Southeast Asian Province Sees First New Believers

Five years of praying and serving finally yields fruit for IMB workers.

Ramadan has been different this year for one Southeast Asian family. Sela and her husband Sok live in an impoverished Muslim village tucked away in a rural corner of their country.

For every year of their lives until now, Ramadan has meant waking before the sun rises for prayer and a quick meal, then fasting all day until the sun sets again. Sela joined the other women to prepare food for the feast after sunset each day while Sok worshiped with the other men at the mosque.

This year, Sela and Sok no longer need to fast and pray to Allah during the Islamic holy month. They have both put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

They first heard of Jesus when Sela stumbled one morning and spilled a pot of boiling water over her baby. She had no one to call for help, because her village is hours away from the nearest city with a hospital.

That same day, IMB worker Nancy Potter came to teach healthcare classes in the community, as she’d done for several years. Potter was able to rush Sela and her baby to a clinic where the burns could be treated. This clinic is run by Christian believers.

Sela and Sok were amazed that Christians would care for them. They continued talking with Nancy and her husband William in the months that followed. As they learned more about the gospel, they began having dreams about Jesus. Soon they both put their faith in Christ.

When they did, they became the first known believers in their whole province. There are a few others scattered throughout the country, but persecution makes it difficult for them to fellowship, so a church has yet to be established.

“It’s pretty amazing to see how God has prepared the way,” Nancy said.

Part of what has made Sela and Sok’s people group so difficult to reach with the gospel is physical isolation. Their remote, rural village rarely had contact from believers until the Potters and their partners began reaching out. IMB Photo

The Potters have been working with local believers to engage this Muslim people group for approximately five years, and just this year are beginning to see outreach efforts bear fruit. They’ve been serving on the field for twenty-two years and moved to a more rural area about six years ago.

Nancy began working with local believers to teach healthcare classes in impoverished communities to build relationships with families and share the gospel. Most of these communities were different tribes that practiced folk religions.

One village, however, was home to a devout Muslim people group. Nancy knew reaching them would be challenging, but she felt led to try.

“They’ve always been known as a very closed people, and they really didn’t trust outsiders,” Nancy said.

The practical help Nancy and her partners offered through the healthcare classes presented new opportunities to build relationships and share the gospel. The classes became a bridge into the community, although for a long time, no one was very receptive to any gospel presentation.

Throughout the years, when Nancy or her partners were discouraged, God brought them just the right encouragement to keep going. Finally, He began to open hearts to the gospel as the Potters and their local partners prayed and faithfully reached out.

First Sela and Sok came to faith, and now two other families are regularly studying the Bible with the couple and the Potters.

“It’s been an amazing year,” said Nancy.

Nancy said she is rejoicing not only that Sela and Sok have believed, but also that their decision has ignited much more passion and energy among her local partners to continue ministering to Sela and Sok’s people group. They’ve seen God answer their prayers in a powerful way and are excited to see how He will continue to work.

In one sense, the work has only just begun among this people group. Since Sela and Sok are the only believers in their province, discipling them and equipping them to share their faith is crucial, and something Nancy and her partners have already begun.

Persecution against them has already begun as well. Islamic leaders from the village have confronted Sela and Sok, and warned others in the community to stay away from them. It hasn’t dampened their faith, however.

“I don’t care what they say,” Sela said after the Islamic leaders visited. “I’m following Jesus.”

Pray for God to strengthen and equip Sela and Sok for the work ahead of them. Pray that during their first Ramadan season as Christians, God will fill them with His love and peace and give them many opportunities for gospel conversations. Pray for more believers in their village, province, and people group.

Some names may have been changed for security reasons.

This is an International Mission Board (IMB) feature. Stella McMillian serves with the IMB among Asians and Pacific Islanders.