In May I was invited to travel to Asia by Campus Target, an organization that primarily focuses on sharing the gospel on college campuses, discipling new believers, and planting churches. I was asked to go on this trip along with three other pastors from around the USA to minister at a retreat for local underground church members and leaders as well as at a staff retreat for the organization’s long term workers.
Due to the sensitive nature of this trip, I am not going to be sharing a daily journal from this trip, or going into a lot of detail about what took place. But I will try my best to explain some of my main observations from the trip.
It totally makes sense to me that this organization would target college campuses here! The city we were located in was home to fifteen enormous universities. This is an incredibly unique open door and Campus Target is taking great advantage of it.
One campus we visited with some long term workers had a huge outdoor sports complex with forty ping pong tables, forty badminton courts, and over fifty basketball courts! This was a great place to go to meet new people, make friends and start gospel conversations. Many times the long term workers will go to these places, join a basketball game or play ping pong with someone, and then later on ask if they can meet again and exchange phone numbers. I had the opportunity to do this with them a couple times. I also had the opportunity to play ping pong against a policeman, and let me tell you what— he absolutely destroyed me! These people can work magic with a ping pong ball!
One worker we’ll call Adriel had met a young man on campus the day before and invited him to come to lunch the next day with a friend from America (me). So we met him at the cafeteria, and I can’t even begin to pronounce this young man’s name, so we will call him Bob. The three of us ordered a bunch of different dumplings and some odd sour plum juice, sat down, and started talking. Bob could speak just a little bit of english, so that helped. He told us that he was a sophomore in college studying to become an investment banker. We talked about his hobbies, family, and where he was from. At some point in the conversation, Adriel told Bob that I had left everything in the USA and moved my family to Haiti to help people there. Bob got a really blank look on his face and then looked up something on his phone. He started shaking his head. He then said that according to his phone, Haiti could be one of the worst places on earth to live! He asked why I would ever do that! I couldn’t have asked for a better segway. I shared my testimony, and my faith in Jesus with Bob. Adriel took out a small piece of paper and a pen and helped illustrate the gospel message using the 3 circle method (google it). Bob was a bit stunned. He had never heard the gospel. Bob was not ready to make a commitment to Jesus that day, but he did say that he felt like it was probably true, and he was going to have to really think about it. He even agreed to continue meeting with Adriel to talk about it further!
Later we met a group of local underground church leaders, along with some curious unbelievers at a smaller village well outside of town out by the mountains. We spent a couple days with them teaching seminars. I may have had one of the worst nights sleep of my life in that place- and that’s saying something! It was freezing cold, damp, smelly, and my bed was a sheet of plywood with a sheet on it that a local man gave up for me to sleep on. The area was beautiful, and we took advantage by going on a long hike with the group. That was a great time and really allowed us to be able to speak more openly about our faith. We were also able to connect really well with the long term workers on that hike.
Now that I am reflecting on this trip, I have come to appreciate the religious culture in America even more. We are INCREDIBLY free, and we take that for granted most every day. In Asia, everything is monitored and tracked. The local underground church members all had to be very careful about how they came together; they would only meet in small groups, always meet at a different location, and always make sure that worship was quiet. I had to learn to try to talk in “code” so as not to attract negative attention. There were code words for ministry, missionary, God, Jesus, prayer, church, salvation, baptism, new believer, everyone’s names were changed, the list goes on!
And if the code wasn’t making things hard enough, the language and culture barrier in Asia is far different, and far more difficult than anywhere I have experienced before. There was zero way to make sense of anything, no similar words you could pick up on, nothing. In general, this made it very difficult to engage with people. I am very relational, and I love trying to get to know people from very different cultures. I love being able to learn simple greetings and try to make people smile, and all the unfamiliarity made this incredibly difficult. I pretty much gave up and decided that I would just try to improve someones day by making eye contact and giving them a warm smile. But it was really hard to get anyone to make eye contact!
But there was one place where this was different— college campuses. At the college campuses, the young people seemed generally happier, they were very interested in western people, and many of them are learning some english and looking for ways to practice. On the college campuses it was easy to meet people and get a conversation started!
The people in Asia have a massive spiritual void that they are longing to fill. Where we were, most have been taught or raised to be an atheist. After we talked with them, even if they weren’t ready to commit to Jesus right away, they all recognized that they need something like this in their lives, and in their country. And their country has some amazing Christian roots. Their history, along with their culture putting such a high value on community, people working and thinking together, and the sheer amount of people there, the gospel should be able to spread like wildfire here! A large number of new believers here are very motivated to be trained and sent as missionaries to other unreached people groups throughout Asia and the Middle East. This is really awesome because they will have easier access in many areas than a western missionary would have. I am so excited about what God is doing here through the help of the long term workers committed to bringing the gospel to these people!