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Faith, Hope, and Love: a Whirlwind Visit With REACH Teams in Asia

By Hans Shenk

On a damp, dreary day in March, my wife Courtney and I flew out of Port Columbus International Airport, surrounded by crowds of Ohio State students headed for warmth and sunshine, fun and relaxation. Like them, we were headed someplace warm, but unlike them, we had few plans to relax.

We were on our way to visit the REACH teams in South Asia and the Himalayas; our primary aim was to encourage the teams and equip them to finish strong. Secondly, since communication with both teams had been limited, we were hoping to get a clearer understanding of how things were going by talking to the teams and observing their work in person. Finally, we hoped to meet with both teams’ outreach coordinators to ask how they felt about continuing to minister to the American church by hosting teams.

Some forty frazzled hours of travel later, we touched down in the coastal city used by team South Asia and their outreach coordinator, Mr. T, as a base of operations. As a hot Sunday afternoon faded into evening, the team greeted us joyfully. We’d missed a flight, and arrived late, so after we took the team out for a treat (pizza!), we went back to our lodgings, and started in on one-on-one meetings.

From their formation as a team, South Asia has been battling the odds. They navigated the upheaval of a team lineup change in DTS, had tense encounters with the local authorities, and have worked to process the loss of a teammate’s brother even while navigating an unrelenting schedule of preaching, teaching, dancing, and praying that would be challenging to anyone, and was never a part of their original plan.

What stood out to me most from our time together was that as we spoke to the members of the team, who had endured so much already, and were facing a month even more daunting and hectic than anything they’d done yet, they were positive about their experience and about what was to come. I wasn’t present for all of the meetings, but each time I was, the REACHers recommended unequivocally that another team be sent next year. A few even asked to be considered to lead the team.

In all of our conversations, I felt an underlying sense of steely perseverance and a firm faith that God who brought them together and made them a team, was leading them through their many trials and would guide them safely home.”
In all of our conversations, I felt an underlying sense of steely perseverance and a firm faith that God who brought them together and made them a team, was leading them through their many trials and would guide them safely home. This sense of spiritual toughness was most obvious to me when we accompanied outreach coordinator, Mr. T and the team to a pastors’ meeting in a village four hours outside the city. We were sweaty and hungry. The sun beat down on the half-built church, and the makeshift tarpaulin roof offered only marginal relief. We’d been driving all day, and all day the day before, with only a few hours of sleep between. Everyone was tired.

The service started as soon as we arrived, and only about five minutes after we got out of the jeeps, Mr. T was telling the team that it was time to dance. They rose from their plastic chairs, shook off their exhaustion and the dance-less rigidity of their ancestry, and danced. Sweat-drenched and smiling, they danced unfamiliar steps to unfamiliar music in front of a foreign congregation. To South Asian eyes, maybe it looked awkward; I don’t know. For me, it was beautiful. As I watched, I found myself tearing up. Grief, sickness, exhaustion, persecution and culture shock had come against this team, and I knew from their one-on-ones that they carried marks and memories from those attacks. But they danced; pouring themselves out in an effort to encourage the local believers, long after they felt like they had nothing left to give.

When the time came to go, we were sorry to leave South Asia, but thrilled to be headed to the Himalayas. Over the years, the Himalayas have become a beloved location for REACH teams. Teams work with one of the world’s fastest growing church bodies, in one of earth’s wildest, poorest places. Spiritual development and adventure are almost unavoidable. For me, then, a highlight of our trip was just to be back and to remember my own time on a REACH team in the Himalayas. To see old friends and look out across the multicolored houses of the capital spread haphazardly over the hills, like sails bobbing in a harbor.

No REACH team, and certainly no team Himalayas ever comes home without a generous share of wild stories, and one of the bright spots of visiting with team Himalayas was just hearing about their outreach so far. They spoke of bathing in crocodile-infested rivers, witnessing demonic oppression in the jungle, and of riding in Jeeps that slid sideways along thousand-foot drop-offs. They also reminded us of how different Himalayan culture is from our own, and how much of a struggle it can be for Americans to adjust.

As with team South Asia, a common theme ran through all the stories of danger, adventure, and frustration: love for the Himalayas. Larissa, the team leader, even told us the first night we were with them that the Himalayas felt like home for her. It was a reminder to me of the power of the Holy Spirit to ‘prepare a table’ before us—that though the team was walking through dangers, difficulties and irritations, they sensed that they were where they were supposed to be.

Another high point of our time with team Himalayas was meeting with the whole team together after one-on-ones. We were excited about how things were going, but no group is perfect, and Courtney and I had a few observations and suggestions for improvement. As we talked, it was inspiring to me to see how the team was able to laugh at themselves, and how committed they were to improving and to finishing outreach on a high note. I was challenged to seek that same spirit of humility and willingness to change in my own life.

Looking back, if there was one lesson I learned in the days and hours between departing from Columbus on Friday afternoon and returning home in the wee hours, two Wednesdays later, it was this: God is working on and with and through REACH teams. This may seem obvious, but it’s easy for me to get jaded, watching successive years of REACHers return from outreach with similar stories and similar experiences. Our trip reminded me that each set of stories and memories is a testimony to lessons learned and hearts and lives changed.

Hans is currently an intern with the Communications Dept. at RMM and his wife Courtney is SEND Ministries assistant director. Hans will be taking over the staff writer position in May and is completing a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and Philosophy at Ohio State.