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Missions amidst persecution: IMB missionary believes bold proclamation is necessary, despite suffering

Alexander Traverston followed someone he thought was a friend into a building. He sat down and was offered water.

Then eight men entered the room with angry faces. They deadbolted the door behind them. Alarmed, Traverston asked why the door was locked.

“Because we are about to beat you,” the men replied.

“What is this?” the missionary called out. “I thought we were friends.”

One of the eight men replied, “You are no friend.”

Traverston serves in South Asia with the International Mission Board. He had been threatened multiple times before along with his wife, Lillian, his IMB teammates and their national partners. But this time wasn’t an empty threat. This was reality.

The missionary stood up and walked toward the door. That’s when the first blow came to his back.

As he struggled to move about the room, blow after blow came. Someone broke a bottle over his head. He made his way to the still locked door, before being pulled back and beaten again.

His crime? Boldly proclaiming the gospel to people in a South Asian city in desperate need of God’s saving grace.

“I thought of my children and my wife,” Traverston recounted. His wife was one street over, discipling new believers alongside a national partner. An IMB partner was with their children, leading a Bible club.

A tremendous peace passed over Traverston. He knew God would take care of his family.

“Lord, I can trust You,” he thought to himself as the first blows came to his back and head. “God this is for You. I love You. I trust You.”

The second time he made his way to the door, it was unlocked. Another group was waiting for him outside, threw him in a vehicle and took him to the police station.

There, a mob of over 100 people waited. They shouted accusations to the police – all false. The police took him in for interrogation. Lillian joined him for the interrogation as soon as she could get to his side.

The police wanted to know why the Traverstons insisted on sharing their faith.

“Thankfully, I was able to tell the reason for the hope that I have in Christ,” Traverston said.

After he was released, he spent a night in the hospital. None of the injuries were life-threatening.

These events happened several years ago. Instead of going home — returning to the United States to minister to a people more receptive to the gospel — the Traverstons ultimately decided to stay.

The family was confident of God’s leading, despite hardships like emotional trauma for both Alexander and Lillian and anxiety in their daughter — who was old enough to understand and remember.

They continued to work and sow seeds of the gospel in the South Asian city where they lived their lives boldly for the sake of the gospel. The work just outside their city grew exponentially. Through this steadfast presence, they saw churches planted and grow. The Lord opened new doors, and the team began working among various people groups where new churches were planted.

God allowed the Traverstons the favor to stay. Their team was strengthened and emboldened. A lot of the motivation to continue in ministry in that city came from Scripture and their team of nationals, the missionary affirmed.

“Part of local ownership is when you’re asking your partners, ‘What should we do in this?’ And they’re continuing to say, ‘Let’s keep going.’ You go too,” Traverston said.

In fact, Traverston shared that shortly after the incident, one of the team’s national partners led a training. When it came time to go out and share the gospel, one of the trainees asked, “Are you crazy, man?”

The national leader replied, “You can stay if you want.”

The man at the training questioned, “Don’t you worry about your life with what just happened?”

The national leader’s words to him were, “I’m dead already.”

Did Traverston and his team experience fear? Yes. But God gave them “the strength to move beyond it, to not be paralyzed,” the missionary explained.

The couple has been asked if they would do it all again.

“I think Lillian and I and our teammates would all tell you, the answer is profoundly yes!

Traverston added, “I still can’t think of a more fun and fulfilling time in my life than in that year of broad proclamation. There’s a greater joy for the church for us to have to really step out in boldness and boldly proclaim this message throughout all such lost communities.”

He continued, “The gospel must be preached among all peoples, throughout the whole world anticipating His return.”

Some names may have been changed for security reasons.