We didn’t know what to expect when we first landed in this country. Our trip had been very vague from the beginning: Embrace the Beyond.
“What would we be doing? How would we be doing it? Where? With whom?”
These questions flooded my mind as our plane headed to the base city from which we would serve. Even when we landed, things didn’t get much clearer. We were given no specific instructions and no specific needs or tasks. We were told to just go and do, however we felt the Spirit leading—which was, in itself, both incredibly exciting and equally intimidating.
We began with a local church group. They had been in the city for more than 15 years. They had to flee from their home island when they started following Jesus Christ. Their homes were burned, and they lost some people in their attempt to flee. They have all faced many hardships since settling in a small village just outside the city, but they were now, for the most part, safe to follow Jesus. At least, they’re safer than they were.
Hearing their story was incredible, but what was even more incredible was that God was at work in the some of the hearts of the very same people who chased them out of their home. My partners face grew bright.
To the island
“I feel the Spirit leading us to their island!”
I was unsure. I hadn’t felt the Spirit lead much of anywhere to that point, so I decided to trust the Spirit in him. We were warned of the dangers of going to the island, we were told that the travel was rough, and we’d only be able to stay one night. I felt our time could be better used elsewhere, but in submission to my partner, I got on board a small ship headed to the island.
The small vessel comfortably can fit maybe 30 to 40 passengers and all of their belongings. Uncomfortably, maybe 50. We made our way to the back of the ship squeezing passed the 75-plus passengers all headed to the island. We found ourselves tightly packed in a small room with about 30 other people right outside the engine room. It was 9 p.m., and I took my place on a small board that hung above the engines. It was uncomfortable and incredibly hot, especially sitting above the engine, but the journey was only 4 hours and these people travel in this condition constantly. I could survive four hours. An hour passed by and we the only movement we made came from the waves crashing against our boat that lay dormant at the dock. I was able to fall asleep for half an hour, but awoke to the roar of engines and a strong smell of exhaust emanating from below. Finally, we had started our journey.
Long, long journey
Sitting right above the engines probably wasn’t the smartest choice, but it was literally the only one I had. I wasn’t going to make my partner or our translator switch to make them suffer for me. Besides, it was only four hours. “I’ll be fine,” I thought. The heat became overwhelming, and the exhaust had filled my lungs. The boat swayed back and forth, and I was overcome with sickness. I couldn’t breathe. Sweat covered my body, and my head was spinning. I looked all around me. People were asleep peacefully all across the floor, there was no space for me to make it to a window let alone join them and free myself from the heat and exhaust.
One hour stretched to two, two slowly made its way to three, and three finally became four. Conditions had gotten worse, but at least we were close. I had started to sing praises to God around the second hour. No one could hear me over the roar of the engine, and it was helping me not throw up. I’ve learned that there is not a single moment of our lives that God isn’t worthy of our praise. Even when your sitting on a small board. Above roaring engines. In 100 degree circumstances. And when you’ve been breathing exhaust polluted air for several hours straight.
“God, you’re so good. God you’re so good. God you’re so good. You’re so good to me.”
Four hours became five, and five hours became six. I could not handle it anymore. I made my way to the window trying my best not to step on anyone. I sat on the ledge, found somewhere to hold on to, and leaned over. I took a big breath. Still exhaust. I should’ve known, the air had to leave the room from somewhere. I stood up and leaned out as far as I could. The only breaths of fresh air I could catch came from the sea breeze that would occasionally hit my face.
“God, why is this journey so hard?”
I felt like I was an Israelite wandering the desert, like I was being punished. My heart hardened. I didn’t even want to come to this island. It wasn’t my idea. In fact, I thought it was a bad idea, and I was right. We should’ve never have made this trip. I’ll let the others do the work tomorrow. I need time to recover from this night. These thoughts raged on in my mind, but a still small voice in my head pierced through it all.
‘God, you’re so good’
“God, you are so good,” it said.
“God, you are so good. You are always good and always worthy of my praise. Why am I growing cold? Why are you allowing this to happen? What is going to happen on this island? Whatever it is God, I trust you. Forgive me for dwelling in thoughts that were not honoring to you. Please give me the strength to serve. Your will be done.”
I could see the island. I had been able to see it for the past hour, time dragged on. We never seemed to get any closer. I felt I was being mocked. I sat back down inside the boat and continued to praise God because I knew something amazing was going to happen.
Nine hours. Almost nine hours we were in that boat. Nine hours my head spun, my stomach churned, and my lungs burned for fresh air … but we finally made it. As people began to wake up, they would lean over the side of the boat and throw up all that they had breathed in that night. They all had a rough journey too, it seemed. At least I knew I wasn’t just being dramatic.
We ventured up the mountain to the village where we would be staying. We saw the most beautiful sunrise any of us had ever seen. I would try to describe it to you now, but words would fall short of the beauty God allowed us to experience that morning. We got to the village, but there was no time to rest. We only had a day here, and we knew we must begin work immediately!
God at work
We found that God has indeed been at work on the island. There were several strong brothers and sisters who took us in and loved on us so well. They even got us a meeting with the chief of the village. I was really worried at first. I had never met a village chief before. I didn’t want to do or say anything that might offend their tribe. But as the chief came our way, all my nerves were put to rest when he shot us a wink and pointed some finger guns at us. I just knew he was going to be a pretty cool cat, and he was! He had become a Christ follower and had been baptized with some of the others in the village! There was a small pocket of them in the village who were brothers and sisters in Christ but in speaking with them, we learned they lacked direction, were heavily outnumbered, and still face persecution. We talked for several long hours about so many different things. It was amazing. We learned that we were the first Americans ever to set foot on the island. We were almost the first foreigners ever, but Steve from Switzerland beat us to it six years ago. We learned so many different things about the people and the culture. We met many influential people and got to see much of the island. But the most amazing thing we saw was God make a house church with the chief of the village.
In talking with the chief, he told us he would love to start a church but they didn’t have the money for one. We asked him if he knew what a house church was. He talked with the other brothers, and they said no. We talked about the concept and asked if they would like us to host one that night. They said that they would love that! We sang praises, we read God’s word together, and as a church, we prayed for the people of the island. We were only there for a day, but God had gone out before us and had been working there for years. It was truly beautiful to see God on that island.
Please be praying for the island. Lift up the Christians on that island and their house church. Pray that God will raise up strong leaders. Pray for the non-believers, that they are softened to the truth. Also please help fight against persecution through your prayers.
H.T., a student at the University of Texas-El Paso, is serving with Go Now Missions in Southeast Asia. His full name is withheld for security reasons.