Missionary reaps harvest as 'refugee' in foreign land

EDITOR'S NOTE: Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention was Dec. 4-11 with the theme of "The Gospel Resounds." The theme undergirds the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The offering, in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches, supports international workers in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at IMB.org, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year's goal is $155 million.

SOUTHEAST ASIA (BP) -- After years laboring in a restricted-access country, International Mission Board missionary Layla Murphy began reaping a harvest as people became more open to the Gospel and former Buddhists were baptized.

"Things were starting to progress," says Murphy, who serves in Southeast Asia. "We were starting to get chances to do evangelism in some new places we'd never gotten to go before. It was really getting exciting -- and then, the bottom sort of fell out of everything. That's when I got kicked out of the country."

It had been a long journey to that point. Murphy was working in a country that had been isolated from the outside world for decades. Military rule and an ongoing conflict made it even more challenging. But she managed to live there, working as an IMB journeyman in public health and then -- after earning a seminary degree back in the U.S. -- as an English teacher sharing the love of Jesus.

"Ever since I was in college, God has given me a great love for the people of that country; it has that feeling of being home," Murphy said. "If I've got to learn a new skill, I'll learn a new skill. … If I need to learn how to do farming … so that I can help others hear the Gospel more clearly … I'm all for it."

Rough road

During her years there, she suffered setbacks. Immigration officers shut down her English classes and forced her to leave the city for months at a time. When allowed to return, Murphy had to live in a hotel where staff watched her comings and goings. Still Murphy found ways to share the Gospel and deepen her relationships with a small band of believers and new converts. They worked together tutoring students, fearlessly shared Gospel truths and began prayerwalking every street in that city.

"We knew that prayerwalking is … pre-evangelism," Murphy said. "We wanted to get the ground ready for doing more work in the city,".

Then, at the end of one of Murphy's long, dusty days of outreach, government officials swarmed into the lobby of her hotel and told her to leave the country and never return. In that one knee-shaking moment, so much of what she had worked for seemed to unravel. "I was completely shell-shocked, realizing that I just got kicked out. I had to leave this country that I have loved very, very much."

American refugee

Murphy landed in a nearby Asian urban center and prayed about what was next.

"God's plans don't always make sense," Murphy said. "It didn't make sense to get kicked out of my old country. It didn't make sense to stay in the new country. None of that makes sense. But that's exactly [what] God wanted."

One day Murphy was walking through the vegetable market and heard a familiar sound -- words spoken in the language of her beloved country. Soon she learned that hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrant workers and refugees from "her" country lived in this city. There was even an established church for the people group.

While Murphy was seeking where she needed to move in order to share the Gospel, a pastor asked her to consider staying right there. She'd be able to teach and train new believers from the country that she calls "home."

On the first day of class for the new Bible school she began, she hoped for 15 students to attend. Fifty showed up. "God had put this hunger to learn His word deep in the hearts of my people. And this was the first time that they'd ever had the chance to learn [the Bible]."

And though, just like many of those she teaches, Murphy would rather be back in the country of her heart, "this has taught [her] to have that deepened trust in God." Her students tease her that she too is a refugee -- the American refugee. "That sort of binds our hearts together," Murphy said.

Pray

Pray that God will continue to bring students to Murphy who want to grow in their knowledge and love of Christ, and that they will also be willing to share their faith with their countrymen.

Pray for immigrant factory workers who come to the city to earn money for their families in their homeland. Pray that while they're strangers in a strange land, they would experience spiritual freedom by becoming followers of Jesus.

Pray for church leaders in the immigrants' home country, that they would hunger to grow in knowledge and faith, and would be strengthened spiritually.

Writer Elaine Gaston has served overseas with her family in restricted-access countries. She is now based in the U.S.
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