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8. North Thailand – Indonesia Mission

Chapter 8

North Thailand – Indonesia Mission

Introduction

We thank the Lord for granting us the privilege to participate in the mission trips. When we were planning the trips, we had a few places in mind such as Myanmar, Vietnam, India, North Thailand, and Indonesia. Since the airfares were quite expen­sive to go to any of these places, we thought of combining two mission trips into one to make the airfares more worthwhile. In July, we had a sister coworker who just joined us in Sydney. So we felt comfort­able about going for a six-week mission while she held the fort in Sydney.

While we were inquiring about airfares, it just so hap­pened that there was a special package deal called “Circle Asia” which covered most of the destinations we intended to visit except India. When we first inquired about the air tic­kets, we didn’t have enough in our church’s mission fund to cover the pay­ment. But miraculously by God’s grace, some church mem­bers contributed to the mission fund. By the time we had to pay for the tickets, the fund had just enough to cover the amount, and we finally decided to go to North Thailand and Surabaya, Indonesia.

So, after much deliberation in organizing the itineraries which covered all the destinations, we were set to go from Nov 11th to Dec 22nd, 1999, to North Thailand and Indo­nesia with a team of brothers and sisters.

Bali (November 11th – 15th)

We had hoped to get some rest in Bali before going on the North Thai­land mission. As usual, there would be plenty of work to do be­fore heading for a long trip. We were quite tired and exhausted when we left Sydney. In fact, we were just recovering from the flu. We were so busy that we missed calling our Bali brother before leaving Sydney. The last time we talked to him was over a month ago, and he didn’t give us his address. He just told us to re­member his phone number and to call him once we arrived in Bali.

Flight postponed: A blessing in disguise

In any case, a sister kindly took us to the airport and then left for work. When we showed our air tickets to the counter attendant, she couldn’t find such a flight and referred us to another counter. In a rush, we lugged our luggage to another section of the airport to verify our tickets. In the end, we were told that the flight was for November 12th, the next day. We were stranded at the airport. We made our way back home and called our Bali brother. He was surprised to hear our voice because he had forgotten about our arrival. In fact he had just got back from Sura­baya that morning. So even if we had called him the night before, we wouldn’t have been able to contact him. We wouldn’t even be able to leave a message because none of his servants under­stood English. We thanked God that we got hold of him, and he promised to pick us up on the evening of November 12th. We ended up having a very sound sleep on our own warm bed which we would miss for the next 6 weeks.

We arrived in Bali on November 12th at 11:30 pm, but we had a hard time making a phone call because we didn’t carry the proper change. Some people tried selling us a phone card for US$15, which was a rip-off. We were lost and didn’t know what to do, but some­how an Indonesian lad came over and offered to make the phone call for us. We finally contacted our Bali bro­ther and he immediately came to pick us up. The phone call should cost around 100 rupiah but we paid the lad 1000 rupiah because that was the smallest change we had. That worked out to only Australian 22 cents. But we really appre­ciated his help. Our Bali brother fetched us with his pickup truck, and we were warmly received.

Over the next few days in Bali, we were treated like royalty. This brother was very generous and didn’t allow us to pay for anything. He showed us around and pampered us with plenty of nice fruits. We had to plead with him to let us treat him for dinner. Finally, he let us treat him just once during the whole time we were in Bali.

Durian experience

Our Bali brother told us about the different kinds of tropical fruit that Indonesia grew. Kathleen told him that she loved durian. But I abhorred it because I tasted one many years ago in Canada, giving me unpleasant memories of eating it. But our dear bro­ther told us that Indonesia produces the finest durians. One time he took us out for a tour and stopped at a street where both sides were crowded with hawkers selling durians. The whole atmos­phere was scented with the fragrance of durian. At first I was a bit annoyed as to why he took us to the “durian” street. But he was so happy to tell Kathleen that this is the best place in the world to select the best durians. He jumped out of his car and ran across the street to one of the hawkers. He sat right there and started to eat some durians. He waved to us and bid us to join him. We were thirsty, and Kathleen could not resist the invitat­ion. She told me to join the brother as a matter of court­esy even though I did not like durians. I reluctantly escorted her across the street and joined our dear friend. Kathleen tasted the first seed and immed­iately commented that it was the best she had ever tasted. She and the brother both encour­aged me to try the durian while they clinically consumed one seed after another. Finally, to be courteous to our friend, I tried one seed. Wow! My eyes brightened. Just one bite changed my whole impression of durians. It was so tasty and delicious. I could not help but grab more seeds to satisfy my appetite. In the end, I ate nine seeds in quick succession. I was about to con­sume more when the brother told us that if we were not used to eating durian like the locals, we should not eat too much at one go or else we would end up with indigestion or a stomachache. So we stopped the eating, but the flavor of the durian lingered on.

As I reflected on my durian experience, I learned a spirit­ual lesson. Sometimes one bad experience in the past can ham­per us for a lifetime. Many years ago in the early 1980’s, Kathleen’s brother-in-law, a Malaysian, was excited over the fact that he could at last buy durian in Canada. In those days in Canada, durians were rare and expensive. Kathleen’s bro­ther-in-law wanted to share a durian with the family. I was not so keen about the smell, but being courteous, I joined the family in watching him carefully open the durian. He passed one seed after another to each family member. When I had mine, I had to stop breathing to take my first bite. I found it absol­utely tasteless. I almost vomited but finally forced my­self to swallow it. Since then, whenever the family had dur­ian, I would shun it and part company with them. I was really a party pooper. Every time they assured me that it was much better than before, I would stub­bornly reject their kind offer and walk away. I was not really a good witness because I would sometimes even show my disgust as I walked away.

While we were serving in Hong Kong, one day someone bought our team a durian. It is considered an exotic and expen­sive fruit in Hong Kong. Our coworkers were thrilled to receive the gift and they gathered around and opened it. I expressed my dislike for the fruit and just walked away. No matter what other people said, including my dearest wife Kathleen, I stubbornly did not give durian a second chance.

This time in Bali, I simply could not refuse the persistent invitation of our dear brother and Kathleen. I forced myself to try eating durian again. It was an eye opener for me. I wonder why I was so stiff-necked all these years. Sometimes one “traumatic” experience can distort the whole picture and make us biased and cynical, blind­ing us from seeking the truth or the true value of a thing or person. Sometimes one bitter argument over a small issue can end a relation­ship between two friends. A simple misunder­standing can end a friendship if we do not give the other party a second chance. Some­times being brought up in some established doctrines can hinder us from exploring new grounds for the sake of the truth. In this “durian” experience, the Spirit of God taught me to have a bigger heart to forgive, to give the benefit of the doubt, and to give a second chance in overcoming bad ex­periences. And most import­antly, I learned to be open-minded in seeking the truth and not to be confined by my own set of rules or values.

The Lord is my Song

The Bali brother also entertained us with his piano playing. He was close to 60 years old and had been an entertainer for over 40 years, playing the piano in famous hotels and per­forming in piano concerts. To be honest, among the people we knew, we had never heard anyone play the piano as well as he. He sang two songs while playing the piano: “Amazing Grace” and “God will Make the Way”. Some­times we lose the spirit of songs be­cause they are all too familiar to us. But when this dear brother sang the songs with his beautiful piano accompani­ment, it was so uplifting that it felt like we were in heaven listening to angels singing. It reminded me of:

Exodus 15:2 The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; This is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will extol Him.

Indeed, the Lord God is my strength and my song. Music can be so powerful in lifting one’s spirit to praise God. This brother came to know the Lord seven years ago, and his whole life had since changed dramatic­ally. He had deep compassion for the homeless, the poor, and the outcast. In fact, most of the servants in his mansion were previously homeless people. But he gave them jobs with higher than average pay, and all of them eventually became Christians. Though his Scripture knowledge was shal­low, he was very generous and giving. While we were there, we tried out best to answer his questions about the Bible, and he was very eager to listen.

Sow the Seed

On Sunday we attended a charismatic church, and were introduced to another brother. When this brother found out that we could speak Cantonese, he was excited and wanted to take us to visit his secret­ary’s mom who spoke Cantonese. He wanted us to share the gospel with her. The next morning, he came to visit us at 9:00 am. We met him only the day before, and we shared with him about our mission trip. He ended up giving us a considerable sum of money as expenses for the trip. Then he urged us to go with him to visit this Cantonese-speak­ing auntie. We had only two hours to share the gospel with her because we had to leave by noon to North Thailand. The auntie was so happy that we could talk with her in her mother tongue and she was very receptive to the gospel.

We never cease to be amazed by the love of God. His timing and arrangement are often unpredictable. He brought us all the way from Sydney to Bali just to share the gospel with this auntie shortly before we departed for North Thai­land. We sowed the seed and prayed that God would cause it to grow in her heart. This brother, together with our 60-year-old musician brother, took us to the airport and urged us to come back. We left Indonesia full of praise and thanks­giving to God. The exper­ience touched our hearts and en­cour­aged us to continue on our mission trip.

North Thailand (November 16th – 27th)

We flew from Bali and arrived in Bangkok on November 15th. We stayed at my brother’s place. Ever since January 1998, he and his family had been living in Bangkok for business reasons. The next day, my brother took us to the airport and we were on our way to Chiang-Rai. Mean­while, two lay couples from our Sydney church joined us for the mission to North Thailand. They would meet up with us at Chiang-Rai.

Living with the hill tribe

When we arrived in Chiang-Rai, our coworker was already wait­ing for us and he welcomed us warmly. He had arranged for a pickup van to take us to the hill tribe. The road was bumpy and winding. We finally arrived at our destination after a few hours’ drive. We were amazed by how our coworker could adapt to such high-altitude conditions. He was a disabled per­son with a hunched back, a disabil­ity that impaired his respir­atory system. In his condition, it would be particularly tough to live at high altitudes. But he testified that in all these years since he had settled in this place, God had granted him grace upon grace to overcome his disability. In fact he had tried all kinds of medicine and learned so much about their effects that he became the village’s “medi­cal” consultant. He was a living testimony to God’s wonder­ful grace and awesome power.

Before we headed for the mission trip to North Thailand, we saw some photos of the kind of accommodation we would be staying at. We were mentally prepared for the sim­plicity of life there. Still, we were taken aback when we arrived at the hill tribe where we were to stay. The place was unhygienic with animal feces deposited here and there. Chicken, ducks and dogs were running around in the front yard. Kathleen adjusted much better than I. Once we arrived at our hut, we unloaded our luggage and Kathleen took off her shoes to put on slippers. Then she would go out to the front yard and chat with our coworker’s wife. To my shame, I was a bit of a slow learner in this area. It took me a couple of hours before I reluct­antly took off my shoes and walked in my slippers.

After we settled at our coworker’s place, we started to discuss the work there. He and his wife were living in a Lahu village with about 30-plus villagers. They were all Christian by birth but lacked teaching in the word of God. We were told there was a meeting place made of straw and bam­boo. It was so run down that it was deemed unsafe. So our coworker pro­posed to the villagers that they build a safer meet­ing place with concrete and cement. They agreed and took immediate action. They demolished the old church and started to build a new one, with the aim of completing it just in time for Christmas. With that in mind, we decided to con­solidate the work in the village with a series of Bible studies on com­munal living. Among the two lay cou­ples from Aust­ralia who joined us from November 16th to 27th, is a sister who was 12 weeks pregnant. Our coworker’s wife in Thailand was also about 12 weeks pregnant. So we tried to limit the amount of tra­veling on those bumpy roads for the safety of the two preg­nant sisters.

Sharing the Gospel and participating in their communal life

As it turned out, we conducted two Bible study sessions ev­ery day while we were in the village. We also visited two drug rehab centers and one other village where the coworker’s wife’s family lived. Dur­ing this mission trip, each of us had a chance to lead Bible studies, share, or preach three times.

Since our theme was about the body life and communal living, we not only shared the word of God with the villagers, but also took into account the physical conditions of our dear coworker and his preg­nant wife. So we participated in some manual labor. Since winter was around the corner, we wanted to gather more wood for our coworker so that he may have enough to keep the place warm for the winter. We went to the bush, chopped the bamboo and carried it back to his home. We also ploughed his yard to reshape the land­scape for more land use.

One day our coworker suggested that we visit the rice field down the valley. We walked down the hill and crossed the stream before reaching the rice paddy. We saw some workers threshing and win­nowing the rice stalks to collect the rice grains. We thought it would be an interesting exper­ience and so we tried to do the same thing. Then we realized it was not easy at all. I tried to thresh the rice stalks but only a few grains fell out. My hands and arms were lined with cuts because I did not thresh the stalks correctly. Then I realized how precious each grain of rice was to the farmer. It was the product of blood, sweat and tears.

After that, we were introduced to our coworker’s mother-in-law. She was short and tiny, yet was waiting to carry a bag of grain up to the village. I offered to carry a bag of grain back to the village, but my coworker told me that it would be too heavy for me to carry a full bag, which would weigh over 30 kilograms. But seeing my eagerness to help, they filled the bag 1/3 full for me to carry. I was so amazed that our coworker’s mother-in-law with her tiny frame was about to carry a whole bag. I was holding my bag with both arms and started to go up the hill. As I turned around, I saw my coworker’s mother-in-law placing the bag at the bottom of a strap. While holding the top of the strap, she turned around with the rice bag against her back. She bent down and wrapped the strap around her fore­head. Then she slowly got up and carried the bag on her back by means of the strap around her forehead. I was astounded to see how this tiny woman could carry 30 kilograms of grain and walk uphill. After walk­ing five minutes uphill, I was struggling to keep my bal­ance and had to stop to catch my breath. Then I saw this tiny lady steadily climbing uphill fast approaching me. I immed­iately had to get up and keep going. Every time I made a stop, I would see her catching up with me. It took me 40 minutes just to carry the bag of rice from the valley to the village up the hill. I was exhausted by the time I finally arrived at the grain storehouse and unloaded my 1/3 full bag. Minutes later, my coworker’s mother-in-law arrived. While I was out of breath and feel­ing a bit dizzy, she was so composed as to smile to greet us. It put me to shame indeed. In any case, for the little we did, our participation won the villagers’ hearts even though we looked clumsy and in fact did little to help.

Medical workshop

Apart from the manual work, we also held a special medical work­shop conducted by our medical-doctor brother from Sydney. It was attended by both the Lahu villagers and their neighboring Akah villagers. At the end of the workshop, our brother offered free clinical checkups for those who needed medical attention. These were the most touching moments of the miss­ion trip. After treating a brother from the Lahu village for his headache, we saw an Akah young girl coming for medical care. Her foot was full of infected sores but our dear brother wasn’t afraid of the infection. He bent down and gently washed her foot with salt water. The girl was in severe pain and two men had to hold her still. After the foot was cleansed, Kathleen helped out in the bandaging. One after another, patients came out mostly from the Akah village. The Akah villagers were well known for their lack of hygiene and for not taking baths. Even the Lahu villagers abhorred the filthiness of the Akah villagers, who were under the con­trol of a witch doctor in the village who believed that water was evil. There were about seven patients that even­ing, and it took about two hours to attend to them after the workshop. It was way past the village bedtime which was about 10:00 pm. But we sowed the seed of God’s com­passion for these Akah villagers and we prayed that event­ually they would also become Christians. We also hope that the Lahu Christians will break the barriers and evangelize to their neighbors with love and compassion.

Visit to the drug rehab center

Our coworker also arranged for a visit to a drug rehab center near Chiang-Mai. It was a few hours’ drive from our place. We were invited to share the word of God there, and were all keen to go. A van was supposed to pick us up in the afternoon. But when we were set to leave, the driver sudden­ly had mechan­ical problems with the car. Since we lived at the hill tribe, there was no convenient access to auto parts. My coworker had to ride on his motorbike to the nearest village to buy the parts. By the time the van was fixed and ready to go, it was already late afternoon. But our first meet­ing was scheduled for 8:00 pm. After a short prayer, we quickly drove to our destination.

Out in the cold

The sisters were sitting inside the van while the brothers were sitting in the van’s open area at the back. In the beginning, we were thrilled to be in the open area. We all stood up, raising our hands just like in the movie Titanic! What a feeling to stand up against the breeze on the open trunk of a van. But since we were already late, the driver was trying to make up for lost time, and drove ferociously downhill. As the van picked up speed, the wind gathered strength and it was chilly cold. The sun started to set and the temperature quickly plum­meted. We stooped down and took shelter behind the pass­enger compartment against the gusty wind. We were not prepared for such bitter cold temp­eratures. We were all shiver­ing and I was feeling numb from head to toe. The cold became so unbearable that I prayed silently in my heart that our loving Father would keep us warm under the shelter of His wings.

Chill warning

We finally arrived at our destination before 8:00 pm. I was strug­gling to stand upright. My face was numb, and I needed help to get out of the trunk. It was a strange feeling because I felt empty as if my brain had completely shut down. I was walk­ing, zigzagging like a drunkard. Each step weighed a thousand tons! I simply could not control my motion. It was a frightening exper­ience. Kathleen saw me wobbling and losing my balance. She quickly came to my aid and grabbed me on one side while another brother sup­ported me on the other side. They helped me get into a room to warm up. After our luggage was unloaded, and while I was “defrosting” with Kath­leen by my side, the rest of the group immediately joined the meeting where the attendees were waiting for us. The drug rehab chairman warmly welcomed our party and the program immediately commenced with one of our sisters leading in songs. Kathleen gently rubbed some ointment on my fore­head and nose and I slowly regained my strength. Indeed, just like what the book of Proverbs says, A prudent wife is from the Lord” (Proverbs 19:14). How blessed I am to have a car­ing wife. Then Kathleen warned me that I could end up with a stroke. Just the thought of it brought a chill to my bones. God was merciful and kept me from falling into serious sickness. We prayed to God with a heart of thanks­giving and praise because nothing serious hap­pened to me. We joined the meeting after the song worship. One of our sisters shared her testimony and that ended an eventful day.

Sharing in Mandarin at the drug rehab center

The next morning, I recovered well and we attended the meet­ing after the morning breakfast. The audience consisted of drug addicts and the rehab center workers. Some were of Chinese des­cent and could understand Mandarin. The others were mainly Thais who spoke the Thai language. I was sup­posed to share in Cantonese with my co­worker translating into Man­darin. Then a Thai native would translate from Mandarin into their native language. The reason was that my Mandarin was poor. Actually when we had the Bible study with the hill tribe villagers, I was trying to share in Mandarin which was then translated into Thai by my coworker. I struggled so hard to com­plete the Bible study, and afterwards my coworker told me frankly that he would prefer me to speak in Cantonese instead, because it was very draining for him to translate my Mandarin. Since then I refrained from shar­ing in Mandarin with the group. But when my coworker intro­duced me as the guest speaker and said that I would be speaking in Cantonese, the Rehab director raised his hand in objection and requested me to share in Mandarin instead. Before the meeting, we had break­fast with the organ­izers and I chatted with the Rehab direct­or in Mandarin. But public sharing requires much higher proficiency in Mandarin. I con­fessed to the audience that my Man­darin was poor and pre­ferred to share in Can­tonese, but the Rehab director insisted that I speak in Man­darin. He assured me that he understood my Mandarin, and even said that my Mandarin was on par with my coworker’s! What a joke! My coworker stood beside me with an awkward and embarrassing smile. Anyway, he stepped down from the platform and allotted the time to me to share in Mandarin, with the Thai brother translating into his native language.

It was the first time for me to share in a public meeting of over a hundred people in Mandarin. I began my sharing with a fervent pray­er. It would be one of the most earnest prayers in my life, pleading to God to open the ears of the listeners so as to under­stand my poor Mandarin. I wanted God to con­vey the message to the hearts of these people despite the lan­guage barrier. As I uttered one phrase at a time, I wondered if my translator could really understand my Mandarin. But I could hear the Thai brother fluently translating each phrase in their native language. Anyway, I left it to God to grant wisdom to the Thai brother to understand my Mandarin as I focused on my sharing. As I was sharing, I could see the stunned look among my Sydney group and my coworker. I glanced at my wife Kathleen. She nodded her head and smiled. I took it as an en­couragement and continued my sharing. After the message, the Thai bro­ther greeted me warmly and said that he understood every word I spoke. My coworker and my Sydney brothers and sisters also came for­ward and excitedly told me that I spoke very clearly. I praised God for His mercy and we really sensed the power of the Holy Spirit moving, not just in helping me share in Man­darin, but in the fact that the message touched their hearts. We left the rehab center full of thanks­giving and praise.

Taking the driver’s seat

During the trip, we discovered that we had to be very flex­ible, and we learned to be led by the Holy Spirit on many occasions. The Spirit of God would call upon us to use what­ever skills we have to glorify His name. We left the village on the morning of November 26th. We planned to stay over­night at Chiang-Rai so that we could go straight to the airport the next morning. The driver of the pickup truck came uncharacteristically punct­ually, and we left the place around 9:30 am. After driving to the next village, he stopped. We waited almost half an hour wondering what was going on. When our coworker queried the driver, he reluctantly told us that he only got his license two weeks ago. He just had an accident the day before and was afraid to drive all the way to Chiang-Rai. He hoped that his friend would come and drive us instead, but his friend never turned up. When my coworker asked who among us knew how to drive a manual shift car, only I responded. He immed­iately said I had to take the driver’s seat. Without waiting for my answer, he got out of the car and told the driver that I knew how to drive a manual shift. The driver immed­iately pounced on the idea, passed the key to my coworker, and hopped right into the open trunk of the pickup van. My coworker gave me the key and expected me to drive!

Risky drive

I first drove the van to the gas station to fill the tank. To my horror, there was no gas cap. The driver told us that the cap was likely lost during the previous night’s accident. We found a plastic bag and a rubber band, and used that as a temporary gas cap. We knew it was not going to be an easy ride. So we prayed to our dear God to watch and protect us so that we could arrive safely in Chiang-Rai. With two preg­nant sisters in the van and with the bumpy, hilly and winding roads ahead of us, I drove cautiously with fear and trepidation. The sisters on the passeng­er seats sang hymns of praise perhaps to ease the tension. We finally made it down the hill onto a much better paved highway. When we were approaching the city, the traffic was at a standstill. Then we saw street patrols ahead of us who were stopping every car for inspection. It suddenly dawned on me that I did not have my driver’s license with me. I told my coworker about it and asked him what to do. He turned around and asked the driver whet­her he could resume the driver’s seat. Then he told us that he did not have a permit to drive into the city. His license was valid only for the rural tribal areas. We were caught in a dilemma. While we were still a few cars from the police, we prayed for God’s deliverance in this critical situa­tion. After the prayer, my coworker asked us to hand him all our passports and asked me not to utter one word. He would do all the talking. Finally our turn came and the police offi­cer approached me. I rolled down the window and greeted him with a smile. He spoke Thai to me which I obviously did not understand. I looked puzzled and turned to my coworker. Then my coworker who sat by my side answered the police officer. They were exchang­ing words while we were all waiting silently in suspense. My coworker handed all our pass­ports and IDs to him. He inspected every one of us and finally gave back all the passports and IDs to my coworker and waved us off. What a relief! If I were caught driving without a driver’s license, the consequence would be unthinkable. Our God reigned and He delivered us from the schemes of the evil one. We made it to the city center of Chiang-Rai and arrived safely at the hotel. I sur­rendered the car key with much relief! We toured the city and stayed over­night. The next morn­ing, we took the flight back to Bangkok. The two lay couples from Australia headed to different destina­tions after that. We stayed with my brother in Bangkok for a few days before heading to Indonesia to continue our mission trip.

Indonesian Mission (December 6th –15th)

This trip was quite different from the North Thailand miss­ion in that we were given a “Mission program” way ahead of time even before we had left Sydney. Everything was well planned and organized in a packed 10-day mission. Our des­tination was Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia after Jakarta.

Identity crisis

We had a lay sister joining us for this mission. In the last two years, there had been Christian-Muslim conflicts and race ten­sions against the Chinese of Indonesia. Because of the East Timor crisis, there was also an anti-Australia sentiment in Indones­ia. So there were three things that worked against us in going to Indon­esia: We are Australian, we are Chinese, we are Christian. We thank God that our lay sister still wanted to go with us des­pite our unfavorable situation. We could have used our Canadian pass­ports, but opted to go as Australians. We became Australians before going on the mission.

Kickback or stay back

We arrived in Surabaya via Singapore after spending a restful time there. We had a wonderful time with the Singapore coworkers as well as some lay people. At Surabaya airport, while we were lining up at customs, I was approached by an officer who offered to let us bypass the lineup so that we could leave faster. I was hesitant. With a bit of discernment, I realized that there is no free lunch. He would expect some kickback from us for his favor. I thanked him but declined his offer. We ended up taking over an hour to get through and meet with our dear coworkers who were waiting for us. That depicts the situat­ion in Indonesia. Without bribery, things just stall. Money rules in this predominantly Islamic country, but the Holy Spirit rules in our heart.

Timely reunion

Already on the first day of arrival, we experienced God’s won­der­ful grace. We arrived in the morning whereas our lay sister was to arrive in the evening. So we planned to pick her up by taxi in the evening. One coworker would go with me while the other would stay with Kathleen to get dinner ready. There was heavy rain in late afternoon, and we were forced to change our plans because the taxis would not come to our home to pick us up because of the floods. So we had to leave quite a bit earlier to take public transportation to the air­port. The rain stopped just before we departed, and when we walked to the main street, there was a taxi right there. So we ended up taking a cab to the airport. The plane was de­layed, so we had to wait in the airport a couple of hours. But time flies by when there is sweet fellow­ship, and we had a lot of catching up to do in our conversation. We finally found a bench to sit on, with our backs turned towards the arrival gate.

The plane arrived and lots of people were swarming to the arrival gate. But based on our morning’s experience, I thought it would take at least 40 minutes for the lay sister to come out. So we remained seated on the bench and had more fellowship. All of a sudden, some­one walked over and stopped right in front of us, and started to take off her sweat­er. When her face was exposed, lo and behold, it was the lay sister. She was given executive class in her flight and so she was almost the first to come out of the airport without lining up. Even though the flight was an hour late, her quick exit made up for the lost time and we arrived home at 10:00pm. God was merciful to us, and sent us home faster because Kath­leen and the other coworker were waiting for us for dinner.

Play dumb

During our stay, we could see the heavy workload that the coworkers were taking on in Surabaya. The main challenge was trans­portat­ion. Each trip took at least two hours via public trans­port. We were warned that we shouldn’t speak Chinese when we are taking public transportation especially if we are taking the “Bemo” (passengers van) or the “Kol” (a bigger Bemo packed with over 20 passengers). Thugs and gangsters would some­times raid a van and rob passengers of money and valuables. If they know you are Chinese, your life may be in danger. We thank God that He had been faith­fully pro­tecting our coworkers travelling in and out by these modes of public transport­ation, and we admire their cour­age. Their faithfulness in ministering to those who hunger and thirst for His word was not hindered by the risk and the long hours of traveling by public transportation.

All walks of life

In the mission in Indonesia, we met four socially diverse groups of people, whom we classified as:

1. The “Students”

This group consisted of university students, most of whom were very poor. But they all learned to share things in com­mon, and were actually prac­ticing communal living. In their testim­on­ies, they would often talk about living in hunger and how God had met their needs. Some of them used their skills to make handicraft or carpentry items, and sold them for a living. When they had nothing to eat, they would go to the nearby sewage to pick up vegetables for dinner. Each time our coworkers visited them, they would bring a dish and have dinner with the students before the Bible study. We saw the word of God made alive in their lives: He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack” (2Cor.8:15). Before each Bible study, we would have singing and sharing. Their shar­ing was spon­taneous and uplifting. Truly, Blessed are the poor.”

2. The “Professionals”

This group consisted of professionals who are Christians and have the heart to serve the community with their profession­al skills. They also offered financial support where there was need. In fact they were sup­porting the Bible School which was the third group we encountered. In contrast to the other groups, these professionals were wealthy people and mainly Chinese. To their credit, the few whom we knew among them were very devoted Christians. They helped the Bible School in offering their professional skills to teach students comput­er skills, music, construction, etc. so as to equip them with practical skills when the students go to remote villages. So this group played a major role in evangelizing in the remote villages.

We had the privilege of visiting one of the villages which was inaccessible by car. We had to walk on a dirt road up and down the hill for 30 minutes before reaching the village. We were told of the history of the village which was being evan­gelized: a brother of this group, an architect, surveyed the poor village which had no electricity and was inaccessible by car. Then he brought along a team of workers as well as a medical team of Christian doctors and dentists to the village. They installed electricity in this village and began taking care of the sick. Eventually even the witch doctor and his whole family were converted alongside the other villagers. Indeed, they brought forth the light of Christ and over­came the powers of darkness.

Some of the brethren worked freelance so that they could be more flexible and devote their time to help out the Bible School group.

3. The “Bible School”

This group consisted of students aged 18 to mid-twen­ties. They were located about a two hours’ drive from Surabaya, with at least an extra hour required for public transport­ation. When we visited them, there were a total of 36 students. Most of them came from very poor fami­lies from different localities within Indonesia. We spent two nights and three days there, and were impressed with their lifestyle. Needless to say, they lived out a truly communal life, sharing every­thing in common. We heard testimony after testimony of how their lives were changed dur­ing the practice of com­munal living. Among the stud­ents, some were former gang leaders. But they were trans­formed by the word of God and became as tame as lambs.

Call on the Name of the Lord before the break of dawn

There were two big bedrooms separated by a meeting hall, one for the sisters and the other for the brothers. Their devo­tion to God was evident. When we were invited to share in their fellowship, we were given two time slots to choose from: 3:30 or 4:30. Little did we realize that they meant a.m. not p.m. They would wake up at 3:30 am for their own quiet time; at 4:30 am, they would gather together praising God with songs and sharing. None of the musicians had to look at the song sheets or music scores. They just played in perfect har­mony. We came at a time when they were busy prepar­ing for their Christmas celebrations. They would stay up late in the even­ing past their bedtime, but would as usual wake up with joy and thanks­­giving, praising God. On one of the nights, the medical team of Christian doctors and dentists also came and they occu­pied the brothers’ bedroom. I was assigned to sleep with all the male students and their staff in the principal’s room. In total there were 20 of them crammed into one room. They all went to bed close to midnight. Then at 4:30am, before the break of dawn, they began singing and chanting the name of the Lord our God. Even though we were so tired and worn out, our spirits were lifted to higher heaven. It was one of the most memorable and sweetest moments in prayer, crying and yearn­ing for the presence of God. No wonder these students had such fervor and devot­ion for the Lord our God. If they were given more intensive teaching in the word of God, they would be powerful men and women of God. Our coworkers were trying their best to offer them systematic and exegetical training in the word of God.

A lesson to learn

Meeting with this group was truly inspiring. It testifies not only that communal living is workable and biblical, but also that the power within is through prayer and thanksgiving, calling upon the name of the Lord our God. The principle of inversion applies to the family of God: It seems that when we are poor, all things work through Him. When we are rich, we become arrogant, and disunity creeps in and corrupts our souls.

4. The “Potentials”

This last group consisted of brothers and sisters from other groups, some of whom the coworkers hoped to build up as core members in the Surabaya Ministry. These brethren longed for the word of God and were effective in their service for Him. We prayed that they will continue to grow in the word of God so that His ministry may expand to save more lost souls.

Final words on the Indonesian Mission

It was the second last day of our stay. In the evening we at­tended a meeting with the “Professionals” group. After the meeting, one of the members told us of an elderly woman, 78 years of age, who had been hospitalized for three months. Her condition deteriorated and she had just slipped into a coma. Her daughters were Christians and they desperately hoped that their mother would receive baptism before she passed away. But when they approached their church pastor, he declined to baptize her because he insisted on baptism by immersion. Obviously this elderly lady couldn’t go through immersion, so they were disap­pointed and desperate. That was why this member of the “Professionals” group approached us about whether I would be willing to conduct the baptismal ceremony. I was only too glad to oblige. However it was already very late in the evening. So we prayed together, pleading with God to grant the elderly woman a peaceful night of rest and that she would be alert enough to receive baptism the next morning.

Cause of illness: Physical or demonic?

The next morning we went to the hospital, and explained the proced­ure to the family members. We were somewhat start­led when we found out that the elderly lady could understand Mandarin. At least I could share with her using my limited Mandarin. Another amaz­ing thing was that she was in coma just the night before, but this morn­ing she was mentally very alert. God had answered our prayer! We found out further from her daughters that all along she had been a very healthy woman in spite of her advanced age. However, she had some dealings with a witch doctor who demanded payment from her. She refused to pay. The witch doctor warned her sternly that she would suffer severe con­sequences if she didn’t pay up by a cer­tain time. Indeed, she fell ill soon after the dead­line for payment had past. The illness persisted and her sit­uation deteriorated. I perceived that her illness might be caused by the curse of the witch doctor.

Condition of baptism: Full allegiance to God only

I managed to share the gospel message with the elderly woman in Mandarin with a little help from our Indonesian coworker. I in­structed her to renounce all idol worship and to believe in God alone. I also explained that baptism would only bring salvation to her soul but not physical healing. The elderly lady could not speak be­cause she was wearing an oxy­gen mask, but she obviously understood what I was saying to her as she nodded her head in response. Those who stood by her bedside witnessed her positive response. So I proceeded with the cere­mony and she was baptized.

Prayer for healing

Immediately after the baptism, I suddenly felt that the Spirit was moving me to pray for the relief of her pain. So I asked her where it hurt the most and somehow my hand just gently landed on her abdo­men. She reacted violently as if to evade my hand. Her whole body was shaking as she stared at me frightened, and mumbled as in excru­ciating pain. I couldn’t understand her reaction. Her daughters immediately told me that I was touching the exact sore spot which might have caused her unbearable pain. I perceived that the Holy Spirit had moved me to touch just the right spot.

I apologized to her at once and reassured her that this time I would pray for her healing. I stretched my hand hov­ering over the painful area again, and slowly but gently rested on the sore spot. As I laid my hand on her while she was still mumbling in pain, I prayed that the power of the Holy Spirit would set her free from any demon­ic possession, and that God would merci­fully grant her healing. After my prayer, she immediately be­came completely silent. When her daughters asked her how she felt, she couldn’t say anything because she had an oxygen mask on. She just looked bewild­ered and surprised.

Another deliverance

We didn’t pursue her situation any further because we were asked to visit another elderly lady in the same hospital. In fact, it was this lady who had introduced the first elderly lady to our sister in the “Professionals” group. She was also hospi­talized for three months, and her condition was deteriorating too. She had suf­fered a stroke and was paralyzed. She could also understand Mandarin, so I shared the gospel with her in broken Mandarin. She was very receptive and eventually she was also baptized. We never cease to be amazed by the love of God who brought His ill-equipped servant, awkward in the Mandarin language, all the way from Sydney to save two precious souls who were almost 80 years of age. Our hearts were touched by His unfail­ing love. Not only that, the son of the second elderly sister had been a backsliding Christian because of a bad experience with other Christians. But after this incident, he was revived! The next morning, we left for Hong Kong with hearts full of amazement, and were touched by the compassionate love of God.

Good news from afar

After we returned to Sydney, we received news from our coworkers that the first of the two aforementioned elderly sis­ters had been discharged from hospital the next day. Even the doc­tor was complete­ly dumbfounded. His original diag­nosis was that she would die at any moment be­cause she was in a coma the night that we were told of her condit­ion. Those who wit­nessed the deliverance testified that it was a miracle. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Following her miraculous heal­ing, her Buddhist husband and atheist youngest son were all converted to Christianity.

Conclusion

We were called to be ever ready to do the best we could by God’s grace. When we committed our inadequacies to God, He filled the gaps and made His mission complete. Although language barriers may be a problem, love is never a problem. Love is the most beautiful lang­uage that God has bestowed upon all who believe in Him for the salvation of the lost.

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church