Seven years ago, The Church at Brook Hills sent a team of people who had been called by God to go and serve among an unreached people group in East Asia. The East Asia Church Planting Team is a household name around Brook Hills and one of our highest priorities when it comes to our Global purpose to establish the church where it doesn’t exist. Since then, there have been many expressions of this team on the ground as we have been committed to the work to reach the Hui. The Hui are a people group of over 15 million, with only a handful of believers and even fewer workers among them. The urgency of eternity for the Hui has kept us motivated as we prayed and strengthened the work of the team over these last years. It has been a grace of God to have access to the Hui. Sadly though, that access is fading, and our team is beginning a transition in the next few months to serve in different contexts. We have been in a season of waiting on the Lord to see if he would keep the door open for them to stay, but at this time that door is closing.
I’ve been meditating on 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 in light of some of these upcoming transitions. I think Paul gives us a good template in that passage to understand the conflicting emotions we have as we contemplate our frustrated efforts for the advancement of the gospel among the Hui.
Paul’s emotions spill out as he shows the heart-wrenching nature of giving ourselves away for others. Paul mentions being “forced” to leave the Thessalonians, most likely due to the pressure of persecution. That word for “forced" has a strong emotional tone to it like a child being torn from his mother’s arms. Those emotions are not far from our team in East Asia right now and I know many of you in our congregation, upon hearing this news, will feel the tension as well. Many of you have lived among the Hui and have eaten in their homes. All of us have invested prayers, tears, and finances in seeing them reached. It’s hard to be this invested and to be ripped away.
But Paul didn’t regret the investment even though he couldn't get there, and neither should we. It’s not failure to be hindered by forces we can’t control. It’s failure to be unfaithful. It’s failure to not venture out in the first place. It’s failure to disengage and throw in the towel too early. That’s not what is happening in East Asia. Our team and our faith family kicked and screamed to be able to stay as long as possible, but the time has come when that door has closed.
In verse 18, Paul identifies the source behind these frustrated hopes. He writes, “So we wanted to come to you - even I, Paul, time and again - but Satan hindered us.” This move for the East Asia team is a reminder that we do not war against flesh and blood, but spiritual forces of darkness are at work in this world to hinder the gospel’s advancement. The government in East Asia has tightened their grip on religious freedoms across the land in such a way that they have effectively stifled the work of foreigners throughout the country, resulting in many workers being forced to leave. Our team hasn’t been asked to leave, but the oppressive nature of the government’s influence has led to a situation where they have a tight grip around any future ministry endeavor.
But God’s arm is not too short to save. Satan may win a battle here and there for the souls of men and women, but he can’t win the war. By God’s grace, the church in East Asia is not only ready to engage but has begun engaging the Hui in a more faithful way as the foreigners are being ripped away. Our team has witnessed the locals being more proactive to engage the Hui in their absence. Satan may hinder our team, but Satan can’t ultimately frustrate God’s design. It has always been our desire to entrust the work to the locals and in a strange, unforeseen design of providence, God has closed one door to open another. The work goes on. God is flexing his arm.
Paul explains his separation from them as being one in “person, not in heart.” He stayed invested in their well-being even though he was physically removed from their location. May that be our story as a congregation. We won’t have people on the ground in East Asia, the East Asia Church Planting Team will no longer exist, but my prayer is that the Hui would never leave our hearts. They remain unreached. Many have heard the gospel through our labors, but many more have not yet heard the good news that Jesus Christ saves sinners. Our burden for their eternity remains. My prayer is that our heart, in a labor of faith, will live on among the Hui.
And stay tuned as we update you on how God is leading the members of the team into other fields for harvest. Each of them will be in Birmingham with us this fall and we will have the joy of welcoming them back with glad hearts. We look forward to sharing with you about the opportunities God has opened in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia for their ministry among the unreached to continue.
Paul ends his explanation by anchoring their hopes on the last day when Jesus comes again. That is the day where all of these twists and turns of providence will make sense - when Satan’s efforts will be finally rendered fruitless and vain. That is the day when we will reunite with our Hui brothers and sisters. That is the day when our unrewarded sacrifices will give their eternal returns. That is the day when this death will be eclipsed by resurrection. This is hard, but there is hope.
So, we press on, Brook Hills, unwavering in our resolve and unchanging in our purpose to make disciples of all nations.
Chip Bugnar has served as our Global Pastor since August 2018. He recommends one of the best ways for us to stay engaged with the Hui is through pray4hui.com.