Thursday, February 14, 2008

To Mount Doom 3

Arathorn was a 26 year old International Service Corps young man with the Southern Baptists. He had served for one year in a country to the north of us and he wanted to serve his second year taking advantage of the door that God opened for us in Mordor. The year was 1999 and it was time for me to go on my first homeleave. I told Arathorn that we would not be able to support him well. We were partnering with a construction agency that would be able to get the money and resources to him to continue the project but there would be no pastoral care, and very little advice or encouragement. Arathorn tackled northern Mordor with zest. He was determined to get the Gospel to people who had been in complete darkness for thousands of years. These were fanatical Muslims who had spent the last twenty years in civil war. Everyone carried a gun and everyone knew how to use one.

Living conditions were primative but tolerable. We had set up an office and the local family who owned the property lived there, cleaned, cooked and served with great hospitality. But this was in the end a small village. There was no electricity except for the generator we provided. There was no water except what the family carried in from the well. Life was completely communal with this one big exception: We never saw women at all. They were shut up behind high walls and when there was a rare occasion of a woman traveling on the road she was covered from head to toe, her face veiled completely, and more than that people would be angry if you looked at her for more than a passing glance. Communal living does however mean that everything you do and say is known by everyone in the village. How do you do evangelism and discipleship in this very hostile setting. Arathorn didn't know but he was determined to find out. He shared stories, his testimony, he told coworkers about what he believed. Immediately he was opposed by our office manager. He was a strict Muslim and more than that he was afraid that if anyone thought that Arathorn was trying to spread his faith they could all be killed. Arathorn kept trying anyway. He was frustrated that he could not have any private conversations. After a few of these early on the villagers were afraid to talk to him alone because of several who had faced a mean interrogation afterwards. 'Why did you talk to Arathorn? What did you talk about? You are not wanting to be a Christian are you?!' Arathorn was frustrated. Not only was he not able to evangelize one on one but he could not even have a close friend to talk to. Just before I left for the US I went down with the director of the Construction firm we partnered with. We walked into a big controversy. The local officials in Mordor were furious with Arathorn because he had given a man a New Testament in their language. Of course, the reason he gave it to him was because he had asked for it! It had been a trap. The Director and I went to see the Governor of the district. We told him that we would take Arathorn and go home. Of course, with no one else to run the projects we would have to suspend our activities. The Governor asked Arathorn to promise not to give our any more New Testaments and he could stay. Well, personally I think that this is an easy promise to keep. After all, how effective is giving out literature in a country with 17% literacy! No, we would stick to stories and Arathorn would have to keep looking for a way to share them.

When I came back from the US Arathorn came up to visit us in Gondor and take a break. It was never much of a break for him to come to Gondor. The spiritual battle seemed to rage even more when he came here. He was arrested at the airport and held until we could get him out every single time he came- which was several times... five or six I think. They always said his visa was wrong but the truth was he dressed, talked, and acted like a national from Mordor which made him very unpopular in Gondor! I asked him how things were and he described his difficulties. He struggled terribly with being the only known believer in all of northern Mordor. He was alone and he was frustrated. But he talked about the projects and the office with some joy. He told me that it was an interesting thing to watch the other organizations down there. There was a Swedish group and their guy wore a tie and so all the Mordor staff had taken to wearing ties. There was a French group and they had several young men who drank wine alot. So, their national staff had begun drinking as well. Then I asked him the obvious question, 'What are your staff known for?' He thought for just a second and replied that his men where known for servanthood. His guys stood out in that they were always ready to pick up a shovel and help. I liked that a lot.

Arathorn extended his contract for two more years. Finally, in 2001 another young man came out and joined him. Then another, then a young family. Arathorn worked harder and harder. He finally left frustrated and defeated. I give him full credit for opening the office that is still there today. I give him full credit for beginning a work in one of the most difficult places on earth. But he left thinking he had failed.

Two years later the team leader for Northern Morder came up to me at a conference and said, 'Hey Strider, do you ever hear from Arathorn anymore?' I told him that I had lost track of him. He said to me, 'Well, if you ever see him tell him that we currently work with six men who have become believers. All six of them knew Arathorn.' We always tell ourselves that we will never know the impact we have on others this side of eternity. I am sure that some who are famous with big ministries will be disappointed at how few they touched for the Kingdom. I am very sure that Arathorn will be amazed at the many who surround him on that great day and say thank you. Arathorn, if you are reading this I will say thank you right now, and WELL DONE!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing....I'm encouraged.

It's sometimes hard to accept that digging the row is our allotted job when we long to come along and be the harvester. But there's no harvest if the soil isn't broken up and prepared first.

David Rogers said...


I love this post. I wish this (or articles like it) could be placed next to all the articles that relay the "victory stories" of CPMs begun, and 1,000s of baptisms, etc. We would then get a more balanced and informed perspective of what God is doing around the world. Not that we never hear that side, but I think it would be good to hear it a little more often. I think that would be a good thing for Southern Baptists, and the rest of God's people back in the USA. Thanks for your faithfulness and your reflective insight. It will be a great day, one day, around the throne of the Lamb, when we see the ways we never imagined in which He blessed our feeble, frail efforts to bring life to others, and advance his kingdom here on earth.

Strider said...

To Anon and David, Thanks for your good comments. I am always grateful when someone reads what I have written- I am even more grateful when someone reads and understands what I am saying. Thanks guys for 'getting' it.

Jody said...

There will be so many "surprises" when we get to Heaven and all is revealed that God was able to do through and with us. Keep on writing, Strider, God speaks through your experiences.

BKC said...

Just curious, have you or anyone else contacted Arathorn and told him about the guys who remember him?

Strider said...

I just spoke to a friend of his last January who thinks she still knows his last e-mail address. I will try and get a hold of him.

Rex Ray said...

This story is real life. I sent it to my son who was a former IMB missionary for seven years. He worked with Muslims four years without a convert. I think he will relate to Arathorn. Today is the first time I’ve seen your blog. I wish I’d read it long ago.