Just a few weeks ago, I got this update from one of our missionaries. He and his family are living in a predominantly Muslim context, in an incredibly remote part of the world. They may be the most remote family we have on the field. When we talk about missionaries dangling at the end of a long rope, these are the people I think of.
This story is an astounding testament to God’s saving power, and a reminder to me that God is so often at work in ways we can’t see.
People like me shouldn’t get to see what I get to see.
The Thursday before Christmas, I went on a day trip into the mountains to see a friend, “Frank,” who used to help in our yard. I was hoping to tell his family the Christmas story, maybe pray with them, nothing much more than that. I had given Frank a Bible a few months ago, and he recently said that he believed it. Even so, I didn’t expect much more than a quick visit.
After driving the three hours up to Frank’s village, and another hour wandering around town (until he found me), we went up to his house, where I sat in front of a large meal he had prepared. He had invited some of his family, but there were other men there, too.
Before long the oldest of them brought up something religious, so I took the chance to talk about the Christmas story. It’s honestly a pretty offensive story to the religious mindset here—God impregnating a girl, Son of God, worship of a man. Really, all the most offensive parts of the gospel are combined into one story. So when I got to the end of the (rather labored) telling, I braced for their response.
Instead, the patriarch said, “Yes, yes. We know this story. And believe it. We asked you here today because we want to know, what do we do now?”
I had wandered into their village expecting a group of Muslims to welcome me, the foreigner, to town. I thought that if I could just share the Christmas story clearly, I’d call it a win and head back home. Instead, I had wandered into something God was doing long before I had arrived. Here was an unreached people group, in the most remote mountains of the world, isolated until just the past few years, worshiping Jesus together.
Frank explained to me that the small group there was just the beginning. Someone else—I honestly don’t know who—had shared with them before I arrived, and the message had been spreading.
“How many followers are there?” I asked Frank. There were less than a dozen men in the room. I was guessing there might have been another two or three believers that couldn’t come.
“How many?” Frank paused. “I don’t know exactly. Probably about 200.”
Two hundred believers.
A tiny people group in the mountains of Central Asia, maybe 5,000 people living in one remote valley with no real tourist attraction or much reason to visit at all, and God has seen fit to plant a church with 200 eager believers in it.
People like me shouldn’t get to see this. How do I get to see the birth of a church in a new people group? What did I do to deserve that? How could I possibly be qualified to be part of this? I can just imagine the conversation around the throne of God:
“Really Lord, you want him there? Do you think that will work?” one of the angels asks.
And God answers, “Well, yeah, his language is frankly sub-par; he isn’t exactly good at the work in general; but he is there. Besides, no one on earth is going to think he had anything to do with it, so it’s kind of how I work.”
I spent the two hours with this new church, teaching them how to study the Bible, how to pray, how to meet together to worship, and anything else I could think of. When I left, I promised to come back with more to teach them. Many of them promised to come visit me as well.
Getting to see an unreached and unengaged people group respond to the gospel for the first time is nothing short of amazing. Most people, even people out here, don’t get to see this. And I didn’t even really do anything. Someone else even did the sharing; I just got to be there to see the aftermath.
I can’t overstate what I saw that day. A people with a unique language, in some of the most remote mountains of the world, politically and religiously isolated until very recently, now has a group of people worshipping Christ. Another one of those tribes, promised in the book of Revelation, has joined the throng around the throne.
Who could do something like this but our God?