By the end of their first term in a closed part of East Asia, missionaries Joy and Jeremiah Farmer* had accomplished the first two of the IMB’s six core tasks—entry and evangelism.** Leading people to the Lord themselves and teaching others to do the same, the Farmers had begun to receive reports daily of people coming to faith in Christ. Their house church was thus up and running, and baptisms had become a weekly occurrence. 

An average house church in that part of East Asia sees 10-20 people gathering in the typically 100-square-foot living room of a small flat. Prayer, worship and preaching characterize the Sunday morning service, just like in the U.S., but the setting obviously necessitates some differences. 

The sermons, for example, must be delivered in a more conversational manner to prevent neighbors from hearing and perhaps reporting to the police about a “suspicious gathering” next door. Also, baptisms are performed in an inflatable kiddie pool there in the living room. These pools are filled with water, warmed on a stove, one pan at a time, then emptied in the same manner. 

As more and more believers were added to their number, the Farmers had to determine how to appropriately disciple these infant Christians. “We didn’t have the ability to grow large,” Farmer explains. “[Our house church] couldn’t keep adding people; we had to divide into more small groups, which means I couldn’t lead all of them myself. So we had to figure out how we were going to raise up new leaders, even though they were young, to be able to lead their groups without teaching heresy.”

In order to develop leaders who could teach small groups and, ultimately, lead house churches of their own, the Farmers wrote small group lessons that these leaders could use that taught them to seek answers to their questions in the Scripture. “Whatever they asked, instead of referring back to my American traditions, we would say, ‘What does the Bible say?’” Farmer explains. “‘What does it say about prayer? What does it say about worship? What does it say about teaching and preaching?’”

By this time, Farmer was enrolled in Southwestern Seminary, picking and choosing classes based on his needs in each phase of his ministry. He says these classes—including missiology, cultural anthropology, and various courses on evangelism in different contexts—were instrumental in helping him think through the issues he faced in his ever-developing ministry work. 

“None of it was theory,” says Farmer, who completed his Master of Divinity in 2018. “I was taking classes, and I was like, ‘Oh, I need that now,’ and we were able to apply it right away.”

As leaders were developed, additional house churches were planted throughout the region. In time, just as the Farmers were receiving daily reports of salvations and weekly reports of baptisms, so they began to receive monthly reports of new churches being started. 

Among the most encouraging testimonies the Farmers saw during this period of their ministry is that of Ben, a “brilliant” but lost man who came to faith in Christ through the evangelism efforts of the Farmers and a volunteer mission team from the U.S. After Ben became a Christian, the Farmers noticed in him “something different that we hadn’t noticed in the other believers,” Farmer says.

“He became other-centered very, very quickly. … He really wanted to live his life out for a true purpose, a real cause. So when he found Jesus, he really grabbed onto that with both fists.”

The Farmers committed themselves to mentoring Ben, having him over at their house as often as possible to disciple him and develop him as a leader. They gradually gave him more responsibilities within their house church, and eventually, he started leading a house church of his own. Over time, the other house churches in the area came to see Ben as their mentor. 

Later on, Ben “graduated,” moving to another province to start more churches. He now leads a network of 40 underground churches that is getting involved in missions. 

“To see the progress of a kid who was lost and just looking for a cause to live for, and seeing him now—he’s married, has two kids, he’s grown so much in his faith, he’s gone through all the different training systems that we have; he’s training himself, and now he’s leading this network of 40 churches in another province—is exactly what we were hoping for,” Farmer says.

By the end of their second missionary term, the Farmers had made significant headway on the next three core tasks of the IMB—discipleship, leadership development and church formation. Indeed, 700 churches had been planted in their region of East Asia. Only one task remained: leading these church bodies to live out Acts 1:8 by sending missionaries locally, nationally and around the globe.   

*All names have been changed to protect mission work in secure areas.

**This is not to say, of course, that evangelism would cease; merely that the Farmers would now have to proceed to the next tasks in addition to continuing in evangelism.