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In Over Our Heads: A Serve Asia Adventure

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21


Stranded in the Middle of the Night

As midnight closed in on a steamy evening in a large urban city in East Asia, I found myself waiting for a couple of Serve Asia workers whose flight was late…a lot late. The airport’s various fast food joints and coffee shop had long closed by the time their flight, the last flight to arrive that evening/early morning, delivered its passengers. I gamely tried to welcome them with some enthusiasm, but all of us were longing for our beds.

Unfortunately, as we exited the terminal, we discovered our adventure had only just begun. No taxis were in sight (which was odd) and there was a mass rush to board a series of buses that were waiting outside the airport. I frantically asked what was going on. One of the drivers said these would be the last busses to leave the airport until the morning. Seeing no other options, we too boarded the buses, even though we were not entirely sure where they were going.

We soon found out the buses were going to the eastern side of town, closer to our final destination than the airport, but not that close. I had lived in the city for two years, but it’s a massive city and I was not as familiar with the various districts and neighborhoods outside of my own. My hope was that after the bus dropped us off, we could manage to find a taxi to take us the rest of the way. The problem was that it was now in the wee early morning hours, long after most taxi drivers had called it a night.


After disembarking the bus, we found ourselves in a quiet, relatively uninhabited part of the city (a rarity in a city of 17 million). It was almost eerie, but, thankfully, after only about 15 minutes of waiting, searching and praying, an empty taxi picked us up and delivered us to the western side of town. I staggered home at some time past 3 a.m. and tried to get a few hours’ sleep before starting the Serve Asia workers’ training the next morning.

It wasn’t an ideal start. Hosting a Serve Asia team and running a program for our local students was going to be exhausting already; now I had to do it on less than five hours’ sleep!


Group Mission Trip

An annual rite of our summers in East Asia was hosting Serve Asia workers to help with some of our English programs or other projects as needed. Usually, the teams came from one church or area and already knew each other upon arrival. This Serve Asia team, though, was a little different. It was an international team made up of six individuals from four different countries – Ireland, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. They were young, by our teachers’ standards – a PhD student and his wife, who was a young working professional; another young couple – a high school math teacher and an engineer; one college student who worked part-time; and one lawyer.

Another factor that made this team different was that, although they were young, most of them were already thinking about someday serving overseas long-term. “We’re watching you,” one of the team members bluntly told my wife shortly after arrival. They wanted to see how “real” missionaries lived.


It was a terrifying thought to us; we had only been on the field for two years and were quite the “imperfect” missionaries, hardly the best examples for someone to get a picture of what life on the mission field should look like. Furthermore, it just so happened that most of our more experienced teammates were out of town that summer, either on home assignment or training elsewhere in East Asia. Only a few of us remained, making for a bit of a motley crew hosting the team.

As God often does, though, he worked in unexpected and lasting ways.

That particular English program was unique amongst the previous ones because, for the first time, we made a concerted effort to mix in local Christian students with the wider group. Our program included teamwork exercises and other opportunities for the students and teachers to interact, leading to significant conversations about the gospel and spiritual issues.

Friendships were formed and they bore fruit. In the months following that summer program, two of the non-Christian students who attended began going to a local church. Eventually, they professed faith in Christ.

Building Connections

Having the local Christians in the program also deepened our team’s long-term connection with local believers and allowed us all (local and foreign believers) to see what “workplace ministry” could look like in that local context. The church there is still relatively young; many believers are the first in their family, and they have few models or examples to look to for how to apply their faith vocationally. At the same time, we foreign Christians, although perhaps with more experience in living out our faith in a daily work setting, still had much to learn about the local work environment, something our local brothers and sisters knew all about. The local believers’ involvement in our English program was thus a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Short-Term Mission and the Long-Term Impact

In addition to the impact on the local community, those few weeks also left a lasting impression on the Serve Asia workers. At the beginning of their time with us, during a few days of training and vision casting, the group heard from our team leader who shared about the local church. Two of the married couples in the group knew they wanted to be a part of something like that, living out their lives as believers in East Asia and helping local believers grow in their faith.

One of the team members, now with two kids and serving long-term in East Asia, recently remarked, “One thing that sticks with us now that we have two kids and I can barely get out of the house without some tears (on their part or mine), was [the long-term team leader] saying, ‘It doesn’t matter what you came here to do; you just have to live your life here amongst these people and be faithful to Him’ … God is still using what I learned that summer to comfort me when I feel ‘unproductive.’”

That same member of the Serve Asia team also recalled the impact of one of my co-workers, who was the group’s de facto tour guide and handler during the trip. He cooked for them, took them on various eating adventures around the city, and made them laugh. “He really did life with us,” she says. “That was the kind of Serve Asia hosts we wanted to be when we eventually got involved in Serve Asia here.”

Now, almost ten years later, God’s work during those weeks of the Serve Asia trip is still bearing fruit. Five of the six members of that Serve Asia team are serving on the mission field long-term. I guess their experience with us as hosts wasn’t too damaging! Late nights, a crazy bus ride, and a few overwhelmed missionary hosts couldn’t thwart God’s plans. In fact, they were part of the plan all along.

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