Asia (MNN) ― Secrecy, spies and suspicion: they are all elements found in a novel or movie of intrigue. You'd expect to see such a storyline unfolding in connection with a mystery, but not the church.
However, Joe Handley with Asian Access says that's exactly what was happening amongst believers throughout Asia. "Because the church was underground--and you had some churches that were sanctioned by the government, and others that were not--there was a sense of ‘Will that person turn me in to the government authorities?'"
Worse yet, "It got to the point where they just didn't know if they could trust another. They were having family members turn family members in, and pastors they thought were pastors who were spies turning people in. That culture of mistrust was heavy."
Seeing a healthy evangelical body emerge from the devastation of this cultural destruction has been a direct answer to prayer. Handley explains, "They started coming together through Asian Access, and over the course of a few years, there started to build unification amongst the pastors and churches in the capital city." In fact, he adds, these pastors are now investing in the lives of others. "Over a ten year period, that now has bled over into many of the provinces where there is a remarkable unity that is building in the country amongst the pastors."
This new crop of pastors have cast off the suspicion, and they are eagerly embracing the training A2 offers. Even better, Handley says, the ministry didn't have to do all the work. "These pastors already have a passion for church planting. They work mainly in house churches, and they want to also finish the task of world evangelism."
A2 chose a man to put feet to the mission who had both business savvy and a loose grip on the ministry reigns. Since he didn't have an agenda, the church leaders he was training and discipling had the freedom to explore their own strengths. As a result, "They have a vision not only to plant churches in their own country, but across Asia, stretching from their country and moving all across the 10/40 Window."
The unity this team built was most obvious in its solidarity. Handley says this group made plans to travel to the Capetown Congress (Lausanne) for World Evangelization together. When their government prevented them from attending, their absence not only spoke of their unified stand, but it also unified the rest of the Christians there in prayer for this Asian country.
Building on that momentum has been exciting. Leadership training begins with the emerging leaders of the church body. A select group from the big metropolitan centers gets training from Asian Access. From there, it's taken on its own life. "We call ourselves ‘A2,' for short; they call the secondary level of training ‘B2,' and now the B2 level graduates have actually started ‘C2.'"
The goal: to be a vibrant community of servant leaders with vision, character and competence, leading the church across Asia. As their country director says, "The tide is moving toward more openness, and it's just a matter of time."
Vision and growth are not without challenges, especially in a country that is hostile to Christians. The region is known for the persecution and harassment of believers. Like those who stood with the missing delegation at the Capetown Congress, Handley urges a similar response. "They need us to pray that God would protect them, that God give them peace and sanity in the midst of what sometimes can feel like chaos, and that God would take care of them and open the path."