On a recent visit to Southeast Asia with a small group of Canadians, I met Sunny.* An inadvertent accessory to a crime, Sunny was tortured and then imprisoned for many years. Behind bars, he was led to Christ by other prisoners before being released. But with no money and job, the ex-convict had few opportunities. So he returned home to work with his father, the first audience for his powerful testimony.
During a critical stage of the rice harvest, a rainstorm began to roll in. If the rice got wet at this point, the entire harvest would be lost. Desperate but cynical, his father Sandy asked, “If your God is real, why don’t you ask him to stop the rain?”
Sunny did just that, but with admittedly little faith. Incredibly, the rain stopped as the clouds reached their field, and then fell again behind them! The harvest remained dry.
This clearly demonstrated divine power prompted Sunny’s father to join his son as a Christian, marking himself a fellow outcast among their language group of 8,000. Today, there are 12 believers. Sunny is their pastor and part of a team translating oral Bible stories into his language.
Twice the community has voted to throw out Sunny and his extended family—though they can’t legally do it—even taking a piece of his property that he had earmarked for a church building.
The isolation that Sunny’s family faces is never more apparent than during the rice harvest. Neighbours help each other bring in the crop, but exclude Sunny’s family. Regardless, they remain resolute in spite of opposition. As Sunny told me during my visit, “I don’t care if they kill me.”
Such life change and no-compromise faith is attractive to the community. When the believers meet, a few curious seekers come to listen. The expressive Sunny preaches with the powerful mix of God’s words and his life story.
Increasingly, these are the contexts for our staff and partners in Bible translation and other language-related ministries. You’ve read about some of these places in Word Alive—from Kinsha in Southeast Asia (in this issue), to the Silk Road Ascent (SRA) in West Asia and the Island Advance in Indonesia (in previous issues).
Whether subtle or overt, such opposition makes ministry challenging. We may not be taking risks ourselves, but by partnering with those who do, we are casting our lot with the marginalized.
There’s another risk to consider. One of our partners in SRA once asked me: “What is the risk of not engaging in these hard places?” Romans 10:14 raises related questions: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
If Bible translation is only done in the easy places, how will those surrounded by Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism hear the message? If we flinch from the risks of controversy or security concerns, how will Sunny’s people believe? How will those in closed countries call on the Lord?
God invites His people to partner with Him in His mission. But we can’t take the easy path, the path of safety and comfort. If we do, it means God’s message doesn’t get to areas where people most desperately need it, where it will speak to their hearts. ***
* Pseudonym used due to sensitivity