15 December 2017

Asia Link for unreached people in Asia


When 17 French aid workers were murdered in Sri Lanka in 2006, it changed Mahinda’s life forever.

The government blamed the Tamil rebels. Most pointed a steady and bloody finger of guilt at the army itself, a precursor to the violent bloodbath that would eventually end the Tamil war in 2009.

International outrage forced the Sri Lankan government into an investigation, an inquiry to supposedly set the record straight and find the culprits.

Mahinda was one of the prime witnesses at the inquest. He knew what had happened and was warned not to testify. When his brotherin-law was murdered, it was Mahinda’s job to identify the body. Threatened and warned, he testified anyway.

The Frantic Flight.

It was a costly decision for it meant he could never return home. He left his wife and two of his children in Sri Lanka with not even time to say goodbye. Mahinda fled with just the clothes he had on and a young daughter who was with him.

They managed to board a small fishing boat heading out into the Indian Ocean. It was a measure of their utter desperation, a panicked escape to wherever as the two now joined the world’s growing list of refugees, that pathetic community of stateless souls.

Mahinda and his daughter were transferred onto another larger vessel where they endured weeks of violent sickness, hot, cramped conditions and hunger that brought death knocking on their door.

They barely ate or drank on the journey, just boiled fish and leftover water from the bottom of the pot. That boat eventually died, the fuel spent. They drifted for another 12 days, many sailed by them but none stopped to help.

Mahinda and his daughter were among 93 refugees on board. It was a brutal 53 days at sea. Three died while the rest probably wished they had. Eventually, a passing fisherman raised the alarm and coast guards from Indonesia rescued the drifters.

Descent to a Murky World.

When I met Mahinda, he was in a refugee compound in Indonesia. His skin was dark, black almost. He was probably only 25 or so but looked older, his worn face etched with experiences I couldn’t identify with. He clearly stood out as not belonging where he was. His eyes were sunken and devoid of emotion as he relayed his story to me. He had no idea what tomorrow would bring, no news of his wife or children. He had no documents – in fact he had no identity. He was waiting to be “processed.”

Indonesia is a stop-off point for thousands who make the same kind of journey. I met Iraqis and Iranians, Afghans and Sudanese, each with the most incredible, dramatic, terrifying life-story.

It is a murky world of people-smuggling and false passports, of empty days and sleepless nights. Men and women, children too, teeter on the tightrope between life and death. This is a place of hope and hopelessness.

Asia is Home to Many Mahindas.

The challenge is this: how do we “do church” among such people? We want them to meet Jesus.

AsiaLink is working with refugees in many parts of Asia. Some clearly move for economic reasons but many, perhaps 40 million or so worldwide, trek the continents out of fear, chased from their homes and families under clear threat of persecution, be it political or religious.

The Karen people of northern Burma, for example, are a widely recognised group of refugees. Even today, their lot is frequently that of dodging violent death, be it by mines or mortars.

Then, there are the Afghans, probably the largest group of refugees in the world. They have spilled over borders in their droves. India is home to about 12,000 registered Afghans today. As many again haven’t even got that far in the process. Pakistan has countless more. They are stateless and undocumented people and unable to work.

Other refugees try to make the dangerous journey out of North Korea, across China, through Laos and Thailand or maybe Mongolia and eventually to South Korea.

In all these cases, our partners have found creative ways to demonstrate and present the Gospel. Some refugees, especially children, are so traumatised by events they should never have witnessed, that they don’t (can’t) speak and can cope with only a mere presence, someone to sit with them in the silence, perhaps only to wash their filthy clothes.

Others need and want more. I met one North Korean whose wife and oldest son had starved to death before he fled to China with his remaining son. The boy froze to death as they escaped across the Gobi Desert. Today, that bruised father is an evangelist, wanted by the Chinese and hunted by the Koreans as he witnesses in and out of North Korea of the faithful love of Jesus Christ. He needs Bibles, craves fellowship, hungers after discipleship and lives on bucket-loads of prayer.

Asia is home to many Mahindas treading some well-worn routes around the continent, people on the move for whatever reason. Ask the Lord to remember them and please pray for people reaching them.

Gordon Stewart