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
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."