“There is no boom,” said a Lutheran pastor recently in East Asia. We were talking about the challenges of mission work in East Asia. Between culture, religions, hostile governments, pestilence, warfare, and centuries of tradition that are all deeply ingrained and intertwined into the lives and minds of the people, there are no quick and easy approaches to teaching God’s word and making new disciples. There are no flashy shortcuts that lead to “booms” or surges in new believers. If you are looking for “the boom” in Asia, you will probably be disappointed. The Word doesn’t return empty. That is still true. But in Asia it takes so much time, so much effort, so much pouring into relationships. It takes so much patient teaching, teaching, and more teaching. Seeds are scattered abundantly, but by the time the birds, weeds, and scorching sun have had their way, not many remain to take root. And sometimes years of faithful labor and precious harvest can be scattered to the winds in an instant.
In Myanmar, for example, a Lutheran pastor and his congregation have faithfully taught God’s word, shared the gospel, and discipled believers for years. Over the course of about three decades, they have gathered and shepherded about 300 souls. Longing for fellowship with other confessional Lutheran’s and hungering for God’s word, they reached out to a WELS pastor in the U.S. and have been greatly encouraged through his teaching and encouragement. They managed to stay in touch and continue to be in the word together through the pandemic, and the Myanmar church leaders still found ways to connect with their people and strengthen them with gospel (even though they could not gather in person). And then came the boom – the boom of war. Civil war erupted in Myanmar earlier this year. As battles spread across the country, the army shelled the town where many of the church’s members lived. As the town burned, the army shot civilians as they fled. Many of the church’s members fled across the border to India, to other towns in Myanmar, and even into the jungle to hide. The town went up in smoke. The flock was scattered and was mostly unaccounted for. In terms of numbers and an organized church, it looked like their harvest went up in smoke too.
In this environment, there is simply no “boom” of flashy programs and fast numbers. There is only the faithful plowing and re-plowing, sowing and re-sowing of God’s word, seeking and re-seeking the lost. Within a few weeks of the shelling, church leaders and the WELS pastor started connecting again online. God’s word continued to be taught, and the gospel (and this pastor’s encouragement) continued to strengthen their weary souls. And soon after that, these Burmese shepherds of souls in this shell-shocked area of Myanmar began to seek out and find what members they could. They managed to find and reconnect with a few families, worship with them in their homes, comfort them with the gospel, share the means of grace, and even baptize. In our correspondence, there was no complaining about lost ground, only rejoicing over souls saved and sins forgiven. There is no flashy evangelism “boom” here. But there is another kind of power at work. It’s the gospel, God’s power of salvation. This power is often a still small voice amongst the cacophony of the world’s booming and bellowing, but it is still God’s power to save. The only program in town right now (in Myanmar) is simply being with people in the worst of times and bringing the good news of Jesus into their lives. These tireless shepherds know this is the only thing that can cut through darkness and gloom and truly refresh downtrodden souls. And it is this same gospel that motivates, strengthens, and refreshes the souls of these weary shepherds of souls. Remaining in the word has kept them strong. But God also helped them through a WELS pastor on the other side of the world who found the time to be with them in their worst of times and bring the good news of Jesus into their lives. No boom. Just the gospel, God’s power, in a still small voice and in an unassuming way – yet still a mighty power to save and strengthen.
In this article, I’m not criticizing the big efforts that sometimes do lead to big harvests or “booms.” We pray for and long for those too. But I am thankful for the quiet and unflashy ways the gospel is having big impacts in ways that are easy to miss. I am also thankful for the army of unassuming shepherds (on both sides of the ocean) as they quietly walk together to equip, encourage, and minister through myriad difficulties and disappointments.
Written by Stephen Wiesenauer, Asia One Team leader.
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