"(The rulers, elders and teachers of the law) called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus." -- Acts 4:18
There are countries where it is not possible for an expatriate (or foreign) missionary to get a visa. There are countries where church activities are greatly restricted. There are countries in the world where open evangelism by Christians is unlawful. Churches in areas where they have to meet in secret are sometimes referred to as Underground Churches. Some people have been tempted to think that these countries -- many of which have Islamic or communist governments -- are unreachable.
While fulfilling the Great Commission in those countries can be challenging, it is not impossible. Closed to missionaries does not mean closed to the gospel. That's where the use of the phrase "creative access" comes in. Because the Good News spreads most easily through relationships, there are opportunities for evangelism in even very difficult circumstances. Relationships in which the gospel can be shared can be developed by:
Some years ago, we talked about various places as "closed" countries. On the surface, it did look like those places were unreached by missionaries. Today's mission strategists use phrases like limited access, restricted access, or creative access areas since, as has been noted, no country is really closed. Even though a country may be on someone's list of "closed countries," the gospel can get in through a variety of ways.
It's hard to come up with a firm list or even just the number of closed or creative access countries. One reason is that any listing of the names of limited-access countries by a mission board raises that mission board's visibility to the power structures of those same countries. As a result, most mission boards working in such countries never talk about them by name, nor do they even publish lists of countries they consider to be creative access areas (whether they are working in them or not). A second reason is that situations can quickly shift wioth changes in government leaders.
Having said that, I have seen a figure of about 60 countries. That number would include one of the largest countries in the world and many countries where Islam is the majority religion.
-- Howard Culbertson,
"Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated." -- Hebrews 11:36-37
During the registration for my workshop, in the noisy and crowded student government office, I met a young man — his family name was Wang — whose quiet presence stood out amid the clamor. A chemistry student who also excelled in martial arts, Wang was several years older, of average height and build, and possessed an unusual aura of peace and calm, which I found very soothing. He soon opened a world to me I had never known before: faith in God. This was another taboo in China, where all forms of spiritual belief were condemned as capitalism's poison to the working-class soul.
Wang told me he had spent the previous summer traveling by bicycle along the Yellow River, the birthplace of our ancient civilization. He had wanted to see the lives and culture of the Chinese heartland with his own eyes. On his journey through six provinces, he came upon a mountain village so poor that no woman would marry into it. When the local girls reached the age of matrimony, they left the village to marry elsewhere. No one in the village knew how to read, and the villagers clothed themselves in rags. The dire poverty shocked Wang.
When the people heard that a college student had wandered into their midst, a village elder gathered everyone, young and old, into a small mud hut and invited Wang to join them. As everyone stood around a tiny oil lamp, the elder brought out a bundle wrapped in black cloth. With trembling hands, he slowly unfolded the cloth, one layer at a time, until it revealed an old Bible. The pages were wrinkled and yellow.
The old man told Wang that, many years before, an American missionary had left the Bible before he was driven out of China by Mao's liberation. None of the remaining villagers knew how to read. So when they gathered to secretly worship, they simply passed the Bible around, hand to hand. Each person was allowed to touch it once. In this way, they received the presence of God. Still, they longed to know what was in that book, and had prayed for someone who could read it to them. When Wang showed up, they were overjoyed and said their prayers had been answered. Wang had no idea what they were talking about, but he was happy to oblige their request.
With all eyes on him, he read the Word of God as the people listened intently. He said it was as if they all fell into a trance. No one left or even moved. Wang, too, felt the special bond these people shared. Without feeling tired, he kept reading late into the night. Each time he paused, the peasants begged him to read more. Before he knew it, a rooster was crowing, and the peasants went out to work in the fields. Wang took a nap. After sunset, the peasants returned, and Wang continued reading to them.
After several days, Wang had to resume his trip to return to school on time. The entire village turned out to see him off. They presented him with a large sack of sweet potatoes and would not let him leave without it. It was the best they could offer him from their village. Although Wang had many more miles to cover before he returned to Beijing, and he gave up many things along the way to lighten his load, he carried the sack of sweet potatoes on the back of his bicycle all the way home.
When Wang told me this story, I felt like one of those villagers who had longed to hear the Word of God. Though religion was outlawed in China when I was growing up, to me, it was neither foreign nor intimidating. As I listened to Wang, I was strongly attracted to that powerful spiritual force. How much I wanted to be a part of those people who had such strong devotion.
From pages 40-41 of A Heart for Freedom by Chai Ling (Tyndale House. Reproduced here with minor editing under the educational "fair use" provisions of the U.S. copyright acts).
A story and devotional reflections from Pearls of Great Price, Zondervan. Used with minor editing under the "fair use" for educational purposes of the U.S. copyright laws.
"You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world." — 1 John 4:4 NASB
Years ago, my missionary friend Gesina was thrown into a communist prison in the Balkans after they caught her with Christian literature in the trunk of her car. Sitting in that pitch-black cell, surrounded by a sickening stench with filth and trash on the floor that she couldn't even see, she suddenly thought of a verse of Scripture. That morning, she had read Psalm 80:5 in her quiet time: "You have fed them with the bread of tears."
The verse came back strongly to her heart in that dark moment, but it wasn't particularly comforting in her present circumstances! Frightened and overwhelmed, she had no idea if her friends would realize what had happened to her. Just then, the jailer opened the small food door and shoved through a stick of salami and a chunk of bread. Frustrated that she couldn't even set the meat down on the dirty floor in order to tear off a piece of bread, she began to cry. Without thinking, she wiped her tears with the chunk of bread. Suddenly, the verse she had read that morning flashed before her. She laughed out loud. God knew! He hadn't forgotten her! She could eat her tear-soaked bread knowing that he had specifically given it to her. She didn't mind being fed the bread of tears if it had come straight from his hand.
Today, Gesina has a marvelous ministry among the disabled in Albania. And to the end of her days, she will remember how God came near in the worst and darkest of circumstances and reminded her of his constant presence and care.
Whatever your circumstances, difficult as they may be, remember: God knows precisely where you are and how to care for you.
Oh, Lord Jesus, what joy this brings! Because you live within my very spirit, nothing but nothing in life can truly defeat me.
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