A Missionary in Asia
“For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel” (Phil. 2:21–22).
What a blessing it is for a man, when, in the upper middle age of life, God grants him a new, meaningful endeavor on which he can work—especially when that endeavor involves passing the baton on to a faithful younger man!
For my family and me, this is the twenty-first year of service on behalf of the Lord and his church here in Asia. During most of this time, while teaching English at a university, I have worked with teams of missionary associates in personal evangelism, the discipleship of young Christians, and the training of a new generation of leaders for the evangelical churches that already exist here on our access-restricted field. I thank the Lord for each coworker, for each soul he has saved, for each year of protection, and for every ounce of good Reformed influence that has come to the churches. This work has been quite fruitful, personally fulfilling, and appreciated by the local churches. This work is continuing.
However, over the last eighteen years, the sovereign Lord has been preparing something new for our mission field: the planting of a new Reformed church! Let me tell you the story of how the Lord provided a faithful man who would do the work of sowing the gospel seed, cultivating saplings, and gathering the harvest into the barn.
In the spring of 1997, during a personal office interview, a fellow professor of English at the university solicited from a certain second-semester freshman a prayer of acceptance of Jesus as his Lord and Savior and a promise to attend church. The student—let’s call him Mr. X—was not sure about what he was doing, but he wanted to get the professor off his back—and he did keep his promise (at least some of the time). But it all became real to this young man six months later, when his mother suddenly died because of a surgeon’s error. As Mr. X mourned, he traveled a whole day on the train to retrieve his mother’s body, and—if he could get the money in her bank account and from an insurance policy—to gather a few family members and conduct a funeral. But at every turn his way seemed blocked: the hospital refused to release the body, the bank and insurance company would not give him her money, and even though he went through the bureaucratic steps they required, they still would not cooperate.
Frustrated and angry, Mr. X did not know what to do, but then he remembered his promise, and he wondered if God could help him. He got into a taxi and told the driver to take him to the nearest church. When he went in, he saw all kinds of statues and pictures, and something did not seem right, so he went back out on the street. Someone helped him find a Protestant church, but the door was locked. At his wit’s end, Mr. X fell on his knees right there in the street in front of the locked church and cried out to God, “Help me!… God, help me!!!” Mr. X did not know what would happen, but he felt peace in his heart.
That afternoon, when he arrived at the bank, Mr. X complained loudly about his problem. An important official who happened to be visiting heard the commotion, came over, and asked what the matter was. When Mr. X told her, she used all of her authority to retrieve his mother’s money. In the next few days, the problems were solved one by one, and Mr. X held the funeral for his mother, giving thanks to God, who had heard his prayer.
Mr. X, now a sincere Christian, attended church regularly, was baptized, and began serving the church in various ways for the rest of his college career. As a senior, encouraged by his church and professors, he began to sense that God was calling him to pastoral ministry. That’s when I met him. He came into my office and asked me to teach him the Bible in English, so that he could pass the English part of the seminary entrance exam.
I worked with him, and while we did the obligatory English, Mr. X got very excited when he saw how God’s absolute sovereignty served as a key integrating theme to the whole of God’s Word. While he was in seminary, he gathered other students to read Reformed theological books to supplement the lectures, and during vacations he came and asked me to give him more training (and we played soccer together!). During this time, he also got to know a beautiful Christian young lady, who graduated from the same university and whom the Holy Spirit brought to faith through our Mission’s English Corner ministry. In 2004, Mr. X married her and soon became a full-time pastoral intern at their church, ministering the gospel bilingually.
As time allowed, Mr. X continued studying the Bible and Reformed theology with me. He was thankful for the church and its pastor, but was finding it increasingly difficult to put up with the authoritarian leadership style and theological compromises. It was becoming clear to him that ordination in this system, where women and anti-Christian government officials would be included among those who laid hands on him, was no longer an option. So he built up his courage, said good-bye, and took his family to a nearby country, where he could attend a small, consistently Reformed theological academy for his second, “let’s-do-it-right” M.Div.
Four years later, in the fall of 2014, Mr. X returned to work with me here in the planting of a new, consistently Reformed church. A provisional presbytery has been established to oversee this work, providing it with borrowed elders from the very start. This brand-new church has only six communicant and five noncommunicant members. One additional person is preparing to make a public profession of faith and be baptized. Four visitors are thinking about making a commitment to attend regularly. Average attendance on the Lord’s Day morning is eighteen. On the day of largest attendance so far, there were twenty-two at Lord’s Day worship. Mr. X was licensed to preach the gospel last fall, and is now preparing for ordination—perhaps this coming fall, at which time he hopes to start a worship service in his second language. A second pastoral intern has already begun his studies at the same theological academy, with a view to planting the second church of the presbytery in a nearby town. Mr. X has already made one church visit to a Reformed presbytery in a slightly more advanced stage of development in a city farther away.
My friendship with Mr. X has been the most joyful part of my ministry here, and the planting of this new church is its blessed manifestation. I have a new realization of how these new churches are the apple of our heavenly Father’s eye. And thank you for giving special attention in prayer to this new work—thanking the Lord for providing his church with a sower. Please pray with us that the newest church to be planted on an OP mission field will soon become truly self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting.