As the number of house churches in a closed part of East Asia surpassed 700, Joy and Jeremiah Farmer,* the first missionary presence in this region, took on a supervisory role over these churches, training their leaders in evangelism, discipleship and missions. Throughout the couple’s third term on the mission field, the task of missions-sending in particular was a key focus of their ministry efforts. 

“People became excellent evangelists among their own people—very bold, very zealous, very excited for the Gospel; sharing their faith very loudly, proudly and boldly, and doing a very good job,” Farmer says. “The challenge was when it came to crossing cultures. 

“[We had to teach them], when you’re working with another culture and society, you have to learn their worldview, learn how to stand in their shoes, learn their language, and understand their culture and approach [ministry] from their culture. We’re not trying to turn them into [East Asian] Christians; we’re trying to help them understand the truth of the Gospel, which transcends culture.”

Farmer says that these believers’ learning the how and why of missions has produced a “trickle” of effective missions-sending from this region, with more than 50 different volunteer teams sent out in the past year, along with a number of long-term families who have accepted a missionary calling. Based on the number of churches getting involved, Farmer says “a tidal wave” of missions-sending is on the horizon.

One area church getting involved in this effort is pastored by a man named Jay, who was and continues to be mentored by the Farmers. Jay was already a believer when the Farmers first met him, but he was immature in his faith. Even so, from the beginning, the Farmers discerned in him a pastoral heart, and so they committed to disciple him. 

Over time, Jay did grow in his faith, but something still prevented him from living wholeheartedly for the Lord. “The one thing he was lacking when it came down to spiritual maturity was commitment,” Farmer says. 

“As soon as there was any kind of problem or challenge relationally with anyone, he would leave. And I knew that was a problem in his life, and he was not going to grow until he fixed that issue; until he learned to persevere and stick through relational conflicts.”

As Farmer prayed about how to aid Jay in this area, a local church—one not associated with the Farmers—reached out to Farmer for help in finding a pastor. This church was unique among house churches in East Asia in that they were wealthy but also immature and arrogant, Farmer says. Though Jay’s personality did not match this particular church body, Farmer realized that he would be an ideal pastor for them. 

Jay initially said “no.” But Farmer told him, “Honestly, as your mentor, I really think this is something you should do.” 

“So he decided to do it, and it worked out perfectly,” Farmer says. “Because he wasn’t in it for their money, and they knew it. He was in it because he actually cared about them. So they thrived.”

Some time later, the church’s elders contacted Farmer and admitted their selfishness in how they spent their money. Electing to change their ways by investing their resources in missions rather than, for example, in furnishing their own building, the elders presented to Farmer an offering that would cover a missionary family’s first year’s salary in the field. “We have plenty more where that came from,” they told him, affirming their desire to partner with a network of East Asian churches in their mission task. 

“I was absolutely floored,” Farmer says. “Because this group was notorious for being ultra-self-centered and stingy, but in a very short period of time, with Jay working with them, they had become extremely mature.”

“While we’re seeing lots of outward fruit—lots of people come to faith—in Jay’s life, we’re seeing lots of inward fruit; lots of perseverance,” Farmer says. “He’s learning to work through the relational struggles and the issues and what it means to stick it out and work through confrontation even when things are very uncomfortable, and not just run the moment there’s any kind of problem. And we’re seeing churches grow as a result of doing that.”

Having begun as the first missionary presence in their region of East Asia 13 years ago, the Farmers now supervise all the missionary work transpiring on the East Asian coast, targeting the 650 million people who live there. They continue to lead training and missions conferences in order to see East Asian Christians bring the Gospel not only to their own nation, but to the whole world. 

Though they now play a different role from a different location, the Farmers can look back on their first 13 years in East Asia with awe because of the miraculous things the Lord accomplished through their ministry. In the course of pursuing the IMB’s six core tasks, the Farmers saw more than 700 churches planted; 2.5 million people hear the Gospel; 45,000 people come to faith in Christ; and 2,500 new leaders raised up in an environment that is hostile to the Christian faith.

“We were there to do exactly what God called us to do, and we worked as hard and as fast as we could to get it done in the power of the Holy Spirit,” Farmer says. “We got to see Him work, which was miraculous and amazing, and we left with no regrets.”

Read more about the Farmers’ ministry and see images of their work in the summer 2018 issue of Southwestern News, available online here

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