As a businessman who has lived in four remote cities in two countries in Central Asia, Charles* and his wife, Wendy*, have been robbed and cheated by the very people they gave work to in their business.
Yet they chose to forgive and continued to extend help to those who had wronged them as part of their quest to show Jesus’ love to groups of people for whom Christianity is taboo and television announcements warn locals about Christians.
The couple, in their 50s, lives under constant scrutiny from eyes that seem to know their every move. But this is not new — Charles was arrested and thrown out of his first mission field. Their work to share the gospel was so sensitive that their own children were not told of the true nature of their parent’s efforts until they had grown up.
Charles, a former technician who “felt like a nobody” because he was not well-educated, never expected to embark on a life of adventure that would take him to serve in some of the most hostile areas around the world. Little did he imagine that God would use him to mentor a group of workers from Asia who desired to bring God’s promise of eternal life to cities along an ancient overland trading route that led back to Jerusalem.
God as a spare part
In his younger days, Charles never fully understood the Bible or what was being taught in church, so he drifted in and out of the church. With no spiritual anchor, trying to be a good guy became even more challenging when he entered National Service. Among friends who cursed and swore, he found it difficult not to do likewise.
Then, one day, a friend said something that struck him.
“We use God like a spare part. We only call upon Him when we need something.”
That made him recall the time he was caught sleeping on guard duty during his army days. “For three days, I cried and reflected on my life,” Miraculously, he was not charged or sent to the detention barracks. He repented and surrendered himself 100 per cent to God.”
That was when he noticed a big change in his life. From not understanding the Word of God, it suddenly became real to him, and he was hungry for God’s Word.
“When I was touched by God, I felt accepted by God,” he said. God would also bring people into his life who would accept him and carry him forward.
Gateway to the world
Shortly after giving his life to God during a church camp, a friend told Charles about a mission outreach to help those in need. The project, known as Love Europe, was calling for volunteers from around the world. “The only way for me to go was to resign from my work.” In faith, he did.
In 1990, he joined Doulos, and on August 11, 1991, while the ship was in the southern Philippines port of Zamboanga City, terrorists threw a grenade into a concert during the ship’s International Night. Two foreign crew members and four locals were killed, and 32 others were injured.
Among the dead was a sister-in-Christ, a good friend. A distraught Charles reflected on life and rededicated his life further to God. He returned to Singapore the following year to further equip himself for ministry at Bethany School of Missions.
Love in a new language
In 1995, Charles moved to a city in Central Asia to immerse himself as a student of its language.
It was not smooth sailing because he was terrible with languages. But there, he met Wendy, a fellow student of languages whose values and goals were aligned with his. She became his wife and partner in missions.
He set up a business dealing with industrial equipment and offering agricultural services, which gave him the opportunity to travel to remote parts of the country.
Charles and Wendy also set up a small shop selling food and beauty products in the city. As their outreach was funded directly by supporters, profits were channelled back into the business and went towards giving locals learning and employment opportunities.
Their business and professionalism enabled them to establish an authentic, relevant presence in their community.
Being salt and light
Unlike the traditional evangelical model, where the Word is merely preached, Charles and Wendy form friendships and build relationships with the people they live and work among. “We use our business to shine for God, to preach not by word, but by deed.”
Their behaviour did not go unnoticed. “People see, and they say: ‘People treat you so badly and do such bad things to you. Yet you still forgive them. There are no people in the world like you? What kind of people are you?’”
“That is when we are able to tell them that we are followers of Christ.”
God’s ever-present help
Living in the remotest places, Charles and Wendy struggled with loneliness, accountability and a lack of established medical facilities. But it strengthened their trust in God.
When one of their children was a few years old, he had an infection and a high fever that did not go away despite attempts to self-medicate. Charles was away on a business trip.
Wendy tried to seek the help of a Swiss doctor, a fellow worker, who was normally out of town. Her frantic early morning knocks on the doctor’s apartment door went unanswered. Just as she was about to leave, the doctor opened the door. The doctor took one look and decided to rush the child to the hospital. She was able to request certain medications to be administered and convinced the hospital to admit the child.
The community rallied around them in prayer. “Because if the medication didn’t work, we would have had to evacuate him.”
Charles and Wendy were not told of the severity of their child’s condition till later. “His organs could have been damaged; he could have gone blind or died.” They see their child’s recovery as God’s protection over them.
A gospel of hope
As a foreigner in Central Asia, Charles is used to his movements being monitored. His bags and body are thoroughly checked each time he enters the country, and the police regularly knock on their doors to ask to see his family’s identification documents.
Once, a house church he attended was raided by the police, and Bibles were confiscated. This was after the organisers had made numerous attempts to change the meeting location. He was detained and interrogated for 24 hours before being released. The months that followed were spent in “mental agony,” waiting for the knock on the door to escort his family to the airport and out of the country. It eventually came.
Still, Charles remained committed to the cause. In a recent seminar to encourage others to join his work in restricted countries, he was instead led by the Lord to talk about the Book of Revelation, in which Jesus gave John, in a vision, messages for seven early churches in Asia Minor, located along an established trade route.
Christ warns of impending imprisonment for some of its members. It urged them to remain faithful “even to the point of death” and to remember His promise of the “victor’s crown” (Revelation 2:10).
This letter warns all Christians that although we may suffer greatly, this will be short compared to the promise of eternal life.
“God is concerned that you become an overcomer.”