Near and Far
In Acts 8, despite being persecuted and scattered, we see the church continuing to take root as the matchless story of Christ is shared. On a road from Jerusalem to Gaza, the early missionary, Philip, meets an important official from Ethiopia. The Holy Spirit tells Philip, simply, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” That’s it. Just go and present. Philip soon sees his opportunity to talk about Jesus and the man is baptized. 2,000 years have passed since then, but that simple truth remains: successful mission work requires consistent, unconditional presence in people’s lives. Whether in Kenya or New Zealand or Brazil or Cuba or Austria or Oklahoma, being present allows us to credibly talk about Jesus. Read on to see specific, personal examples from our missionaries of how God works when we stay near the chariot.
Auckland, New Zealand
Justin Cherry, missionary
“We met Danny during the first year we moved here. He’s a proud Samoan man who grew up in some really rough circumstances. By the age of 14 he had gotten a woman pregnant. By 15 he was kicked out of his house. He struggled with drugs, alcohol and abuse. When he was 18 he fell in love. Soon, his girlfriend was pregnant. His girlfriend lost the baby, and then she committed suicide.
“Danny moved to Russia for a few years and got into a whole lot of trouble. It was after a failed suicide attempt that Danny decided he needed change in his life.
“You can’t be around Danny for too long before you realize how amazing he is. He has a big personality. And he loves people in a big way.
“We hung out with Danny almost every week for more than a year. Danny didn’t much show any interest in Jesus. But we felt like God was telling us we needed to stay with him. So we helped him out where we could. We mentored him and became good friends.
“Danny is the type of person that will help you out with anything, and as a big Samoan man, he’s definitely the kind of person you want on your side in messy ministry situations. But still, one year in and he had no desire to hear more about Jesus. But we felt God saying, ‘Be faithful to the people I have put in your care.’
“One day Danny invited us out for breakfast. As we sat down to eat he loudly proclaimed, ‘Congratulations!’
“’What for?’ we asked.
“Danny replied, ‘For one year I have sort of been testing you. I have wondered if what you believed about Jesus was true. I wondered when you told me that, no matter if I studied with you about Jesus or not, we would remain friends. So for a year I watched and listened to you. And you guys are the real deal. So congratulations, you passed my test. I would really like to study about Jesus with you now!’
“We were shocked. We had no idea that Danny had been testing us. We just knew we needed to be faithful in being Jesus to the man with a hard past and a beautiful future.
“Two months later he gave his life to Jesus and was baptized.
“Danny was one of our first disciples. And to this day we still have some contact with him. He lives far from us on the south side of Auckland, so he no longer worships with us at the Discover Church. But he’s found another church home and is doing really well. He is the hands and feet of Jesus in his community.
“Oh, and he found an amazing wife and has two beautiful girls. He serves them as Jesus served him.
“For all the times we’ve felt like giving up, God has shown us that he has plans for his amazing creation, and all he asks of us is to be patient and trust.”
Michael Mutai, church planter and ministry trainer
“We have seen many practical opportunities to reach out to the people of our communities along our ministry journey.
“Our brother John Ongwae is a product of such a relationship. When our church began using the Chaani primary school close to John’s home, I would pass by and speak with him after worship. After a month or so, the relationship grew into baptism. Now John is a faithful servant of God for the Changamwe Church of Christ.
“I also think about our sister Visca. She interviewed with us for the job of church secretary back in 2006. As we interacted, she was convinced to become a part of the body of Christ.
“Finally, when I go back to my rural home I see people who mean a lot to me. Once, while mending my shoes, I had an opportunity to interact with a gentleman of the Luo people, one of the ethnic groups here in Kenya. Eventually he was baptized and became a member of the church.
“Proximity and opportunity give us the chance to share our faith. We have many church members who came to us through doors opened by the gospel. These blessings could not have happened any other way.”
Lighthouse Medical Clinic,
Capitol Hill, Oklahoma City
Beverly North, director
“Since the clinic began 16 years ago, I do not remember a time without Priscilla. She carried a heavy load. She was tired. But her ability to care was amazing.
“She is the mother of four children — and three of them are on the autism spectrum. The clinic staff tried to find ways to be helpful. Eventually we found ReLiv, a company that helps boost peoples’ immune systems and delivers core nutrition. Her children qualified for the program and we were able to put the whole family on it.
“Over time Priscilla realized that the staff at the clinic really cared for her. That often is not the case in inner city life. As she worked on being the best mom she could be, she asked the doctors to pray with her. Lera Hobbes, who works with the Capitol Hill Church of Christ, championed Priscilla’s cause.
“When COVID-19 social distancing protocols went into effect, Lera sent Priscilla an invitation to study the Bible by phone. Priscilla, a Catholic, decided she wanted to learn more about the book she counted as holy.
“She began studying the Bible. She cannot believe the amount that she has learned about God’s word, and she is very appreciative of the people who helped her begin this journey by communicating, caring, giving help and praying with her.”
Yosbel Rodriguez, church planter
“Since I arrived in Cuba with my wife, I have had many opportunities to speak with people in need of God.
“Through the relationships with the people I have met — by being available and kind, speaking to them about a life of hope — many of them have been motivated to seek Jesus.
“Here in Cuba, knocking on doors (the traditional method of evangelism) is no longer effective. But establishing relationships, feeding our neighbors with love and hope, has brought the gospel and salvation to those hearts.
“Those relationships have led to baptisms — including the one we had yesterday. A woman named Mariela, who had shown fervent faith despite living in very difficult circumstances, had no idea how she could approach God. We befriended her and studied with her. After confessing her sorrows, struggles and sufferings and hearing about the gospel of salvation and the possibility of living a new life in Christ, she decided to be baptized and become one of God’s family.
“When she was baptized, she could not contain her tears. Her sadness had been evident before, but now she had a different countenance. The Spirit of God was in her.
“Here in Cuba, friendship evangelism, showing the virtues of a true follower of Jesus, is the most effective way to reach the hearts of the people oppressed by Satan.”
Elisha Onyango, minister for the Mikindani Church of Christ
“Last year the church was doing some construction work with support from the Memorial Road church. I happened to be supervising the work when I overheard some of the young men we had hired for the project talking about their wives.
“One of the young men was having trouble in his marriage and another worker advised him to ‘send her away’ as he had done with his former wife.
“I spoke to the young man about God’s plan for marriage. I pointed him to 1 Peter 3:7, ‘Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect …’
“’If you mistreat your wife, even your prayers are but noise before God,’ I told him.
“Though it took some time, recently this young man requested that we visit his family at his house. For the past four Sundays, this gentleman, his wife, his brother and his sister-in-law have been consistent to coming to church. His wife has joined our ladies’ ministry.
“The young man recently gave a moving testimony before the church. He was crying at the thought that he almost sent his wife away. Now they are living in peace. We are planning for their baptisms.”
Allen Dutton, missionary
“Their names are Alex and Magda. I first came in contact with them when they attended our theology classes in August 2018. They have a son who was 5 at the time, Lucas. He enjoyed the class for children that we offered at the same time.
“They came to the theology classes a bit late. They started on lesson No. 7 (of 12). Lesson 7 begins the New Testament study.
“Isn’t wonderful how God works? They heard exactly what they needed at the time.
“Alex invited us to their home. He lives in a part of Campinas that I try to avoid. It is a rough part of town, a dangerous neighborhood. I confess that I was scared. I prayed and I went.
“I found his house after two wrong turns. Alex was so happy. He thought that I would not come because of where he lived! We studied the Bible for several days. Both he and Magda realized that their previous baptism was invalid. They knew nothing of the Holy Spirit we read about in Acts 19. They were both baptized in October 2018.
“No one would have thought anything if I had decided that it was too dangerous to go to their house. (And it really was!) But God knew that they needed to hear the message.
“Alex is on fire for teaching others about what he found. I have been on many walks with him through his neighborhood (still scared) and have witnessed Alex talking to everyone he meets about his new life in Jesus. Two other families from our church have moved close to that neighborhood and Alex has been able to help and serve them. He has a car and many times has given them rides.
“Caring for people makes a difference in their lives. Alex has always told me that God wanted him and his family to be a part of God’s family.
“God cares. So should we.”
Jake Haskew, missionary
“I decided to try a new cafe that was close to our office space. The waitress was really friendly and noticed by my accent that I was not Austrian. She asked where I was from and what I was doing in Vienna.
“This led to a conversation about what our church was like, and how it was different from Catholicism.
“I told her we are a pretty simple church. We believe in loving God and loving your neighbor. She got really excited and said, ‘That is exactly what church should be!’
“While she quit her job at the café soon after that and I didn’t get to have any follow-up conversations, I was blessed to have this one. Regardless of where they stand on Catholicism, most people need a somewhat simple explanation of what they already believe and feel deep down.
“But just as with Philip with the Ethiopian in Acts 8, they need someone to help them form it into words and deeds.”
Mel Latorre, missionary
“My father was the son of Spanish immigrants to Brazil. He grew up in a denomination of which he never became a member.
“When I went back to Brazil to win disciples for Christ, my father would not become a Christian. I would ask him, ‘Why not?’ and he would say he did not know.
“After 27 years of ministry, I finally was able to see that he would not become a Christian because of bad testimonies of those who considered themselves to be Christians. I then focused on the fact that he should simply look at Jesus — and all Jesus did for us.
“Finally, my father became a Christian. I thank God that I was able to see what my father himself would not comprehend.
“Another story: There is a brother who lives in northeast Brazil. I teach and preach online every Lord’s Day for his church and I’ve visited there a few times. But I knew very little about this brother.
“One day I decided to call him and say hello. He was so happy that he cried. Ever since, he has been contacting me regularly. He sent me a voice mail yesterday asking my opinion on a spiritual matter.
“You see, even though we can be connected to each other through technology, we need to make the effort to understand the needs of our brethren — and to win new souls to Christ.
“As Paul writes in Romans 10: ‘How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?’”
George Onchangwa, minister and school administrator
“Early 2015, as I was returning from a church function, I noticed a young man who was standing watch at the gate of Kimbilio Academy. His face seemed to express some sort of instability. I parked and went straight to him. I introduced myself as Mr. Matangi — that’s Swahili for “water tanks.” We both laughed but he still appeared uneasy.
“Each time I drove in, I would stop and take a minute with him. I learned that he was a fanatical follower of soccer. I started sharing with him my story as a person and as a Christian.
“Usually, a security guard is regarded as having a lowly position here in Kenya. It didn’t make much sense that I would stop to talk to him. He told me that he lost his dad at a tender age. He had moved to Mombasa to find employment in order to tend to his mom and siblings, who lived about 1,000 kilometers away in southern Kenya.
Two years later, in 2017, Samuel finally accepted the Lord and we baptized him on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Today, he is one of the upcoming leaders of the Mikindani Church of Christ. We helped him go to college and he has just finished his bachelor’s in education. He now teaches at Kimbilio Senior School.
“What if I had never bothered to go to him?”
“Another story: Late last year, I saw some stone layers working on the Magadi Road Church of Christ’s new assembly hall. I helped plant this church back in 2006 on the outskirts of Nairobi. I introduced myself and asked the workers if they knew what they were building.
“’We are building a church,’ they said. I told them it was just a church hall they were building. God would build the church.
“After some discussions, I invited them to our Sunday so that they could meet the church they were serving. One of them came. He accepted the Lord and got baptized. He is now a member of this congregation.
“I strongly believe that going to where people are and getting to know them in their existence as humans places an opportunity before us to share the gospel.”
Mislav Illić, minister
“Tomislav and Mirela worship with the Kuslanova Church of Christ in Zagreb. They were invited to a summer camp by Tino and Marina Jovanovic in 2015. So my wife, Snjezana, and I had opportunity to get to know them at camp.
“A few months later, when I was visiting a church member at the hospital, I walked by a room and heard Tomislav and Mirela call out to me. They were there because of Mirela’s health issues. We had a friendly talk.
“Some time later, as I was walking home after church, I bumped into Mirela again. She was struggling with some serious issues so I stopped and listened to what she was going through. When I got home I shared this with Snjezana and we prayed together. We reached out to Mirela and Tomislav and started counseling sessions with them. They became closer to each other and closer to God.
“In 2016 they were baptized during our summer camp. Now they are active members of our church.
“But their story doesn’t stop there. Yesterday we baptized a woman named Vedrana. She is one of Mirela’s cousins. Vedrana had been going to another church but had never been baptized. Our church had been praying, by Mirela’s request, for Vedrana’s 2-year-old daughter, Žana, who has a very difficult illness and is in need of a heart transplant. We invite you to please pray for Žana as well.”
Holly Kooi, missionary
“I met Lara shortly after we arrived in Vienna back in 2012. In fact, Lara was my first friend here — and an Austrian friend at that.
“Throughout those first few years of friendship, our time together was, unfortunately, sparse. Yet somehow, whenever we got together, it never felt like we were starting over. We trusted each other, and gradually, we served as each other’s strength when one of us was down, be it emotionally or physically.
“While we did talk often about spiritual matters, I tried to follow her lead, and our conversations usually floated around the surface. So I stayed with her. If she had questions, I did the best I could to answer them. If she changed the subject, I went right along with her. When she walked, I matched her pace. When she stopped, so did I.
“Our friendship deepened as we witnessed each other go through severely difficult seasons of life. I struggled with my mental health, while Lara freed herself from an unhealthy relationship. Soon after that, she endured the loss of a close friend.
“It was after this, when Lara was searching for hope, that she began going from walking to sprinting toward a newly discovered hope in Christ. We read scripture together. She asked Will, me and others questions from A to Z. She came to church. She brought friends with her.
“And then, on Sept. 14, 2018, she fully committed her life to Christ. Our friendship remains closer than ever, continuing to pause, walk, and sprint alongside each other with Christ guiding our way.”