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Student sojourners island hop in Southeast Asia

By Evelyn Adamson

Thick mud, slick with heat from the noonday sun, forms a cast on Billy Donaldson’s* feet. His toes and sandal straps are no longer visible under the caked mud. His shoulders droop from the effort of hiking with a 45-pound pack on his back.

Two other men, Nicholas Hatzis* and Mark Neardson,* press on with him toward the nearest village. All younger than thirty, the three men come from Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Two are university students and one works at a hospital, each devoting two months of his summer to engage Southeast Asian islands through Nehemiah Teams.

Brainerd Baptist Church embraced an unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG) and has since partnered with the International Mission Board’s Nehemiah Teams project to bring the Gospel to Southeast Asia. Nehemiah Teams work alongside IMB field personnel to provide students for projects designed to push the Gospel message further in ministry.

Three other Nehemiah Team members on a separate island came from Oklahoma and Mississippi to serve. These six young adults have traveled to a remote corner of the South Pacific Ocean to spend 52 days blazing the Gospel through islands that previously eluded the reach of Christian workers.

“We’ve never done anything like this before, so it is exciting,” says Hatzis. “We’ve been through months of training, we’ve gone through the flights – Let’s get out and see what it’s like to share with these people!”

Matthew Knight,* another Nehemiah Team member, says, “A lot of things you don’t know for the first time, getting stuff on a map, you just have to be flexible because there are a lot of unknowns. We get there at night and are just wiped out – you don’t have any energy.”

The task, largely consisting of physical feats, has taught the group the necessity of prayer. Michael Williams,* a member of Knight’s group, says, “God’s really been impressing on me – teach me to pray the way I’m supposed to pray because we have to have faith when we pray, and in the end, our prayers should be going out before us.”

Prayer for Perseverance

Donaldson’s group finally breaks out of the jungle into a village. Excited by their arrival, villagers pause for a moment to welcome the tired guests. The men are offered a place to sit, hot tea to drink and an invitation to stay the night. They gratefully drop their backpacks to the ground.

Although the men’s blisters and cuts beg to be treated, they can wait. It is time for the real work to begin: sharing Christ with those who will listen.

Donaldson explains his confidence in God’s providence. “He was faithful and provided a house in every place, food in every place, and more times than not, a return invitation to the village.”

Ryan Smith* describes his journey of sharing God despite the physical toll on his body. “Times where we are dead tired, we just want to go to sleep, and these guys would come and want to talk to us – that is some of the best witnessing times we have had.”

One key component enabling the team to persevere is the amount of preparation they received from Nehemiah Teams. One team member comments, “The training was invaluable, we got trained by people who had been there and were familiar with the culture. … They prepared us, prayed for us, and were blatantly honest about what to expect.”

Their preparation paid off, and as the men set out again into the jungle, they understand what they will need more than anything – perseverance and prayer.

Even as the sun is waking up, the Nehemiah Teams’ bowed shoulders and folded hands are

already at work, pleading for the Father to prepare the way. A trip of this sort forges persistent prayers out of this island’s spiritual darkness.

“It’s not just about sharing,” says Hatzis, “it’s about being a prayer warrior, about trusting the Father in His Sovereignty. He’s in control of where these people are spiritually, He’s the one who brought us here.”

When natural and spiritual elements rise against the Nehemiah Team, their ability to overcome difficulties rests in the Father. Tired muscles, sores and separation from family all weigh heavily in the minds and on the bodies of this team. But when weakness comes, God steps in and strengthens His people.

“You put on your armor and you get up,” Donaldson says. “You just asked to be encouraged, that was the moment spiritual warfare was over.”

Stepping Forward

After the plowing, the seeds of the Gospel can be planted among the island people. Hard ground is broken from months of toil and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Nehemiah Team believes that spiritual fruit will grow and that God will grow His church in Southeast Asia.

Williams explains, “In the Parable of the Sower, three out of four are fruit that will never produce. In the end, you have to go with the knowledge that Jesus and the Holy Spirit will work in the way they want to. All He asks is for us to be faithful and share. It’s His work to open their eyes, open their ears.”

This Nehemiah Team believes that, though they may not see the fruit of these two months, God will redeem these people and bring His Church to the farthest corners of the world.

This trek ends on faith, hope and love: faith that carries Christians through trials, hope that God will use their work among these islands to stir a movement, and love for a people so strong that it prompts the settled to become sojourners for Christ.

If you are interested in joining a Nehemiah Team and being a part of the adventure, please visit the Nehemiah Teams project page. For more stories of what God is doing in Asia, please visit Commission Stories.

Evelyn Adamson is a writer working in Southeast Asia.

*Name changed

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