Eight years ago, Randy and Katherine moved to a country in South Asia—holding tight to the promise of Jesus in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Their reliance on Scripture has helped them persevere during difficult seasons, allowing them to remain steadfast in fulfilling the call God has placed on their lives to plant churches that plant churches among the unreached. They’ve faced tremendous difficulties on the field as some of The Austin Stone’s most seasoned goers, yet they persevere to proclaim the gospel among the nations.
The first challenge they faced after moving overseas stemmed from managing team dynamics. “You just don’t know what to expect. You think you are going to have this awesome, amazing community overseas, that it’s going to be the light of the world and people are going to come to Jesus because they see how we love one another. Which we all want to be true,” says Randy. “But we found ourselves having disagreements pretty soon with teammates on how to do ministry and where to live and other things.”
They attempted to navigate the strained team relations while they acclimated to a stark new culture, but the tensions led to an earlier separation from the group than they first anticipated. Randy says he’s thankful those relationships have been restored, but admits they were rocky for a season. The issue of team dynamics returned when they became team leaders and realized they still had more to learn about what it meant to shepherd a group of goers in the field.
“Looking back on it, it was a train that was crashing and we didn’t realize it,” says Randy. Katherine agrees, “There is so much maturity and growth to be worked out still, and you are in a foreign country, learning a new language, dealing with culture shock and you have this group of four to six people who are your everything. They are your teammates, your friendships, your family, and the only other people of your nationality, and there is so much pressure.”
A Change in Strategy
In addition to maneuvering through the tension of team life and assimilating into South Asian society, Randy and Katherine began discovery Bible studies with local Muslims. Despite their faithfulness and dedication, they didn’t see much fruit initially. “It usually ended up that they weren’t interested or they were only interested in us coming to their house and feeding us and didn’t care about the study. We kept seeing that cycle happen,” remembers Katherine. In that season, they learned a lot about the local culture, and wondered if they needed a change in strategy.
“We hadn’t seen any believers in four or five years, and we had lots of conversations but just nothing,” says Katherine. Then a turning point in their ministry happened. They attended a training where they heard how effective it could be for goers to work with near-culture partners. Defined as locals who share a geographic commonality but not necessarily a religious or cultural background with an unreached people group, these near-culture partners could have a major impact on long-term goers’ ministry.
“We learned that a lot of movements happening in the world, around 90 percent of them, are with near-culture partners. Not through the far outsider starting a movement, the outsider is there to cast vision and equip,” says Randy.
Inspired, they began knocking on the doors of local churches, trying to find local believers who could help them reach Muslims. One church agreed, and they trained eight locals on how to make disciples. While the effort didn’t get a ton of traction, Randy and Katherine look back on the teaching experience as being invaluable. In the spring of 2017, they were introduced to a group of local believers who wanted to start engaging their Muslim neighbors. As a result, Randy and Katherine created multiple training groups in various cities throughout their state. One couple started applying everything they were learning immediately.
“Philip and Phoebe, had never shared the scriptures with people outside their religious background, but once they got a few tools to share with Muslims, they immediately started several discovery Bible study groups with Muslims they already knew,” says Randy.
Recognizing their eagerness to learn, Randy and Katherine traveled an hour and a half to meet with them every two weeks and their friendship grew deeper over the following months. In December of 2017, Philip and Phoebe saw their first Muslim neighbor come to Christ as a result of their evangelism efforts. The man wanted to be baptized, so Randy coached Philip through the process and suggested his discovery Bible study group read about the baptism of Cornelius in Acts 10. When Philip led the men through that passage, two other Muslims also laid down their lives to follow Jesus and be baptized. The concept of spiritual multiplication became a reality for Phoebe and Philip as the first Muslim man who trusted Jesus in the group had the opportunity to baptize his two friends.
“They wanted to follow Jesus and this was the first fruit we saw of someone coming to faith through our interaction,” says Randy. It took seven years of patient sowing for him and Katherine to see the harvest of their faithful endeavors. Little did they know, God had more spiritual multiplication in store.
During this time, Randy and Katherine began meeting with two local believers who had a Hindu background and went by the names of Mr. Red and Mr. Blue. Randy began training them to read the Bible with others in their remote village. Over time, Mr. Red and Mr. Blue passed that knowledge on to a second and third generation of leaders in their village, and eight churches were planted. All because of the men’s faithfulness in sharing the gospel.
Spiritual Multiplication Despite Setbacks
As their evangelism efforts began to flourish in 2018, Randy and Katherine received devastating news from their local partners. While they were on a fundraising visit back to the United States, Philip called to let them know he had kidney failure, which forced him to go on dialysis and demanded him to be in the hospital three days a week for four hours at a time. Instead of traveling with Randy to remote villages to share the gospel and equip believers to make disciples as he had been doing, Philip turned his attention toward sharing the love of Jesus with his Muslim doctors. Randy began to notice that Philip had a monumental shift in his thinking when it came to understanding the concept of spiritual multiplication, which meant not just making disciples but reproducing disciple makers.
“God had previously given Philip a number of 1,825 people. That’s how many people he wanted to baptize in his lifetime. He said, ‘But now when I think about multiplication and generations of disciples, I realize I don’t have to be the one to baptize 1,825 people. Maybe I baptize a few who go on to disciple and baptize more and more generations,’” says Randy.
Months later, Mr. Red and Mr. Blue endured challenges of their own after partnering with Randy and his teammate. They resided in a country where forced conversion to Christianity was illegal, and perpetrators were hunted. Since members of a radical political party believed these conversions were happening, Mr. Red and Mr. Blue had to go into hiding for two days to evade the false allegations of illegal conversion. Even though they faced jail time, they armed themselves with an attorney and decided to face the charges head-on. Randy describes it as a new threshold for the men’s faith—the fact that they could potentially spend years in prison, yet remain passionate about sharing the gospel.
“For them, it was like when Paul was beaten, dragged out of the city, and left for dead, and he went back and kept making disciples, and he’s like, ‘It’s through many trials and tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.’ And later he said, ‘I’ve learned the secret of contentment I can do all things through Christ no matter what happens,’” says Randy.
Thankfully, Mr. Red and Mr. Blue didn’t end up going to jail. The prosecutors never showed up to formalize their charges in court. Randy says this situation forced him to make his teaching more reproducible. He realized he could no longer join Mr. Red and Mr. Blue in their village training sessions, so he needed to equip them as best he knew how for long-term sustainability in evangelism. He spent time teaching them exactly what they would later share with their own leaders.
Losing a Local Partner
As for Philip, his health continued to decline as he waited on a kidney transplant. He was scheduled to do a training with Randy in a remote village a few hours away, but Phoebe called the night before alerting him that Philip’s health was deteriorating. When Randy saw him the following day, Philip was asleep for most of the visit. During his awake moments, the men prayed and spent time reading Scripture together. When Randy returned to the hospital less than 48 hours later to check on his friend, things had deteriorated rapidly.
“He’s looking like I’ve never seen him before, and the doctor tells me he’s dying,” remembers Randy. It happened to be a Hindu holiday, so no doctors were present. Philip went without the dialysis that was keeping his kidneys functioning and had no access to medication for the pain.
“Philip told me, ‘You got to get me out of here brother, I’m dying here, you got to get me out of here,’ and his wife was there and other people we would later find out were his family,” says Randy. No one else could afford to rent a private ambulance to take Philip to another hospital, so Randy agreed to arrange one in hopes of finding a doctor who could provide the dialysis he desperately needed to save his life.
Randy and Katherine helped his family load him on a stretcher and the ambulance took off in hopes of finding a hospital with the necessary medical staff to treat Philip. Doctors warned before he left, that Philip must remain on oxygen during the ambulance ride or he would die. And the next hospital brought only more devastating news.
“There is one doctor there, and he says there is no one who knows how to run a dialysis machine,” recalls Randy. Katherine says, “We realized there was nothing they could do. So we are calling different hospitals asking if they can do dialysis and no one knows.”
Finally, someone else recommended another hospital, but it was located across town which meant fighting through holiday celebrations that took over the streets, slowing traffic. “Finally, we get to the next place and they unload him and start wheeling him in and they said, ‘There are no doctors here, it’s a holiday,’” says Katherine.
The situation grew even more desperate when Philip started having difficulty breathing even though he was wearing an oxygen mask. “We went back to the ambulance and everyone was yelling at each other trying to figure out what to do, where to go, and the oxygen tank runs out. And right there on the side of the road, within a minute or two he dies. With me on one side, his wife on one side and people gathering. And his wife is yelling out his name,” Randy says.
Philip’s family fell into chaos, screaming and hitting his body—a common reaction to death in their culture. Even as the family returned Philip’s body back to their home, they were still in hysterics. Katherine said the one ray of hope in the midst of the sadness and disorder came from three of Philip’s childhood friends who had just recently become believers. Philip had taught them about Christ and baptized them just a few weeks before his death.
“As that group of believers showed up it was like, you could feel the spirit of God come with them, this peace. They took Phoebe away from his family and calmed her down and made her eat, drink, and nurse their six-month-old baby and they said, ‘You are going to be okay, we are going to get through this together,’” remembers Katherine.
The difficult circumstances of Philip’s death have compounded Randy and Katherine’s grief as they continue to mourn the loss of their dear friend and evangelism partner. “What feels most sad about the situation is that when he was dying, we were rushing around the city looking for hospitals to save his life. I wish it had been a sacred time, just trusting God together and praying, believing God was holding him and that he would be with the Lord. Instead it was just horrible chaos,” says Randy. He says 1 Thessalonians 4:13 has become more meaningful than ever. It details Paul’s instructions to believers to not grieve as those who have no hope.
Continuing the Call
Phoebe and the baby are currently living with Philip’s family who are not believers. They are pressuring her to marry outside of the Christian faith and want her to bring their child to the Hindu temple. She hopes to one day rent a place closer to a body of other believers and says she still wants to follow Christ. Through financial gifts, Randy and Katherine gave her two electric rickshaws that other people drive to provide her with an income.
“She wants to continue making disciples, especially the people she had previously shared with. I don’t know what that will look like since she is a widow who has a baby, but it’s encouraging to still see her faith,” says Katherine.
Randy and Katherine acknowledge there is a hesitancy to remain in South Asia and continue their work in a country they don’t particularly desire to live in. While team life has settled into a healthy rhythm, raising two young children poses another set of challenges due to cultural differences. Because they are the only Americans most of the locals have seen, they often try to photograph Katherine and the kids and try to physically touch them when they are out in public. “It’s a major struggle for me with safety issues, there aren’t a lot of things we can do, so I’m trying to be more creative,” says Katherine. “It’s intense having kids there.”
Still, Katherine says she doesn’t feel released from the call to share the love of Jesus with Muslims living in South Asia. “It seems like hard ground, but God is doing something in this country because movements are starting like wildfire. It feels like an exciting, crazy time to be here. Even in the midst of questioning what God is doing and why did it happen this way.”
During these past eight years on the field, Randy says learning from tough team experiences and forming cross-cultural partnerships are bringing to life the words of the New Testament epistles.
“New Testament letters have all of this amazing wonderful theology, but it’s so the community can be one in Jesus. Remain faithful in Jesus together especially across these cultural divisions for Jews, Romans, and Greeks. That’s also been true for us, all of the labor in trying to live in unity together, pursuing God’s kingdom, that’s what it’s all about,” says Randy.
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14 ESV)