“‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6).
“No!” the captain declared in a high, wavering voice. “You cannot come back to the village of Layaban. We let you come here to visit. We let you hold meetings to teach your beliefs. But now we are done with you. If anyone wants to believe in your God, he can go to your village. We won’t let you come to us.”
Sandy peered at me in the rapidly falling dusk. “What can we do?” his look asked. “He won’t budge.”
For nearly a year now, we had been working to plant a church in Layaban. I had started by sending my members to visit family and friends there. Then we sent in tentmakers, Christians who chose to earn their living in this un-entered area in order to witness. One sold cooked food, another supplied dried fish. All came to Layaban on legitimate business. In all of their dealings with people they planted spiritual hints and looked for the people who were interested and open. When someone reported an interest, I would send them back with another believer who could help them do simple inductive Bible studies.
By the beginning of 2015, we began showing up on the radar of the village elders. God must have been softening their hearts. For the first time ever, instead of kicking us out, the elders formally asked us to come and explain our beliefs in a series of meetings.
“Brother,” a lady told me one day. “You know the village elders are getting nervous.”
“Why are they getting nervous?” I asked. “Have I done something to offend them?”
“No, you’re fine. But many of the people who have been coming to your meetings are becoming dissatisfied with the old ways. Some of them want to become Christians. The elders are upset, and they are working against you.”
In fact, at the end of the meetings, 13 people secretly told us they wanted to keep learning. Praising God, we chose one of our church elders, Sandy, to be a missionary.
Sandy started by asking the village captain for permission to move to Layaban. The captain sent him on a wild goose chase, requiring approval from several officials. Each official deferred back to the captain, who sent him to yet another official. This is a common technique the Tawbuid use to say no without coming out and saying it.
Finally, Sandy asked me to come with him and meet with the captain one last time. That’s when we hit the brick wall. “We don’t want Christians moving here!” the captain almost shouted. “We will not allow you to build a house or live here. Just stay in Balangabong and leave us alone!”
“Friend,” I replied, thinking I had an ace up my sleeve, “I have a copy here of the constitution of the Philippines. This law guarantees that any Filipino citizen is free to live anywhere in the Philippines that he or she wants.”
“I don’t know anything about those laws,” he replied, giving the book a sidelong glance. “But I don’t care. You’re not moving to Layaban, and that is that!”
Looking back, I now realize that I was foolish to use this tactic. I should have known it was useless and could have seriously offended the captain.
Tucking my tail between my legs, I took my leave of the captain and headed home. “Lord,” I prayed as Sandy and I trudged along the trail in the coal-black darkness, “what am I supposed to do? I just tried my last idea, and I blew it. If we can’t get back into Layaban, all of those interests will drift away. They will be lost, and a church will never be planted. Lord, I’ve done everything I know to do. Why didn’t You make something good come of it like You have done in the past?”
All I heard was silence.
Well, it wasn’t really silent. The crickets whined at an ear-shattering pitch. Birds made strange noises in the trees. In the undergrowth, something slithered away from us. Mosquitoes buzzed in my ears. But all I heard was God’s silence. There was no whisper, no sudden peace. No text came to mind. Just silence.
“Lord,” I continued after trudging along in the silence for a while, “I don’t know how to proceed, and I don’t know what You are going to do. But You’ve been faithful too many times for me to doubt or pout. So I’m just going to put the problem in Your hands and keep my eyes open for where You start to work. Thank You for always being trustworthy!”
Several weeks passed, and nothing happened. Day after day, I pled with God not to abandon the interests in Layaban.
Then one day Sandy showed up on my porch fairly bursting with joy. “Hi Brother!” he called out with a huge grin. “I have good news!
“I could use some good news right about now! What’s up?”
“Brother! We got in!”
“You got in?” I asked in happy incredulity. “How is that possible?”
“Well, you know how our daughter has been sick for several months. Neither you nor the doctors have been able to do anything to help her. I decided to see if God might be wanting to use her sickness for His work, so I went to Layaban today. I talked to the captain and asked if we could move into the village to give our daughter a change of scenery and try some herbal medicines that my family there knows about.”
“Well?” I asked. “What did he say?”
Sandy’s face fell a bit. “Well, the good news is that he welcomed me to come and bring my daughter to live there. But he told me I couldn’t study the Bible with our interests or hold public meetings. Brother, what will we do?”
“Oh, that is great news!” I said. “Don’t worry about the captain’s restrictions. This is what you do: First of all, live like a Christian. Be loving, helpful and honest in all your dealings. Every morning and evening, hold family worship in your house. No one can stop you from doing that, and the whole village will be able to hear you singing through the bamboo walls. Every Sabbath, hold church in your house. Those who are truly interested will come.”
“Okay, Brother.” Sandy replied. “If that’s what you think, we will do it.”
As I watched Sandy disappear around a corner, I finally heard the whispered reply I’d been waiting for: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6).
Sandy’s family is living in Layaban now. As I write, they are cheerfully witnessing to God’s love and deliverance. Already, people are responding, and several families join them for church every Sabbath.
Friend, whoever you are, please don’t just read this story and then go on with your life. I know God is calling you to witness for Him, because He said in Matthew 28:18-20 that all Christians are called to do this. Maybe He isn’t calling you to be a pastor or an AFM missionary, but you’re not off the hook. Be a tentmaker. Go practice your profession in a place where there are no Christians. Mention what you read in the Bible each day, and watch for people who respond.
Maybe those around you are hostile to Christianity. That isn’t an excuse not to witness. Live out your love for God, and don’t hide your walk with Him. He will bring to you the ones He is calling.
Most of all, when you don’t hear His voice, when there seems to be no way forward, don’t doubt Him, and don’t stop trying. In His time, He will open the door.