“They beat him up! They kicked him,” they cried. We held each others’ shoulders in sadness. “They beat up our beloved brother!”
Our van bumped along the winding dirt paths leading up to an unreached people group that we have been targeting for almost 10 years. The banana plantations dotted the valley landscape through the mountains as far as the eye could see.
It was here that my wife and I first traveled to in 2004, soon after we were married. Not a single Christian was known among the tribe we were praying for.
Now, our local brothers—local tribal pastors that we had raised up over the last decade—were taking us to the homes of new believers in the forgotten communities of Southwest China.
We arrived at Uncle Zhang’s home. Immediately, I sensed his pastoral heart for his own people.
“26 people got saved in my house last year,” he told us. “Many of them were scared from their faith because of police warnings and cult activity in our area, but there is a handful of families that we are discipling now.”
Last year, 9 tribal people were baptized at a waterfall in the area. Most of them were women, and their husbands have been opposed to their newfound faith.
“I come to this village twice a month,” our local brother told us. “They are hungry for God’s presence. We train them in the middle of the night. When we are teaching them about how to live out their new faith, they walk to the edge of the doorway every few minutes to make sure their husbands don’t come to beat them up while they study God’s word.”
The persecution is real. It is felt. It is ever present, as if in the heart of these valleys there lies a dragon crouching to rip them from their new faith and bring them back to the darkness of the goldmine of souls he guards.
We traveled to 3 different villages that day. At every stop I was incredibly encouraged at the fruit I saw. New Christians arising from the grip of pagan ritual in the heart of this unreached people group.
I cried a lot that day, tears of joy in the hot Southeast Asian humidity.
At the third village, we prayed for a crippled girl who had recently given her life to Jesus. Her countenance was sweet. Her heart tender to God’s love. Forgotten and overlooked in her own home, she radiated a loving fragrance of new Christian life.
After over an hour of prayer for her healing (her legs were limp, numb and useless), and for the salvation of her mother and young brother, one of the American short term team members cradled her in his arms, and carried her to the van to join a Christian training we had planned for the following day.
We strapped her seatbelt for her, crammed into the back of the van, and began our 75 kilometer decent to the city where Pilot outreach center is.
We stopped on the side of the road so I could pick some flowers, a sort of memory souvenir of the years spent toiling in these tough unreached mountains where I was now seeing the fruit of our hard labors.
Vibrant yellow daisies. Prickly purple buds. Quickly wilting green stems in the scorching, humid air. I would press them in a book and frame them in our home as a reminder of God’s faithfulness toward unreached people groups.
But as we neared the city, we were stopped at a police checkpoint. Heavy artillery. AK-47s. Clenched jaws and beady eyes.
“What are you doing in these mountains?
“Why are you here?”
For almost 2 hours we were detained by the border police while, unaware at the time, one of our local brother at another nearby police checkpoint was beaten up. For more on that story, read His Rifle Dug Into My Left Rib Cage by Within Reach Global staff M.P.
After 2 hours of detainment, the police said they would escort our local and foreign team back to our hotel in the city. But after driving 15 minutes back to Pilot outreach center town, I realized that this would be taking a lot longer than we had hoped.
The yellow and purple flowers I had picked on the side of the road wilted on the van dash. They were crumpled underneath the feet of arrogant police officers.
For the next 3 hours we were interrogated and questioned at the police station. The laws and regulations of the People’s Republic of China were posted on the precinct wall, clearly validating our case that we had done nothing wrong. But along China’s neighboring country border towns, law is irrelevant.
The police confiscated the phones and identifications of all of our local brethren, brothers and sisters who have been very dear to us for nearly a decade. One of our local sisters was detained and questioned with her 2 children in tow, one 3 year old and another 10 months old.
It was painful to watch. I was not scared for our visiting team’s sake, nor for my own safety. I have been questioned and interrogated over 12 times during my many years in China. But when our local brethrens’ safety is at stake, it is a major threat. I yelled a lot that night. I stood up for the rights of the local Christians, yet maintaining our story that we were simply tourists and meant no harm.
At midnight, after the grueling hours had dragged on for much too long, the police released our foreign team. But they would not yet release our local brothers and sisters.
From outside in the police car, I peered through the glass doorway of the police station. I made eye contact with each of our local missionaries. Silently I said “I’m sorry” and “Don’t worry, I won’t leave you.” Then I left them as the police car escorted us back to our hotel.
In our hotel room, I gathered our foreign team. I was broken. I was in tears, angry, saddened and passionate. “We need to pray right now!” And thus commenced an Acts-style prayer for the release of our detained local brethren.
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20 minutes later, a knock on the door startled our prayer time. My heart sunk. “The police. They’re back,” I thought. But to our amazement and great relief, 2 of our local brothers walked into our hotel room, shaken and weeping. “They beat him up! They kicked him,” they cried. We held each others’ shoulders in sadness. “They beat up our beloved brother!”
Downstairs, the rest of our local brothers and children waited in the hotel lobby. Plainclothes police lurked everywhere. “Ditch your SIM card. Change your phone numbers,” I warned them. “This will be the last time I see you for a while.”
The next morning, our foreign team took a train back to another city. Some of our local brothers returned to our other outreach centers we have throughout Southwest China.
We are hot. We are being watched. Some of our phones are tapped. Our Chinese social media is unsafe.
Persecution is real. It is not simply snarky comments about our faith or rolling eyes at the mention of Christianity. It comes in the form of fists and leather boots. It makes blood spill.
Although most of our team is “safe” now, there are repercussions from this kind of attack. Would you please pray for the efforts of Within Reach Global as we continue to bring the life transforming message of salvation to the farthest edges of the earth? Unreached people groups are still unreached for many reasons, one of which is active persecution.
Want to financially support Within Reach Global as we bring the gospel to extreme areas of the unreached world? You can give here.
Please pray for the many families of new believers in the mountains where lies a dragon who knows his days are numbered. Pray that someday this unreached people group will stand before the throne of God, rejoicing as one of the many facets of His creative beauty.
I looked again. I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there—all nations and tribes, all races and languages. And they were standing, dressed in white robes and waving palm branches, standing before the Throne and the Lamb and heartily singing:
Salvation to our God on his Throne!
Salvation to the Lamb!
— Revelation 7:9