Preaching in Central Asia

For as the rain comes down and the snow from the sky, and doesn’t return there, but waters the earth, and makes it bring forth and bud, and gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing I sent it to do. (Isaiah 55:10 11 WEB)

When Beth and I sought the Lord’s direction for our life we were amazed to be led into missionary work. I was working as an engineer. Wires, buttons and equipment filled my working day. We thought God would use us in preaching and teaching. I’m glad God goes by His understanding and not mine.

Because God called us to work in a technical missionary ministry; opportunities opened to visit and work in many countries around the world. One year in the late fall I flew from the tropical sea level warmth of Guam to the mile high cold of Central Asia. I borrowed, coats, sweaters, thick socks and anything to keep warm. For a week we worked on satellite downlinks, transmitters and lived in an unheated house on a beautiful and cold lake.

At night I wore my coat over my clothes and climbed into an insulated winter sleeping bag carefully placed under at least three blankets. An electric heater was strategically located on either side of the bed to help me survive the cold nights.

On the weekend for a break, we visited the capital city. Sunday was a unique and very enjoyable day. We started the day attending the local Church. We sat on the front row. A local helper attempted to translate from the row behind us. Since she was not a Christian it was a struggle for her to translate some of the terms and concepts she was hearing. It was a good time for her to hear the Gospel message presented by the first speaker. The music was delightful and the people sang with the fullness of their hearts.

The church was located in an old cinema which formerly showed pornographic films, and seated about 500 people. Unexpectedly, we discovered we were part of the morning message. We were whisked up to the platform. One look over the sea of faces in the dimly lit room was enough to break your heart.

In this city of used to have and want to have again, there was little for encouragement. Parks abounded throughout the city and were in disarray with many abandoned. People lived from day to day in houses which had water in the evening and power in the day light hours. The only heat was provided by small electric heaters or hot plates. It was a constant struggle just to survive.

arm41In the front row alone were the worn old faces of the elderly, the timid faces of the children and the curious and questioning faces of the young adults. These were the faces you saw in the side streets of a movie like Dr. Zhivago. Each woman wore a shawl over her head and lifted her eyes toward heaven as they sang praises to God. The men stood to give way to the older women or sat with their spouses. The place was packed. It was standing room only.

The reception was overwhelming. Here in this different land with little to make life bearable were people praising the Lord for his love and care. We saw a warmth on the faces and a desire for close fellowship was evident despite the language barrier.

Then without warning I was asked to share with the church. I thought to myself; I have no common ground with these people. How can I relate to them? I don’t understand their life, their country or their culture. What I knew, what they might be seeking, was the grace of God. So I shared the only thing I knew we might have in common. I shared the simple Gospel message. The people listened quietly to the translation.

I finished speaking and sat down. The pastor walked over and said, “You cannot sit down. You are not finished. You need to give an altar call.”

I was there as an engineer I thought, not in any pastoral role, this was not in my job description! What did I know about altar calls? I stood and hesitantly walked to the podium and presented the opportunity for seekers to come forward.

I was amazed as the platform was flooded. Hearts sought escape from spiritual darkness. It was an amazing time. I could see the Lord working throughout the congregation. The presence of the Spirit was evident.

As we departed a little later in the service the pastor called for new believers to come forward. There were a number of others headed for the front of the auditorium as we departed the building. Praise the Lord for such a valiant group of believers seeking to serve Him each day in a land opposed to God and their faith in God.

We returned to the cold house on the lake but my heart remained in that dilapidated old theater where God’s spirit was moving. I couldn’t believe it. God was using me, an engineer, to proclaim a message of salvation. The Holy Spirit was moving in that congregation and I was a useful tool in God’s hand.

It’s easy to leave the Gospel message to those trained as evangelists and preachers. They know the right words, phrases and techniques to touch people’s hearts. We may be great engineers, cooks, housewives but preaching is the work of preachers. At least I used to think that.

I realize again, it isn’t the flowers in our speech or our linguistic abilities. It is the power of God’s Word which reaches into people’s hearts for eternity. God’s Word does not return void. We need to be sure it is shared, even when we don’t feel qualified, and let God accomplish His purposes.

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