We were less than 100 miles from the equator, buried in dirt roads and washed-out bridges, deep on the frontier of mission. A small, overworked air conditioner groaned and rattled a trickle of cool air into the dimly lit, one-star meeting room crammed with 22 Global Mission pioneers. I could taste, smell, and feel the excitement. Danger hung as a background. For the first time in the history of the church, 23 groups of believers were being planted in this strict territory of one of the world’s largest non-Christian religions.

Tears of joy and sorrow sprinkled miraculous reports of God’s leading. High emotions and humble prayers accented the deeply rooted conviction of 22 ambassadors of God’s mission.

And then, like a slow-motion nightmare, the Global Mission leader began to unwrap the reason why only 22 Global Mission pioneers were present instead of 23. It was exactly what everyone feared.

I carefully watched the group. No one spoke, moved, or diverted their eyes. The leader spoke slowly and with precise articulation. As I remember it, he said, “There are 17 people who now study God’s word and pray to Jesus as their Savior because of our brother. The radical fundamentalists discovered his work and have beaten him severely.  Faith now thrives in this large northern city. And yet, as we meet, our brother lies in an intensive care unit with a concussion, broken bones, and dozens of stitches. I visited him two days ago. While weak, his faith is strong. Repeatedly, he had one question. Who will go and keep the flame?”

Rarely have I heard such fervent prayers. “Do not let evil gain victory. Humbly we ask for the life of your servant and that the flame will burn. Who will go?”

After group worship the next morning, the team was startled when a quiet young man dressed in an old, faded green shirt stood up. I remembered his thrilling report. Lifting his eyes from the ground, he hoarsely whispered, “I will go.” It seemed the breath had been sucked out of the room. Not one person had even one question about the risk. Immediately, a kneeling prayer circle formed around the young man. The only thing I remember about the prayer session was how shallow my prayers seemed by comparison.

The meeting ended at noon. Farewells and goodbyes filled the air. God’s speed, power, and keeping were gravely exchanged between these friends and ambassadors of the kingdom.

And then I saw the young man in the old, faded green shirt working alone under the shade of a small tree. I watched him carefully. Using strips of cut inner tube, he strapped a ragged cardboard box onto his tired, old bicycle. Just as he was finishing, I spoke to him. “I suppose you will be going back to collect your things before going north?”

“No, this is everything I own,” he pleasantly replied.

That torqued my conscience a bit. With that, I awkwardly positioned my next part of the conversation. “Well, you should know that I will be praying for your safety and success.” Hearing that, he paused, staring just a little too long at the last tug he’d given the old strip of inner tube. Then, slowly, he turned toward me, quietly cleared his throat, and with soft kindness, said these words that I have never forgotten.

“Pastor, I must always keep in mind that the Lord has not asked me to be successful; he has asked me to be faithful.”

My General Conference-doctoral degree-big shot faith instantly shrunk like a popped balloon. Here I stood looking at a young man whose old, faded green shirt and mismatched clothes would be judged inappropriate in most churches. With a well-marked, worn Bible and a small flip chart, he had raised up a church in a lion’s den. And now, he was seconds from departing to pedal his old, tired bicycle many miles, with shoes that had holes in both toes, to carry the name of the precious Lord Jesus into another lion’s den.

The flame of faithfulness! May God find it in my soul!

Veiled Country

Here at Global Mission, our priority is starting new groups of believers among unreached people groups. Often, this means that Global Mission pioneers, tentmakers, and Urban Centers of Influence operate in challenging places. When we share a story from a sensitive area, you’ll see it labeled as a “Veiled Country” or “Veiled City.” Please pray for these special projects and support them by visiting Global-Mission.org/giving and selecting Veiled Projects, FUND GM5040.

Michael Ryan served as the director of Global Mission and as a vice-president of the General Conference. In his retirement, he is an assistant to the president of the General Conference.