing except help his family. I hope that this aid, given through the church and through believing partnerships, will strengthen our ministry in these areas and ultimately lead to people repenting and believing in Jesus.
I think one of the biggest challenges we’re all facing right now is determining what this season of life looks like for us. How do we not become victims of our circumstance and receive this season, however long it may last, as a gift from the Lord? So, my team and I read a book by Steve Smith called Spirit Walk. In it, Smith talks about the difference between commitment and surrender. That was really profound for us to wrestle through because, as people, especially as goers, we’re very committed to the task. But a lot of times, that’s without relationship with the Lord. Whereas surrender, you’re at a constant mercy and submission to the Lord and what He’s called us to. When we are committed we still have control over what we do and how we do it, but when we surrender we relinquish our control to another. As we wrestled through that, one of the biggest things that really hit home for us was this idea of starting each day, each season, with a blank sheet of paper. It's going to Him each morning and writing “Dear Lord,” at the top of the page and signing our name at the bottom, and then letting the Lord really just fill in what He wants that to look like for each of us in this period of time that we’re in. As we’ve given Him this blank sheet of paper, this freedom to work in our lives, He’s taken our eyes and focused us more on His presence and who He is. Out of that, we’ve really been called to count the cost of the journey that we’re on. It’s caused us to pause and put things back on the altar that we might be hanging on to and start to ask the question, “What is it going to take? What is it going to take to see the peoples He’s put on our hearts reached? How do we do that individually? How do we do that within our callings?” I have to believe that everything that is happening is for a reason. That He’s at work in the midst of this, not only in our lives, but in the lives of those that He is calling us to reach. So my encouragement to you is to just sit in this season. To seek Him in this season. To take that blank sheet of paper to Him, sign your name to it, and begin to seek Him and ask Him what it is that He wants to write on that paper for each one of your lives. I believe these times are times that we’re going to look back and we’re going to see incredible fruit that is bore in and through the challenging times that we face.
Our country has been under lockdown since March and we have not been allowed to leave our apartment building since mid-April.
But God is still faithful to carry out His purposes today just like He did yesterday.
It has been a humbling position to not be on the frontlines with our brothers and sisters. As goers, it can be tempting to find our worth in our ability and capacity to be a part of God’s redeeming work. In this season, Satan has been viciously whispering lies that our efforts don’t make a difference and we are useless in the kingdom right now. To be honest, the day before we wrote this, our family had a day full of tears and warfare with an onslaught of lies about our worth to God, our part in the body of Christ, and our value over all. But by God’s abundant grace that sustains us to stand firm in the gospel, we are feeling more confident and resilient than before to keep pressing into whatever God has for this season.
God’s call for us has been clear. Stay home and encourage, train, grieve, and labor digitally with the members of the church that can get to the frontlines.
Praise God that our brothers and sisters are doing their part taking food to those without, sharing the gospel with them, seeing a miraculous amount of people surrendering their lives to Christ, and planting new churches.
Yes, you read that right. New churches, in the plural, are being planted in one of the cities with the worst rates of COVID-19 in the world. How does that happen? A God-orchestrated miracle. As a local brother recently put it, “We are living in the miracle.”
As soon as the lockdown was announced, our local brothers and sisters wasted no time seeking to acquire necessary food items to care for the church here. When we asked how we could contribute, they expressed that the need was great but that they were capable and willing to go if resources were provided. We reached out to our financial partners to help us fund what has become an incredibly fruitful effort to show God’s love and further the gospel in unreached and unengaged places.
These strong and courageous brothers and sisters on the frontlines of our city have been able to get food to hundreds of families, share the gospel with hundreds of people, and see churches started in multiple areas. They are connecting with these new brothers and sisters over the phone as much as they can to continue discipleship and the development of the new churches. We’ve also heard stories from other areas in South Asia of people seeing the same things.
God blessed our good friend D with a friend who works for the press. This friend was able to get passes for D and some others so that they could get past the barricades in our city. As a result, they were able to navigate through different parts of the city that had been inaccessible to reach those that needed food. They were also able to visit areas they had focused their ministry on prior to the pandemic where they knew many of the inhabitants had never heard the gospel.
Throughout this pandemic, we’ve been reminded that Jesus sees everything we have been faithful to do. We are not forgotten, no matter how isolated we feel because Jesus is Emmanuel and He is with us always, to the end of the age. Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses and our temptations to believe Satan’s lies, to doubt God’s goodness, to doubt our worth, and to cry out “God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus has been there and says, “Draw near to my throne of grace confidently, child. I understand more than you can possibly fathom.”
At His throne, we are reminded that He is the Lamb that was slain and by His blood He ransomed people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. And because of His blood, we are healed from the hurt we’ve experienced. He is worthy of all honor and praise.
The wounds we’ve suffered and that are coming to the surface in this season can be healed by His blood. Because of His blood, we are forgiven for our lack of faith, our selfishness, our pride, and our envy of others' circumstances in this season. There is no shame or condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus.
Now, because Jesus is alive, because He rose from the dead and defeated sin and death, we can walk forward in who God says we are. We are beloved, delighted in, brand new, whole, His children, and His ambassadors. With total freedom, we can be faithful to love our brothers and sisters all over the world with whatever measure God has given us the ability to. We can put on our robes of righteousness and count on His new mercies every morning as we simply seek to take up our cross, follow Him, and be faithful.
For us, there is still an upcoming unknown if, in a couple of months, we can get back in the country when we are due for a visa run.
We are still praying for the virus to hit its “peak” in our city and for new cases to decline.
We are still seeking to grieve, comfort, and walk alongside our dear sister in our local church who lost a husband and father last month to COVID-19.
We are still more than conquerors through Him who loves us.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
My theme word for this year is meekness. I want the Lord to show me and grow me in meekness and tear down what stops me from being meek. A major part of that journey is teachability. I’ve often thought about how I love information and I love to learn, but I don’t know how teachable I really am. So, I was asking in my prayer time for guidance on what it means to be teachable and what it truly looks like. Around the same time, the state of emergency hit in our country and we were getting locked down. I was getting pretty excited about getting to read all of these amazing books and watch lecture series on various websites that I’ve been wanting to watch. When the lockdown came, I realized that those efforts allowed me to gain information and knowledge, but I wasn’t really sure that I was being teachable. At the same time I was reading the story of Zacchaeus, and it just hit me how he was so eager to see Jesus with his own eyes. He didn’t want to stand in the crowd, looking for glimpses of Jesus through other people or hearing what they had to say about seeing Jesus. He ran and went to see Him with his own eyes, and he got to experience Jesus in a way that was different than just being a part of the crowd. That led me to turn into a time of asking the Lord to help me in gospel meditation and just be in His Word and be invited into His life. I just walked through the stories, the parables, and the accounts as a companion of Jesus in the Word. That has made a huge difference. I feel like I’m quarantining with Jesus. I get to hear His voice, imagine His tone, and picture the look in His eyes as I am present in the gospels and meditating on who He is. It’s really made a huge difference in my reading time, and I feel very thankful. I feel like I am being taught, and that I am growing in meekness because I am spending time with Jesus in His Word. Instead of asking Him to come and crash into my life to change me, I’m stepping into His life. I am being changed by watching Him in the gospel. It's been a long time since I’ve set aside all the books and studies to simply step into His life and spend time with Him. That has made this time a really special time for me. When we come to the end of all this, I hope this practice does not change. That’s the gift that I’ve been given during this pandemic.
Wyatt & Anne
When we read in James about "trials of various kinds", we did not imagine a pandemic coming. We were working as normal in South Asia and then, all of a sudden, we had 48 hours to pack up our life and fly back to America. As we were on the plane, God spoke to our hearts. He kept impressing on us the idea that governments may slow down, family units may slow down, jobs may slow down, but His gospel doesn’t slow down for anything.
We’ve seen this to be true through the stories our local partners back in South Asia have shared. One such story involved a partner who organized relief efforts for 100 families in a village. Because of his efforts, he was given an invitation to attend a committee meeting of the local village heads. He went, and was the only Christian in the room. During the meeting, the village heads asked him why he would go to such an effort to help other people. The man told the village leaders that his actions were driven by his belief in a man named Jesus. He then shared the gospel. The village heads were moved and gave the man permission to freely share the good news of Jesus among their people without limitation or fear of persecution.
Another story involved a believer who traveled back to her home village after being told to evacuate the city she lived in. She returned to her sister-in-law who was alone at the family’s home and had been sick for six months with some internal problems. One night, the sister-in-law was not doing well physically. She was fading fast. The believer shared the gospel with the woman, and she accepted Christ as her Savior right there on her bed. The believer knew that baptizing her wasn’t an option due to her sister-in-law’s condition and the scarcity of water in the village, so she prayed about what to do next. She felt God prompt her to give this 10-minute-old believer the Lord’s Supper. The woman died a few hours after taking communion. That believer had very little training and was mildly active in her local church before the pandemic, but when she was prompted by the Holy Spirit, she just faithfully did what she knew and was able to see a sister in Christ return to the arms of the Father.
We’ve also seen God on the move stateside. When our team came back to America, we felt like there was an opportunity for us to plug back in to local ministry. We ended up launching a virtual Bible study for our friends and family who do not know Jesus. When the study first started, we had eight people attend. As the weeks went on, people began to share the stories they had learned with their loved ones, and more people began to join. Lately, we’ve had anywhere from 10 to 16 people attend regularly. Our team members have started similar studies, and in the past month, we’ve seen eight people accept salvation and second-generation studies develop.
Despite all the amazing things God is doing, we’ve felt a tension being back in America. We’re pretty much burned out on Zoom calls. We’re basically on them all day for multiple days a week, and it can get exhausting. But we try to remember that one call for us could be the only call that week or that month for one of our partners back in South Asia that desperately needs it so that they may continue to endure. That’s worth our time and the Zoom burnout—to be able to press in to help the needs of our brothers and sisters halfway around the world.
We also feel a tension with people struggling to understand that we consider South Asia our home. We no longer see America as being home. Our home is in our calling. We’ve wrestled with an internal struggle of leaving South Asia to return to a place that people misinterpret as being our home. On top of that, the America that we came back to looks nothing like the place we remembered. We feel a strain between longing to be back in South Asia and trusting that the Lord is working for our good by having us Stateside. Even still, through all the confusion and discomfort, we believe that God called us to this, so we will drive forward in faith knowing that only He can bring fruit from it. God is not going to let this opportunity go to waste. He isn’t going to let this pandemic happen without moving in it.