Rosie Zakes, Seminary Student
This year, I met some of my family whom I’d never known before.
I met my brothers and sisters in Christ who have been persecuted out of their own country in the Southeast Asia and have settled in Bangkok, Thailand. I think we all know that persecution exists. We’ve all heard of Christians whose homes have been burned to the ground or whose family members have been killed because of what they believe and told others about Jesus who saves.
But this summer I got to know them personally. Their stories changed me. I met a family of five who live in a one-room apartment that’s smaller than my own bedroom. They fled their own country in fear for their lives and arrived in Bangkok trying to get refugee status, but never actually attained it. Their visas and passports have now expired, and they earn next to nothing. Getting out of Thailand and into a country that will accept them as refugees has become extremely difficult.
These brothers and sisters asked my hosts and I to visit one of their friends who did the same thing as them. Robert (name changed) and his family went to Thailand trying to get help and ended up overstaying their visas, too. Robert got caught for being in Bangkok illegally, and now he lives in an immigrant detention center (read, prison). He’s separated from his family, doesn’t get enough food in the detention center, and lives in a cell so crowded that the detainees must take turns sleeping. I went to visit him there, and I think it will be a long time before I forget what he told me.
"Thank you for coming. You’re obeying Jesus’ command to visit those who are sick and in prison…Your assignment from God is to be in Thailand, mine is to be in prison here… God has big plans for you, so keep serving him and doing what He wants… Give him your life."
When I asked Robert how I could pray for him, I expected him to request prayer that the UN would resettle him soon, or that he would be reunited with his family, or that God would provide for his family’s material needs. Instead, he said something that shook me.
"Pray for me to be able to share the Gospel. Pray for my people to understand the Gospel and turn to Christ."
God has allowed people to take away nearly everything Robert has ever owned because of his commitment to the Gospel, but he is one of the most joyful people I’ve ever met (Actually he and another man who’d been imprisoned as a Christian in the Middle East are the two at the top of my list). His commitment to Christ and his passion for telling people about Jesus regardless of his circumstances is overwhelming.
This summer, I came away from my time with my newfound family members with a renewed sense of the urgency of the Gospel. The Gospel is so important to these refugees I met that they are willing to give up everything to be able to share it. The Gospel is worth it.
1 Peter 1:14-18 says, “Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct … Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.”
Christians live in exile. None of us get to live in our home country of heaven yet, but some Christians are reminded of their exile in a much more tangible way than others. Robert is one of them. But God has called all of us to renounce “passions of our former ignorance” and the “futile ways inherited from our forefathers” while we live in exile. We’re supposed to renounce sin. This summer I learned from my brothers and sisters in exile that the Gospel is worth renouncing sin for. The Gospel is worth giving everything for.
David Nason, Senior Bible Major
As I write this blog, I understand that nothing I write could ever do this summer justice. So much has happened, and I couldn’t possibly write everything that I’ve done and learned. My internship was on the small Island of Palau, located a couple hundred miles off the Philippines. During my internship, I learned that missionary work is living out the Gospel on a day-to-day basis and staying faithful in your personal walk with God. I realized problems are going to keep coming your way as a missionary, but you just have to trust God and rely on His steadfast love.
Included in my summer was the awesome opportunity to love and disciple five high school guys through the program called Project 17:17. Within this program, I had the joy of spending time discipling these guys through the Scripture. It also included spending daily life with the guys. Honestly, a huge part of my summer was just ministering daily. My typical week was full of ministries such as Band of Brothers (College breakfast), One Life (College Bible study), YOB (Youth of Belau), and Thursday night Bible study. Many of the people that we daily ministered to needed to know and see a consistent relationship with God and what that looks like. In a world of unknowns and inconsistencies, people need to know that the God you serve is always the same. He is steadfast along with His promises.
Many of the Palauans struggle with faithfulness in their walk with God. I remember while I was over there, I wouldn’t see some people for weeks at a time because they had done something they weren’t supposed to and felt very ashamed, or would see their wrongdoing as an outlet to continue on to a deeper sin. Keeping Palauans faithful is a real battle. You have to consistently love them by faithfully pursuing them when they are struggling. I had to understand that the cultural and historical background will shape the communication and struggles of the people. Along those lines, one must take time to accommodate in love to their struggles. For example, one thing that you must be cautious of in Palau is rejecting anything that someone offers to you. In Palau, they will take that as your thinking you are better than them and have no need of their hospitality. This in turn could very well hinder the Gospel. That is something we as Americans simply wouldn’t understand.
The Gospel was proclaimed this summer, and 16 souls placed their trust in Jesus Christ! Just before I left, I was able to see a new believer’s class start up for all the converts. God is working all across the globe, and I was blessed with such a great opportunity to be a part of His ministry over in Palau.
Daniel Smitley, Senior Cross-Cultural Major
I'm sitting in a very small apartment living room, jam-packed with about 25 people for a Sunday evening service in the city of Manila, Philippines. I've never been to this church before, and I am enjoying being able to meet and worship with them. Then the missionary hands me his phone with these words written, “Can you preach?" In less than five minutes, with basically no time to prepare, I was up preaching. I wish I could say this experience was the exception to the rule, but I learned to always be prepared for anything. In fact, when people usually think of missions or internships, these kinds of experiences are the reason they go. The purpose is to minister to others and to gain the experience of teaching, preaching, and jumping into any ministry you can. While I enjoyed many of these kinds of experiences, the greatest blessing I received was not the ministry I was able to have, but the ministry that I saw and personally experienced from those on the field.
While interning in the Philippines this summer, I was able to experience an up-close look into the life of a missionary. I was privileged to learn from and be mentored by a man deeply devoted to his ministry. But to me, what might have been the most influential part of his ministry was his personal life. His walk with the Lord and love for His Word was evident and personally convicting. It was also clear that his “ministry” was not separate from other areas of his life. A major part of his ministry is teaching Bible classes at a Bible college. He himself practiced what he taught in the classroom. The truths he was teaching were clearly being played out in various areas of his life. It’s so easy to act one way while you’re ministering in church or at a Bible club but live differently at home or around family. The missionary I was with exemplified what it looks like to live the same way both in ministry and in family/personal life. Sure, I went as an intern seeking to be able to minister and be a blessing, but I believe it was me who received the greater blessing!
During my internship I was also able to spend some time with local pastors, both in the Philippines and in Singapore. During my time with them I was able to preach in their churches, sing special music, work around the church buildings, and lead Bible studies. But by far the most memorable experience I had with them was observing their ministry and not my own. With one particular pastor in the Philippines, his love for people was obvious. Ministry was not just on Sunday for this man—it was every day! One evening, he traveled out to another city to meet with two separate groups and lead Bible studies, and he even made another stop just to pray with a church member whose relative had cancer. This made for a very late night, but if there was an opportunity for the Gospel and ministry, he took it. He was always looking for a chance to share the Good News, even while in the local hospital waiting room or on a dirt road on the side of a mountain buying fruits. Another big influence was a pastor in Singapore. The church he was pastoring was a joy to worship with. It was neat being able to see how this body of believers applied the biblical role of the church into their specific context and culture. But his ministry wasn’t just limited to a couple days of the week either. I was thrilled to be able to see other aspects of his ministry, whether that was visiting with church members who had recently lost a loved one or taking a day off to bring the teens to a Bible seminar. Being able to talk about ministry and gain wisdom from a faithful man of God was great in shaping my own philosophy of ministry! Too often I see ministry as an event, such as singing in the choir or leading a Bible club. But what these men displayed was that ministry is people, and that should be happening all the time, not just at church. Again, I got the better end of this deal—the encouragement I received far outweighed anything I could have given!
Lastly, I had the awesome opportunity to live in the dorms of a Bible college for most of the summer. This meant I was able get to know and build good relationships with many of the students. As I grew to know them more, their testimonies and desire for ministry were inspiring and rebuking to my own life. As college students, it’s easy to focus on training now, ministry later. Maybe you’ve caught yourself saying, “I’ll start ministering after I graduate!” This is folly, and I was shown this by many of the students who were not waiting to minister. A number of the guys would travel for hours each weekend in order to preach in various churches. Other students would travel eight hours every other week in order to help with the music at their home church. But the weekend is to rest and get recharged! No, not for many of them. They had a chance to minister, and they took it. It was an encouragement to see many who were really on fire for the Lord’s work. This is something I hope I brought home with me!
Traveling and doing missions overseas is an awesome opportunity. The need for the Gospel is great, and many still need to hear it! The ministry possibilities in these places are almost endless as well. There will always be a Bible study to lead, a sermon to preach, or a kid’s club to help with. When we go on such a trip, we should most definitely jump into ministry and service. But the next time you get the opportunity to go minister overseas, don’t get so caught up in what you’re doing and miss the blessing and wisdom around you. Take a step back and learn from those who are there, and you may be surprised at the wisdom and help you will receive. But don’t take my word for it, go experience it for yourself!
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.