by Matthew Raley
This afternoon I met a man who has planted many underground churches in a closed Asian nation. He is now in exile, permanently banned from his country.
Shielded from the intense sun in an outdoor restaurant, he bounces up to greet me. He is short, muscular, powerful. He throws his arms wide when he talks, and his voice is resonant.
He tells me stories of defiance of the government, and the resulting crackdown. There were beatings by the police. When he posted on the internet the names of those jailed, the government released them, but hired thugs to beat them up again. Some were hospitalized, and one nearly died.
This veteran believes open defiance is a mistake. Christians can achieve more by planting many churches quietly. His voice tightens when he talks about “extreme daring.”
I begin to understand his attitude as he describes his church planting effort, and its results. His work is fast, driven, urgent.
He dismisses the systems of some denominations. “They make someone wait too long to be a deacon. Six months they make them wait! Six months!” Six months after conversion.
He starts testing new believers in leadership right away, giving them small tasks and training them for larger ones. He strips them down to the bare essentials of church: the Word, song, the Lord’s supper, and baptism.
He sets them in a bare room — no lights, no fans, no chairs — and says, “Okay, let’s do church!” When someone stands up to get a hymnal, he says, “No, just sing a song you know.” When someone stands up to get a Bible, he says, “Let’s study the Bible without a Bible.”
His people memorize forty passages of scripture and forty songs so that they can do church empty-handed. “What if you’re in prison and they won’t let you have anything? How are you going to keep up your faith if you don’t meet with other believers?”
This man trains believers to advance the work without any resources. They do communion with water and a cookie if they have to. To baptize, they use barrels, or holes that they dig and line with plastic, or sewers.
Over the last few years, he has planted 5 churches outside his country among migrant workers, plus 3 outreach stations that cannot yet govern themselves. These ministries gain about 1,000 conversions among migrants every year, about 250 of whom persevere in the faith. As workers have returned home, they have planted 11 underground churches inside their closed nation.
This man is waging war. How do you prevail over a man who doesn’t have to be present to advance his work, and from whom you cannot take anything because he needs almost nothing?
Simple: you don’t prevail.