World Changers on Mission: Part 3 of 4
Photos, names, dates, and specifics are limited to protect the identities and work of those pastors and missionaries who are acting as the Lord’s hands and feet in the Access Restricted Nations of Asia
As I learned from attending the Ethnos Asian Ministries (EAM) conference in Thailand, spiritual darkness is the norm in many countries in Asia, especially those identified as the Access Restricted Nations of Asia (ARNA). My mission journey continued after the conference to one of those not-to-be-identified Asian countries, further referred to as “Country”, that was suffering from severe spiritual oppression. I was blessed with the opportunity to experience what it’s like to walk among Buddhists while cloaking my Christian faith under the disguise of a tourist.
Our mission was to encourage and bring 2 days of training to Christian pastors across the Country. Luke [pseudo], the EAM Country Pastor, called in 50 pastors of the underground church from across the country to convene with our team at his church. Our team sponsored their transportation, lodging, and food for this time of connection.
When our team of 10 arrived in Country, I was impressed with its beauty and how the people welcomed its guests. We got to explore the town, settle into our hotel, and ask lots of questions about the culture.
Saturday: First Day in the Country Mission Field
On the first morning I wondered where we would be training. We drove a short distance and parked in front of a multi-level tenement. Where were we? We’re here! Where’s here? The guide pointed toward an open doorway.
We walked breathlessly up 5 flights of stairs until we reached the top-level. Piles of shoes were scattered in front of a closed door on the left. Behind the door in front of us was a bathroom. And the third door to the right was open with much food prep and conversation by women cooking in the kitchen. This enclosed area also included a bedroom, office, and more bathrooms.
The fifth floor of the building, which would normal house 2 apartments, had been converted into a church and its administration areas. We heard music coming through the door on the left and took off our shoes to enter. What would have been an apartment with several rooms was converted into one big area with a small stage of instruments and pulpit and carpets laid out for the congregation to sit.
The praise and worship on a Saturday morning had already started with the voices of 50 pastors and 20 church members. With only an estimated 12,000 Christians in this country, we felt awed to be fellow-shipping with so many at one time. We were told some pastors spoke English, but we had hired a translator, Kevin [pseudo], to ensure our messages were understood. Kevin was originally from Indian, 10 years a pastor, with a wife and son living in the United States. He was working towards a VISA so he could join his wife. I couldn’t imagine being separated from my husband for such a length of time, but these are the common stories of those with restricted freedoms.
The initial plan was team introductions, then half the team would stay to train, and the other half would tour the city. The next day the team members would reverse after the church service. After the greetings and team introductions, John [pseudo] led an ice-breaker to get the pastors interacting as many did not know one another. He asked each pastor to share (1) a personal fact, (2) a gift or passion, (3) a hope/need for the training, and (4) a hope/need for 2019. I loved hearing the cacophony of conversations in the room as the pastors opened to one another.
As everyone settled cross-legged on the floor, Andrew [pseudo] and Sarah [pseudo] delivered a combined message about fear and our identity in Christ. I briefly added how I too had an irrational fear of public speaking. Satan will always attack you where God wants to use you most for His glory. I knew I had to overcome my fear of public speaking, because God wanted to use me to help others through my training, words, and messages.
The remainder of the day was earmarked for Darin and me to share on the topics of (1) leadership, (2) marriage strengthening, (3) sharing the Gospel, and (4) spiritual warfare. Having a marriage ministry, we decided to start with relationship strengthening. Little could we have imagined that we’d be closing the day without even finishing the topic. The pastors were thirsty for this information, and Kevin couldn’t have delivered the content any better with his humor and passion.
The touring half of the team returned to the church, and we ended the day by breaking the team into men and women, so we could minister to their gender needs. I wasn’t privy to what the men did with the pastors, but the women crammed into one big bedroom with their children, and Nancy [pseudo] led a discussion about the Father’s love through the concept of love letter. The women were excited to receive their Love-Faith-Hope necklace and small gift bags. Because women are treated as second-class citizens in this culture, they are in desperate need of encouragement. It’s common for husbands to have mistresses with wives getting seconds, and we wanted to make these women feel special even if only for an hour.
The team was happily exhausted by the end of the day, because we were able to serve our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. Going into this mission, I thought “leadership” would have been the most sought after topic. Who knows, it may have been, but we never got the chance to deliver it. Marriage strengthening was definitely on their minds once the pastors got a taste of it.
We said our good-byes, grabbed dinner, shopped, and then drove back to the hotel to get a good night’s rest. As Darin and I laid in bed about to turn out the light, our room phone rang. Hello? It was our team leader. Mary [pseudo] said she’d just gotten off the phone with Pastor Luke, who’d debriefed with the pastors. All 50 pastors said they only wanted to hear more about marriage. Others team members would give up slots, if Darin and I would dive into marriage strengthening for a second day. We were there for the pastors, so yes, we would make it happened. I hung up the phone and turned to Darin, “We’ve got some brainstorming to do.” Within a short period of time, we’d developed an outline of more material we could cover.
Sunday: Second Day in the Country Mission Field
“Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory!” Excited for another day in this beautiful country, fellow-shipping with beautiful people. I just wished I could take them home to the United States, even for a brief time, so they could experience the peace of openly professing and sharing their faith. I can only imagine how wonderful the contrast must be to someone who must always suppress their beliefs.
When we returned to church the second day, the team was greeted with smiles and many more faces. A Sunday service and the message that our team was in town, drew more women, men, and children into the church. It was standing room only with about 120 people. After praise and worship, Mark [pseudo] gave a sermon about love, and then Susan [pseudo], along with the Sunday school teacher, escorted the kids to the big bedroom for an age-appropriate lesson. I knew there was a reason I packed my favorite fable, The Three Trees. Susan used the story as part of her time with the kids.
Darin and I were up on stage once again, writing on the white board while the pastors took notes. We continued with the 5 Love Languages and His Needs/Her Needs. We were surprised to learn that the local language didn’t have a word for “romantic”. In this culture there are few romantic terminologies. Sorry ladies!
We then talked about Biblical marriage, and I emphasized that Christians need to look to the Bible for God’s definition of a successful marriage and how to treat our spouse. Satan owns the earthly world and will distorted the role of man, woman, and marriage. Afterwards, the pastors wanted our notes and told us that they felt more equipped to handle married couples, who were coming to them with marriage problems.
When Pastor Luke wrapped up the day, I did appreciate his “assumptive close” as he shared that the pastors were looking forward to our return next year, so they bring their wives. We’d love to host a couples’ workshop, but unfortunately, God put a vision on our hearts for next year to bring marriage strengthening to the African nations. I would love to return to this country within the next couple of years to further invest in these folks who so enthusiastically want more.
Our goodbyes were bitter sweet. What a wonderful journey to this country to meet so many of my geographically separated brothers and sisters. I will miss them, but at the same time I know that I’ll see them again. They are family who just live half way across the world and where we don’t get to spend every Christmas and Easter together.
What Did God Show Me?
God always shows me a truth or gives me a message when I go into the mission field, and this mission was no exception. He showed me once again how thirsty the third world countries are for marriage strengthening. We had an indication of this when we went to Bogota, Columbia in July 2018 and were guest marriage speakers at the Coffee for Two church event. The EAM mission solidified that marriage message.
About 9 months ago, God also put a Marriage Vision 2020 on our hearts to take the perspectives and tools that we use for our marriage ministry to east Africa (Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania). The thirst of the pastors in this country overwhelmingly validated what we are called to do. Although Africa is in our sights for next year, we told our team leader we could return to Asia in 2021 to deliver more marriage strengthening and spend 2-3 days in 3 or 4 ARNA countries.
When you cry out to have a meaningful versus a comfortable life, God will stretch you and take you places beyond your imagination. I expect to be stretched in how to develop and unfold the marriage strengthening material into third world cultures where (1) women have a different status than men, (2) tribal affiliations create barriers, and (3) where socioeconomic caste systems create divergent lens in how to view marriage. As confident as I feel about delivering marriage strengthening to America couples, I believe I am early on the learning curve to take it to the nations.
To learn more about Ethnos Asia Ministries and their work in the ARNA field, visit www.ethnosasia.org
About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, finances, and ministry. She serves in the local and global mission fields and has a heart to help others be the best version of themselves. You can contact Sandra at firstname.lastname@example.org