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January 18, 2022

Underground Place

“Why are you all singing?” The neighbors from the apartment complex are asking Ms. Holly (not her real name) about her group’s activities. Ms. Holly is a cross cultural worker living in Country-VN. In this country, it is illegal to share the Christian gospel to others. The neighbors are suspicious of this group’s singing and wary of the presence of a foreigner in their vicinity. They are thinking this gathering is a group of Christians singing hymns and reading the Bible. If the neighbors feel they are right, then they can call the authorities and report the group’s illegal activities. And that would be the end of this meeting.

Ms. Holly is from the Philippines and works in Country-VN as an English teacher. She offers her services as an English tutor to university students, and, when there is more time, she also teaches English to nearby elementary schools and language learning centers. In the eyes of the immigration officials, she is an English teacher. To her friends in the Philippines, however, she is a cross cultural worker, a missionary sent by the Free Methodists to Country-VN, with the goal of sharing the Christian gospel to the people of this restricted country. And this is what Ms. Holly is doing.

Everyday, Ms. Holly faces challenges on three levels. One is that she needs to be careful of her words when she is talking to people she does not know. From time to time, her tutorial students would invite their friends to attend these English classes, or join in one of their social gatherings. She knows that these friends could be “spies” from the local authorities or maybe family members of the local police. There is always the danger of being misinterpreted. She needs to be honest and yet respectful when she shares the gospel to others. She wants her students to know that her sharing of the Bible is a significant part of her English teaching. She needs to win their trust and friendship.

Two is that she faces the challenge of being deported from the country. Her work visa could be rescinded anytime, based on uncorroborated suspicions or false reports. She needs to be clear to everyone that she is an English teacher working at a language center or school. She needs to present a legitimate presence in the country.

Three is that she needs work. She has to find a job to pay her bills and other living expenses. The challenge of not finding enough students who can pay for her tutorial services is very real. Also, she chooses not to accept teaching opportunities that are too demanding or fall on a weekend because she is committed to helping local churches who are meeting “underground” or gathering in private during the sabbath days. She needs work and also enough free time from work to continue her desire to serve God at these Sunday gatherings. God has been faithful in giving Ms. Holly ways of meeting these challenges.

Looking back at the past, one could see that God prepared Ms. Holly for this present cross cultural ministry. She received her missionary calling at an early age. Later, her time at a Bible college and studies at several missionary training centers confirmed her passion for the people of Country-VN. In the 1990s, she accepted a teaching work at a kindergarten school in central Mindanao, in an area with Muslim neighbors. She learned to be prudent in her ways of sharing the gospel. She reported: “I learned many things especially on how to share the Truth without objections and violent reactions, [to witness] in a friendly way.” In 2007, she went to Cambodia to work among the boat people of the region. God taught her to be obedient, even in the midst of hardships and what seemed to be failures at that moment. In 2013, God opened the door for her to work in Country-VN as an English teacher and begin an “underground place” ministry in church planting and discipleship. God blessed her time of service, and in a few years, two young men were baptized. God answered the prayers of many for the Lord’s work through Ms. Holly in Country-VN. 

At present, Ms. Holly leads two local fellowships in two locations. She disciples the members of these fellowships through one-on-one teaching and online meetings. God is helping Ms. Holly. There are now seven young adult members in one group and five mothers in the second group. The members of these fellowship groups are sharing Jesus to their friends and family members. God is faithful, and He will continue to lead His people despite the restrictions. God is answering the prayers for this “underground place” ministry.

Remember that time when Ms. Holly was accosted by the locals from that apartment complex? They asked her, “Why are you all singing?” They were insinuating that her group is meeting illegally. Ms. Holly’s response to them was that the singing is an integral part of the students’ language learning. That same week, these locals reported the meeting and the authorities came and interrogated every member of the group. And everyone had the same answer: “Room number two; to study English.” Eventually, the local officials ruled to the group’s favor. Ms. Holly and her friends continued to meet for English lessons and for a time of learning more about Jesus. God answered the prayers of His people, and He continues to do so.