Micronesia Mission Report (Rota)
Greetings this month from Pennsylvania, after spending exactly two months in the little-known-to-many area of our planet called Micronesia. This journey included seven islands, two countries, one U.S. commonwealth and one U.S. territory. That’s not counting Honolulu, Hawaii, where I spent my first night of this mission sleeping very uncomfortably in the airport (in transit to the Marshallese capital of Majuro), and had my sunglasses stolen in the morning before being denied the opportunity to fly standby to Majuro because the United Airlines flight was full. It was a disappointing start for sure, but the Lord had other plans as I rerouted to the U.S. territory of Guam, which completely changed the complexion of the whole trip. Looking back, His hand was in every detail and step of this journey, probably the most challenging and also most important long-term mission I’ve ever undertaken, as the Lord taught me many things I could never learn in a classroom and stretched my faith in a way almost like never before. I have one more report from Micronesia to share later, but for now, I hope this update from one uniquely small and relatively unknown island encourages and stirs your heart for the lost souls of men and women as we move into ever darker days, and look for the return of Jesus Christ.
There is a place in the Northern Mariana Islands called Rota, the self-proclaimed “Friendly Island.” I wanted to see just how friendly it was, so I prayerfully flew there from Guam on a Saturday afternoon with no prior connections, nowhere to stay and no specific plan at all; but with big expectations of what the Lord would do. No plan, except to listen to the Holy Spirit as best as possible and allow Him to provide a roof over my head and doors for the gospel that I could not open on my own. The Lord aligned things from the beginning, as I met an American girl on my flight who was traveling for her job with the local law enforcement from the island of Saipan. Once we arrived in Rota, she offered me a ride to a hotel in town so I could check the rates. This fortunately meant I did not have to pay an exorbitant amount for a rental car. I checked the rates at two hotels – both reasonably priced, one with an ocean view – but was determined that the Lord was going to provide somewhere for me to stay. So, I put my duffel bag over my shoulder and started walking down a typically quiet street for this island, asking the Lord to lead my steps and provide a “man of peace.” Not five minutes later, a pickup truck pulled up next to me. A middle-aged local man asked, “What are you doing? Do you need a ride?” I told him I was a missionary who had come alone and was hoping someone would take me in, because I did not want to pay for a room. He thought for a moment, then told me to get in the truck, before driving me to a man’s house nearby, to whom he explained the situation. Who was I being introduced to? None other than an evangelical pastor named Tony Reyes (pronounced ree-gis), one of the only evangelical pastors on this tiny island of just 3,000 people, which has just one or two small Protestant churches and very few born again Christians.
Tony was gracious enough to take me in, and a friendship developed between us quickly during my short stay. Tony was temporarily living alone while his wife stayed in Guam due to a medical condition. It became obvious very quickly that he loved this little island and the people of it. He gave me a chance to minister at his small house church on Sunday morning, and took me all over the island to witness to and pray for people he knew. Among those was a Muslim man from Bangladesh. It’s amazing to see the influence of Islam even in some of the world’s most remote island regions. There are some countries/commonwealths in Micronesia that have made it very clear that they are not interested in the Muslim faith at all, but the Northern Mariana Islands is not one of them. Tony had developed a relationship with this man over the years, so he was very welcoming to us. The conversation quickly turned spiritual and a tremendous discussion ensued. He even allowed us to pray for him before we left. Meeting Tony and seeing his heart for this tiny and spiritually-needy island reminded me how strategically God places His people. He truly does have a remnant of Christ-loving, evangelically-minded people all over the earth.
The greatest memory from my time in Rota started in a small Japanese restaurant on a Monday morning. I read online that the NBA Finals between Golden State and Cleveland was going to a seventh and deciding game. Sensing that this could be a classic in the NBA annals, I sought a place to watch the game, which started at 10:30 a.m. local time. During the second quarter, an American guy about my age walked in very proudly, ordered a beer and sat down next to me. We began talking about the game, America and our work. His name was Tillman, a court-appointed defense attorney with a live-in American girlfriend on the nearby island of Saipan, who had traveled alone to Rota for work, just as the girl I met on the plane. In fact, they were working together on a case with some others. As we watched the game, I could feel pride and arrogance just emanating from this guy. His language went from bad to worse, including the repeated use of God’s name in vain. My spirit was becoming deeply grieved by his language. Finally, after another blasphemy, I turned to him and said, “Why do you keep taking God’s name in vain?” He looked at me as sheepish as sheepish could be and said, “I’m sorry. It’s a bad habit.” I said, “It’s blasphemy.” He did not really respond, but was clearly embarrassed and under heavy conviction. I asked him if he believed in God, and he said not really. I then asked him if he wanted to discuss it more, to which he responded that it was a long story. I said, “I have time.” He said, “Maybe later.”
I have learned over the years, particularly through working on the streets, that there are some types of non-believers who need to be directly confronted, even exposed publicly, in their sin. It is for their own good. What types of people fall into this category? Well, let’s look at Jesus with the Pharisees. Take the story of the woman caught in adultery. Those Pharisees tried to publicly embarrass her first, then Him. What did Jesus do? He turned the tables on them by embarrassing them publicly. What was Jesus going after? Their pride and self-righteousness. My belief is that when someone is in such public blatant pride and is making a public mockery of the name of Christ, then, if the Holy Spirit is leading and the situation allows for it, this is fair grounds to turn the tables on that person in defense of our Lord and out of love for that person. Does God need us to defend Him? No. But if we love Him, why wouldn’t we? I have done this countless times in London and seen 1) the conviction of the Holy Spirit followed by 2) a softening of the heart, which leads to 3) a very productive, respectful conversation about the Lord Jesus. Is it really biblical to challenge a non-believer in his sin like this? Read what the Bible says in Proverbs.
“He who says to the wicked, “You are righteous,” him the people will curse; nations will abhor him. But those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.” (Prov. 24:24-25)
From this point forward, everything changed between Tillman and I. He went on to tell me that in his line of work, people always talk like this. He said it’s not an excuse, but just a bad habit. He then told me about the very liberal college that he attended in Washington state which had no grading system. None of this surprised me, but what did surprise me a bit was how humble he became. His language and behavior became much more respectful. We watched the rest of the game together enjoyably, talking basketball and even laughing at times. Since moving to Micronesia, he had become an avid snorkeler. When the hard-fought and memorable game ended so emotionally with LeBron James in tears, hoisting the championship trophy for his hometown team (Come on, admit it, you were at least somewhat happy for the guy. I don’t really even like LeBron, and I was almost in tears.), a bond had really formed between Tillman and I. We both had the rest of the day free, so he invited me snorkeling with him. I had never before snorkeled in my life, but had secretly always wanted to. It turned out to be one of the most amazing recreational experiences of my life. He took me to a remote, private area which is not even know to the public, way out in the beautiful blue-green water. I stood (or swam) in awe of God’s creation underwater (multi-colored fish, rocks and coral), while marveling at His power, which is what brought this whole situation about in the first place. After about an hour of tiring swimming and exploring the Pacific Ocean, Tillman and I found some shade from the blazing sun and spent one more hour finally talking about things that really matter. I shared the gospel message and my testimony with him, including my time at ESPN and being led out of that world to pursue the Lord’s work overseas. He told me his life story, including the resistance that he has always had to organization and authority (hence his choosing that college in Washington state), and the reason for his unbelief. He said many things that I will remember, but probably what will stick with me the most was his telling me that he appreciated my rebuking him for taking God’s name in vain, that he did not have a problem with it. Even if he did, it would not have mattered to me, but it was a welcomed assurance that God’s Spirit is able to convict through very few and simple words and that the law of God, which Tillman had broken so many times as a sinner (as have you and I), is just as powerful today as it has always been. (Remember, the guy is a lawyer, so he’s very familiar with the ins and outs of the natural law.) Read Paul the apostle’s words from the Book of Romans.
“What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” (Romans 7:7, 12)
After our conversation, Tillman drove me around the island, as we continued to talk about God, life and the beauty of Micronesia. He showed me things I would have never seen were it not for his rental car. That evening, we had dinner together before finally saying goodbye. Truly, a “good blessing” had “come upon” me, as that above verse from Prov. 24 promised. I will probably never see Tillman again, but there are very few evangelical encounters I’ve ever had in my life that I will remember like this one. After all, it basically lasted all day. And what was the catalyst for the whole spiritual discussion? The law of God (a simple defense of one of the Ten Commandments), one of the most misunderstood and seldom preached topics today in modern evangelical Christianity. Sadly, even the mere mention of the law of God has become almost unequivocally associated with legalism in some of today’s most prominent evangelical circles. What would two of the greatest revivalists of all-time think? John Wesley once told a young lay preacher to “preach 90 percent law and 10 percent grace,” while Charles Finney often held two outdoor evangelical meetings in one day. In the early meeting, he would preach nothing but the law. Then, once the people came under heavy conviction, he would tell them to come back later if they would like to hear about grace. It’s been reported that the retention rate of those saved under Finney’s preaching was about 80 percent. In other words, only about 20 percent of those who made professions of faith ever walked away.
Friends, let’s not forget that God is unchanging, that His Word is as powerful today as it has always been, and that, in spite of all the man-made methodologies and carnal ideas that are lining the shelves of our Christian bookstores and filling up our TV airwaves and large conference venues in the name of evangelism today, the use of God’s Law to bring sinners to the mirror of who they really are is often the most biblical and wisest method to pave the way for the gospel of grace and salvation to be presented. Especially for those without Christ who DO NOT SEE THEIR NEED FOR GOD! In an era in history where so many hearts are hardened, so many have their own view of God, people are told that everything is relative, they’re not really sinners, they’re just born this way, be whoever you want to be, etc., etc., remember that God, who gave the Law, did not give up on the barbarous Saul of Tarsus, the most unlikely to ever follow the Lord and write these words one day under grace as the great apostle Paul:
“But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Gal. 3:23-25)
In other words, first the law, then faith. Not grace, grace, grace; faith, faith, faith, with no law.
Brothers and sisters, let’s preach the word, the WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD, with wisdom and power, to our friends, our families, our neighbors and our co-workers, and NOT BE ASHAMED to do it! God will empower you. You are not alone. Will some people like it? Of course they won’t. But so what? They didn’t like Jesus for it either. He is our model, not the “American dream” or “your best life now.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve just about had enough of this 21st century plastic, fake, man-controlled, watered-down foolishness. Much of what we hear and read today in modern evangelical preaching, books and conferences you will find absolutely zero biblical backing for, especially in the Book of Acts. These are the ideas and precepts of carnal men, many of whom are driven by love of their own names, ministries, denominations and buildings, and most of all, by money. The hour is too late for us NOT to follow God’s ways of doing things. America is headed for hell faster than any of us realize, and without a love for the truth, we are on an unavoidable one-way road there with no possibility of turning around. God will reward you richly on that great day for upholding His Word and His great Name, even as you do it “with persecutions” (Mark 10:30).
Living only by His grace,