Mary lived where few missionaries would go. High in the mountains of southeast Asia, her family’s village was part of a hard-to-reach people group, a place where missionaries seldom ventured due to the harsh conditions of the terrain.
Although Mary and her daughters had a Catholic background, they had very little Christian teaching because it was too far to walk to their local place of worship. Mary had often prayed that God would send someone to teach her about His Word. This summer, God chose to send Aaron Price of Jonesboro, a senior at Arkansas State University.
Aaron served with Nehemiah Teams, a 52-day mission trip sponsored by the International Mission Board and funded by the Cooperative Program, supported by tithes and offering of Southern Baptists. Nehemiah Teams are specifically created to immerse college students in missions work and most importantly, disciple them through Bible study and Scripture memory.
Aaron and his team battled the harsh conditions of the mountainous island to bring hard-to-reach people the Good News and an opportunity to be baptized. “We didn’t have any of the comforts of home,” Aaron says. “There was no TV, no air conditioning, and you’re eating rice every day. It’s hard, but it’s worth it because of what you saw God do.”
Aaron found Mary and her family by going door to door in their village. Mary enthusiastically welcomed the messengers, knowing that God was finally answering her prayer. Aaron explained God’s plan for Mary’s life and then invited her to their baptism service at the foot of the mountain that would take place that evening.
Mary was eager to agree, but she and her daughters had to ask her husband’s permission to go. “I felt like I wouldn’t see her again,” Aaron says. A lot of husbands were suspicious of the western people and refused to let their wives and daughters participate.
But that evening as the Nehemiah Team gathered to baptize the new converts in the ocean, Aaron looked up to see Mary coming down the mountain with her daughters, hair pulled up loosely on her head and flip flops on her feet, excited to be baptized.
“Mary was seeking. She was just waiting for someone to come,” Aaron says. “When you think that there are people praying and waiting … it just floors you.”
Aaron and the Nehemiah Team shared the Gospel with an estimated 3,000 people in the area that summer, many of them Muslims. In addition to going door to door, they also used basketball to share the Gospel. Aaron towered over the small Asian people at a whopping 6 feet, 5 inches, but despite the odds of winning a game, the villagers gathered in groups of as many as 100 per village to watch and play their favorite sport with the Americans.
After each game, when the Nehemiah Team had the attention of the crowd, they would share the Good News and give the people an opportunity to repent and be baptized.
Originally, Aaron didn’t select southeast Asia as his first choice because of the use of basketball. “I felt like I was putting my own interests first, so I wanted God to decide,” Aaron says. But it turned out, the trip wasn’t so easy. Aaron got terribly sick while he was there, and the entire 52-day trip Aaron was physically miserable. He lost 22 pounds that summer, bringing the tall lanky Arkansan down to less than 170 pounds.
Grey Falanga, Aaron’s college minister at Walnut Street Baptist in Jonesboro, was the one who inspired Aaron to join the Nehemiah Team. But Grey worried about Aaron’s health and called twice to pray with him. “Aaron’s mom wanted him to come home. He was so sick he couldn’t even run up and down the court,” Grey says. But Aaron was determined to stay, telling Grey, “I’m not going anywhere.”
“I was frustrated with God that He hadn’t healed Aaron. I knew He could!” Grey says. But during the second phone call, Aaron said something that changed the way Grey prayed.
“I know the Lord has chosen not to heal me,” Aaron said, “because He has something for me to learn right now. If I hadn’t gotten sick, I wouldn’t have needed Him. I could have done it on my own, and that would have been a wasted summer.”
Before they parted over the phone, Grey asked how he could be praying for Aaron. “Don’t pray for me,” Aaron said, “Pray for them [the people of southeast Asia], that they would receive the Gospel. They are hard-hearted, and this is our only shot.”
The trip with the Nehemiah Team has changed Aaron’s life. Although he doesn’t feel called to be a full-time missionary, he now knows that missions are a part of every Christian’s life. He’ll be going on more trips, but most importantly he knows that “God’s plans will always come first.”
Grey and Aaron reconnected after the trip at a celebratory dinner, and Aaron said to Grey, “I am full.” Grey commented on the satisfaction of a typical Southern Baptist meal. “No, I’m full of God’s Word,” Aaron replied. “He always wants to speak to me.”
“That’s the coolest part of Nehemiah Teams,” says Grey. “For the rest of their lives, these college students will remember God was faithful. And the Great Commission will be accomplished.”
Aaron is just one example of an Arkansas college student who has been changed through an experience with Southern Baptist missions funded by the CP. He has seen change not only in his own heart, not only in the lives of those God touched through him, but also in his future as a believer.
The Arkansas Baptist State Convention continues to find ways to help provide opportunities funded by CP dollars for college students to interact with missions like the Nehemiah Teams, because this is a critical time in a young person’s life.
“I’m passionate about getting college students out the door because they are setting their DNA for life,” says Grey who is praying for 300 college students to join Nehemiah Teams next year. “They need to know, Is God trustworthy? Is He Who He says He is? When you put them in a situation when they have to lean on Him, they will know. I want them to go where they know what Jesus’ voice sounds like.”
Thanks to the support of the CP, Nehemiah Teams are doing just that.