SOUTH ASIA (BP)–Taped to the inside of their apartment front door is a list of essentials — “phone, water, keys, money, copy of passport” — that a North Carolina couple doesn’t want to forget when leaving venturing into the streets of a South Asian city of 12 million people.
Claude and Lynne*, members of Englewood Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, have been living in South Asia since April 2011. One item that’s not on that list but is crucial to their ministry among the Koli people is prayer.
Answered prayer is why they are there.
The couple plan to live in the South Asian city for at least 10 months to help Englewood with follow-up among the Koli — an unreached people group that did not have a church-planting strategy among them until recent months. Englewood began a partnership among this people after the 2010 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Orlando.
Claude first felt the call to live among the Koli after his pastor, Michael Cloer, returned from the SBC with a conviction that Englewood should do more to spread the Gospel among those who haven’t heard about Jesus.
“I wondered if that could be us,” Claude said of Cloer’s passion. “I didn’t know if God was in it or not. I just kind of thought about it, prayed about it. It looked like a tremendous opportunity.”
At the time, Claude and Lynne — like many Americans — had issues with debt, bills and thoughts of missing their children and new grandchildren. Nevertheless, the couple became more compelled to learn about this new opportunity.
Then their world was rocked when Lynne was injured in a car accident.
A truck struck her vehicle as she was driving through an intersection, leaving her unconscious with two fractured bones in her back, a cracked rib and internal bleeding.
Then doctors discovered something else.
“The internal bleeding was actually [caused by] a tumor on my right kidney,” Lynne recounted.
“It was fairly large, so we had to process that.”
At that moment, plans of going to share Jesus among the Koli people no longer were “on the radar.”
Yet, Lynne said, “God was with us. We sensed His presence carrying us through this, [but] we were not thinking about the Koli people at this time.”
“This is God’s answer — we’re not going to [South Asia],” Claude added. “The focus of our life was my wife … and her health. I kind of just let it go.”
And then as quickly as cancer entered their life, it was gone. Doctors removed the tumor before it could spread to other organs.
“God was so good,” Lynne said. “He had such a perfect plan. That accident was a way for the doctors to find the tumor. Now I’m cancer free.”
Still, even though the cancer was gone, obstacles remained that kept them from being sure God was still calling them. “Before Lynne’s accident we were thinking about our children, finances, bills, debt and things that would keep us from going,” Claude said.
One by one, however, each barrier began to fall as the couple prayed and let go of their fear.
“In Mark 11, Jesus said, ‘I say to you whoever says to this mountain be removed and cast into the sea … but believes those things he says will be done,'” Claude said.
“You start understanding that if God’s in us going to South Asia, if it’s His will, He can topple mountains. My future and our future … we just surrendered that.”
In February 2011, the couple went with a team from Englewood Baptist Church on a week-long vision trip to South Asia, with the plan to return to South Asia weeks later and stay for 10 months. On their first trip with Englewood, the first three days were a “mountaintop” experience, as Claude described it.
“We were with the Koli, people were coming to Christ, we were being let into homes,” he said. “Wow … this is so fun.”
“We were welcomed,” Lynne added. “We were treated with such respect and honor no matter what home we went in. We were given the best food. Whatever they had, they gave it to us. It was just so refreshing … the love of the people was just overwhelming.”
Then reality hit.
“We crashed after the third day,” Claude said. “I believe it was spiritual warfare. I believe the enemy came against us.”
“It’s a very intimidating city, overwhelming,” Lynne said. “There were things that I saw and smelled. I couldn’t process it and deal with it. It was just so much in your face.”
The peace of God that Lynne once felt vanished as she struggled more and more with doubt. Even simple tasks like walking along the city streets and navigating traffic were a challenge.
“What are you doing here?” she thought. “You don’t speak [the language]. You can’t even cross a street.”
Claude also struggled with discouragement. “The adversary really came against us,” he said. “He’s been controlling these people for thousands of years. This is an unengaged, unreached people group. There’s no light [of Christ] among them.
“So when two people ‘bebop’ over here from the States, thinking they’re gonna go into [Satan’s] territory that he’s had for thousands of years and rescue people with the Gospel, he came against us.”
Both now say their “low point” was a combination of fatigue, spiritual warfare, culture shock and the stress of moving from family.
Lynne credits the prayers of friends back in the States with helping her cope with the challenges. One friend later told her she specifically prayed that Lynne would feel at home while she was away.
Those prayers made all the difference, Lynne said.
“I’ve totally adjusted,” she said. “Even though I hear horns … it’s noisy and loud, I can sleep through the night. It’s like home.”
*Names changed. Alan James is a senior writer for the International Mission Board.