My aging adopted uncle Mentapang was giving his testimony. He had stray grey hairs on his chin, his hair was a jumbled mess, and his clothes were dirty, but his words were beautiful as he declared his devotion to God and His law, including the Sabbath. “I value God and what He did for me,” he said. “He has a right to tell me what day to rest, and I’m devoted to doing that. I have attended other churches in various areas through the years, and I’ve never heard anyone teach like you do. Thank you so much for sharing these saving truths with us.”
His cousin Tigep sat across from him. He also had a grey stubble beard and was dressed in mismatched clothes. His eyes had a feverish shine. “I wasn’t feeling too well this morning,” he said, “but I’m taking my medicine, and I was determined to come and hear these teachings. They are life to me.”
Besides me, Mitil was the only other woman in the group. Her hands fidgeted as she struggled to find the courage to speak what was on her heart. “I praise God that you have stayed long enough for me to come to God,” she finally began. “In the beginning I visited you because I was so sad about my home situation, and talking with you was the only place where I found peace. But through all our conversations and then our studies, I’m glad I accepted Jesus. If Jesus requires me to keep the Sabbath, I surely will obey Him. I’m convinced that it is His command to me and that He will help me to follow through.”
My heart overflowed with gratitude to Jesus for giving me the opportunity to disciple these precious people. I couldn’t help but marvel at how God orchestrates events to bring people to a place and time where they can receive the words of life.
Mentapang suffers from COPD, the result of poor life habits before Jesus found him. He used to live two hours away over several mountains. For many years he heard the stories of Jesus but didn’t feel they had any value to him. But now, due to his health challenges, he lives practically next door to me. Through deliverance from the harassment of evil spirits, he came to know Jesus and decided to fill his mind with heavenly themes to dispel the evil thoughts that plagued him continually.
Tigep, who lived a three-hour hike away in another direction, had also heard a smattering of stories but hadn’t yet come to faith in Jesus. Again, through severe chronic health issues, it became apparent that he needed to be closer to medical help. So he came to live with Mentapang. Since accepting Jesus, Mentapang has demonstrated the gift of evangelism. Some might say that Tigep’s skepticism didn’t stand a chance. The Holy Spirit uses their long, lonely days together as they chat about Jesus and the stories that Mentapang has come to love.
For more years than I remember, I have been close with Mitil. I have given her medical help, comforted her and been a friend to this shy, otherwise friendless woman. When she was very young, she was forced to marry an older man, Abew, who has been a drunkard, smoker and witchdoctor for as long as I have known him. But again, through a series of events and the clear leading of the Holy Spirit, Abew started opening his heart to Jesus. He welcomed me on my regular visits to their home to study the Bible and worship with Mitil. He listened and even learned to sing and pray. He expressed faith. His family saw a difference in him, and they were all happier for a time. But when the studies became more direct about God’s claims on his life, claims about clean living and worshipping and serving only one God, Abew began finding excuses not to attend the studies.
Abew and Mitil live within earshot of my home. I know when their young children are sick because of the tone of their crying. To get to their house, I have to walk only a very short distance, but the trail drops treacherously to a creek and then turns steeply up the other side. Under normal circumstances, it isn’t a big deal. But years of abuse from hiking these kinds of trails has taken a toll on my knees.
For some time, I had been trying to be kinder to my knees, and I had begun to use hiking poles. But one day I discovered that I simply couldn’t walk without excruciating knee pain. Over a two-week period, I progressed from hobbling around my house to using a cane to using crutches.
Alarmed at my rapidly deteriorating state, I prayed for healing while I made use of my housebound time to catch up on office details and writing assignments. I asked all the groups I mentor—teachers, church elders, student missionaries, staff, Bible-study groups, etc.—to meet at my house. Our outlying schools and churches are still accessible to me by helicopter when it is available.
Yesterday was Sabbath, and as usual I made my one daily round-trip hike up the hill to church (other days I hike to the school or the clinic). Then, in the afternoon, my Bible students came to my home. As they spoke, it was as if I heard God reminding me that He really does have everything under control. Here I was frustrated by my decreasing mobility, but He was taking the opportunity of bringing everyone together to form a church.
You see, when I was more mobile, I went to Abew and Mitil’s place every Sabbath for a study, and then I went to Mentapang and Tigep’s place and held another study with them. Though I invited them, neither group was interested in meeting with others. But now my knee pain is succeeding where my invitations failed. Abew still makes excuses for his absence each week, but Mitil, Mentapang and Tigep meet together in my home. Mitil is flourishing. When her husband was around, she was much more shy. But now she is finding her voice and sharing from her heart.
As we talked yesterday, these three shared their thoughts and their faith, encouraging each other in the hard journey of living for Jesus in spite of skepticism and mockery in their community. The two men encouraged Mitil in her challenge of living with a lazy, vacillating and ill-tempered husband. “You folks are a church!” I told them. “This is what church is supposed to be, a place where we come together to study, learn, share our struggles and encourage and pray for each other. This wouldn’t have happened unless God had orchestrated events to bring us to together.”
“This time is precious to us,” they remarked. “This gives us the words we need for the week to keep us alive.”
Indeed, God’s Word is Life—not only to the hearer, but also to the speaker, for He instructs me while I teach these dear friends. What a privilege to serve such an awesome God!