FIRST-PERSON: Challenges in South Asia remain but tears of joy come too

One constant of this life is that it is always changing. When people ask me about what it’s like to live overseas, this is one of my standard answers. For a year and a half, most humans across the globe have experienced constant change or at least the feeling of unknown changes coming. It can be unsettling and exhausting. But there are moments when the anticipation of coming changes can be exciting. It’s the latter feeling that I am trying to focus on these days.

In February, after being separated for 11 months, I was finally able to return to my dear friends in the South Asian villages where I minister. COVID-19 had finally relented, and we were ready to take advantage of a lull in the crisis. My team and I made a plan to visit the villages twice a week and invited anyone who wished to join us for a brief health lesson and a story from the Bible.

The precursor temperatures to the hot season had already come, but the rains had not, so we met one day on the dirt-packed ground in front of one house and another day on the unfinished roof of someone’s home. Each week, around 250 women and children joined us.

Despite the hot weather and cramped conditions, the women and kids not only continued to come, but people from surrounding villages came as well. Each week, more would join us and plead for us to visit their villages. We felt the acute tension of His plentiful harvest on the cusp of being ready, yet knew we were woefully short on workers to labor in the harvest.

The Saturday before Easter, more than 350 of us gathered on the roof. I prayed that God would bless the proclamation of His Word, but I also sincerely asked that He hold up that roof with His mighty hands. Thankfully, the roof held! On that day, more than 350 heard the Gospel and received a coloring book with the resurrection story. That was the last day we were able to gather in a large group. His timing is always remarkable.

As a new COVID surge began to ravage South Asia, we were able to travel to the village for only a few more weeks, meeting in small groups of about 15. Stricter lockdown measures were put back in place, and in-person visits became much more sporadic over the following months.

Cell phone network coverage is not great out in the villages. If you are in the right spot at the right time, calls can be made, but video calls are just not possible. The ladies in our villages continued to call, requesting our return, even though the government restrictions would not allow the journey. Those calls eventually turned into the villagers gathering themselves in homes and calling the city for a prayer meeting. My national partners prayed with them, sang songs and taught a short devotional. The kids led songs we had taught them.

We are in another lull in COVID cases and can travel again somewhat regularly to the villages. It is still only possible, and wise, to meet in small groups in homes.

There are many things to praise Him for over the past six months, but the most soul-satisfying story is of Shanta* and Anonda*. Shanta is the second follower of Jesus in the villages where we serve. Shanta is faithfully growing in her faith and love for Him over the past couple of years and began helping us in the group meetings and house prayer groups.

Just before our regular visits became less frequent, we met Anonda. Her interest in the truth seemed genuine, and we connected her with Shanta. The women now meet daily to pray and read the Bible together.

As I write these words, I can’t help but cry. Maybe it’s because I’m just tired from sleeping on the couch for three days due to my broken bedroom air conditioner. It might be because I’m sad for a friend whose family is going through a difficult time. Maybe it’s because of headlines and the immense tragedy so many are facing. Perhaps some of the tears are because of those hardships, but I know a few tears are from joy. The struggles of life are so very real, but for those who are found in Him, like Shanta and Anonda, life’s struggles are not eternal. Only the joy that comes from knowing Him will endure in our lives.

For more information about serving in South Asia or an upcoming virtual mission trip for future missionaries, go here.

*Names changed for security

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