We rode our motorbikes down the valley with apprehension and occasional fear, though our hearts were full of faith. The last couple weeks have been difficult for the more than 60 ethnic minority believers in the village churches down the remote valley. Even the strongest leaders felt the pressure bearing down on the young flock. Fines, threats of murder, formal inquisitions, exclusion from community projects, denied access to water sources, Bible confiscations, Bible burnings and even a Bible beating to the head all happened in the last three months. Now we were headed straight into the heart of oppression.
All the Christian leaders from the big church in town said it was a bad idea, “Wait until things cool down…” they warned us from the safety of the big city. But God was saying something else to us, “Take care of my sheep.”
Love compelled us to do more than the status quo. Disciple making meant much more than weekly trainings. It required more than periodic phone calls. It required the laying down of all our rights. It required modeling a life of sacrifice. We could not ask our disciples to do what we were not willing to do ourselves. The pursuit of God’s glory is inherently full of risk but Jesus’ sheep is worth it.
The next 5 days was priceless. Together we labored with village Christians in building a wood charcoal oven. Digging until our hands were calloused but laughing as we joked around. At night we returned to a wooden house on stilts, ate together, worshipped and encouraged men, women and children from the Word of God. Not everyone showed up the first few nights out of fear of police raids but slowly the sheep trickled in.
The last night was intense. The village headman and local police requested our presence in his home. This was it. This was the moment we would sink or swim. We reassured our Christian friends that God would give all of us the words to speak. Since we were outsiders the authorities focused all their questions and accusations on us. They demanded that we sign paper work saying we will not start any welfare projects in this area. With respect and wisdom we declined, explaining our desire to bless our friends by providing a source of sustainable income. The Christians had opportunities to share their testimonies and we explained national law that grants freedom of belief – yes even in a communist country the constitution permits freedom to believe. The authorities were speechless.
Before leaving the next morning we were approached by one of the village headman. He said, “Last night you spoke with authority and we could not answer you. Today we will destroy your project.” With shovels in hand they began to dismantle our work and threatened to do the same with our camera phone if we didn’t put it away.
As we rode back up the valley there was a deep sense of peace. Even though our work was physically destroyed our spirits were strengthened. We were able to build up the disciples and encourage them to remain true to the faith. They understand how they must live through hardship to enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22) saying, “Thank you so much for coming. You have shown us how to be bold in our faith.” We didn’t leave the sheep with a spirit of defeat, on the contrary, they are now filled with a deep spirit of victory. Priceless.