South Asia: Lessons learned

DAYAK CHRISTIANS, MALAYSIA. Sarawak, Borneo, South East Asia.  Dayak and Penan Christians in church. Tropical rainforest and one of the world's richest, oldest eco-systems, flora and fauna, under threat from development, logging and deforestation. Home to indigenous Dayak native tribal peoples, farming by slash and burn cultivation, fishing and hunting wild boar. Home to the Penan, traditional nomadic hunter-gatherers, of whom only one thousand survive, eating roots, and hunting wild animals with blowpipes. Animists, Christians, they still practice traditional medicine from herbs and plants. Native people have mounted protests and blockades against logging concessions, many have been arrested and imprisoned.

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Jet lag is a beast. I crossed about 11 time zones to get home. But in this quiet darkness when I find myself alone in my living room, what better thing is there to do than think about the wonderful things that God has done this summer.

At one point, I attended a meeting of missionaries who were deciding whether to move people groups from the unengaged to the unreached classification. They make those decisions by reviewing field reports by missionaries doing research or working among those people.

Seeking an unengaged people group

My national partner and I were given the opportunity to do research on an unengaged people group my team had located but had yet to do any data collection on. So, we traveled to a city about eight hours west of our own in hopes of meeting some of these people who had moved to the city for work. We set out on our trip, heading to the city with no contacts, no set plans and no knowledge of if we were even going to the right place.

Upon arriving in the city, my partner and I set out to find a church, not knowing whether there even was one in this city. About 30 steps from the bus, we decided to pray, asking the Lord to direct our steps. As soon as we looked up from that prayer, we were greeted by a young boy who knew where a church was.

Answer to prayer

Talk about an instant answer to prayer! By meeting that church, we were given a place to sleep that night, lots of information about the people group we were researching, and even two face-to-face meetings with members of that people group. It is amazing how God can lead you if you only ask.

The first and most important thing I learned this summer is that missions has absolutely nothing to do with us, our abilities or our glory. It is completely about the proclaiming of the gospel and the discipleship of believers in the most effective way possible.

When I signed up for this trip, I thought that I would be trekking through the mountains with few trips back to the city. I thought that I would be the one sharing the gospel, going to the ends of the earth and the backwoods where no westerner had ever been before. I do believe that came from a true desire to serve the Lord, but I admit there might also have been a element of selfishness involved, and I think it’s a mindset we often can fall into when we go on missions, especially short term ones.

Training indigenous leaders

I praise God that he had different plans for me when I got to South Asia. I am convinced that training others to share the gospel and spread the name of Jesus was a better use of my time than simply trekking from one village to the next. It is much better for locals to share the gospel than westerners, because locals are the ones who know the culture and language and they are the ones who will spend their entire lives in their country sharing the news.

It is much healthier to have a self-sufficient church in those countries than westerners coming in and doing the work for them. Sometimes our good intentions but bad practices actually do more harm than good to local believers. I pray God gives us the wisdom to serve him and our national brothers and sisters well.

God is faithful

This summer, the Lord really stretched my faith. He put me in many situations that I viewed as stressful or frustrating—riding a bus on a dirt mountain road with just a few inches between safety and a steep mountain side; showing up in a city where I had no contacts, no friends and no plans for where to sleep at night but having to rely on him for direction; and moments when I felt like everything I was doing was pointless and irrelevant to our goal.

Every time, God proved himself and kept telling me: “I’ve called you here. Will I not take care of you?”

God is faithful. Trust him.

B.B., a student at Texas A&M University, served in South Asia with Go Now Missions. His full name is withheld for security reasons.

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