November 5th, 2015.
The alarm buzzes, and coffee is calling. Today is the day. It’s our family’s first day to go to the villages of our unreached people group since our move to East Asia a few months ago. We had been up into their mountains two years earlier, during a short-term vision trip, and know that finding this people group was nothing short of miraculous.
A rooster crows in our apartment complex as we set out. Anticipation and nerves are high. During the trek up into the mountains, it dawns on us that there is a reason this group is unreached. They are tucked so far into the crevices of these mountains that they have remained hidden for centuries in a country riddled with past wars.
None of our group is quite sure where we are going. From the front seat I hear, ‘Was this the turn-off you took before?’ I scrunch up my face. I have no idea, but I nod my head. ‘Yes, let’s try it.’ We have been driving for four hours at this point and have already encountered one rock landslide cutting off the only exit from the mountains.Within the next five minutes of our directionless mountaineering, we drive through an evergreen forest, a eucalyptus forest, and scattered fields of rice. Our altimeter is all over the place as we reach different microclimates within the mountains. Fields of crops line the slowly narrowing road. Off to the left, we see a turn-off. The number of fields in production nearby seem to indicate life, so we veer onto the dirt path.
As mud huts come into view, sighs of relief and excitement ripple through our car. It feels like an Asian mountain safari-a water buffalo here, a pig there, and at least ten village dogs spotted snarling. When the car can’t go any farther, we park and set out on foot. The smell of pig poop and burning wood hits us like a silent wave. We see a crowd of villagers gathered around a red, clay silo having a village meeting. We all hold our breath as we walk in slow-motion toward the group of villagers. Most of them have never seen a foreigner before.
An older man from the crowd greets us with cups of hot tea and a brilliant smile. He is missing an arm, but it doesn’t prevent him extending a hand of hospitality from his people to ours. He introduces himself as Mr. Han and we proceed to ask him a multitude of questions about his people, ‘What is your heart language? Why is everyone gathered here today? What is the population of your people group?’ We hope the answers to these questions will help us put together a plan for sharing the gospel in every village among these mountains.As the crowd disperses for mealtime, our small group stays behind, deep in conversation. Mr. Han warily looks around at the receding forms of his people, and then he picks up a stick to draw in the dirt. The shape that emerges from his stick makes us catch our breath in wonder. A cross. He looks at us imploringly and asks,
‘Is this who you are?’
‘Yes,’ we said. ‘We’ve come here to tell you the best news.’
Each passing word feels like a new brick of friendship being laid between him and our family. He is a lone believer who first heard the gospel during a hospital stay in a bigger city. His heart’s desire is to see his people group know the One True God and be able to hear the Scriptures in their own language. The weight of this divine moment still has ripple effects three years later. The Rice Mountain people have their first pastor.
Years later we learned he wasn’t supposed to be at the village meeting that day.
Three years have gone by and we have experienced so much life with him. Birth and death in his family and ours, his graduation from seminary, persecution among the new Rice Mountain believers. Our arms have been linked together through it all. In missionary work such as this, it is often easier to strive toward accomplishing something with your own two hands. But this story of our divine meeting with Mr. Han is a constant reminder that God has a long-game in play for our unreached people group. He was here in the mountains working for their hearts long before we knew the name of the Rice Mountain people, and He will be here long after we leave. God can accomplish in an instant what is necessary to further his gospel.
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