SOUTHEAST ASIA (BP) -- Barefoot children, drawn to a group of Hispanic pastors from the United States, sprinted past the gutted church nestled in a village on the hills of a small Indonesian island.
As a crowd gathered inside a villager's home, the children gathered outside and peered through holes between the slats of the bamboo house, listening to the pastors.
As part of the International Mission Board's Embrace initiative, the pastors were in town to continue ongoing ministry among this people group hidden away on a remote island in Southeast Asia. Among the pastors was Raudel Hernandez, a member of the leadership team at The Summit Church in North Carolina's Raleigh/Durham area.
"This group was thought to have access to the Gospel, because there were some Catholic churches," Hernandez said. In fact, according to people group research websites such as JoshuaProject.com, this group would even be considered predominantly Christian. However, what the Hispanic scouting teams found when they arrived was quite different.
"During our initial trips, we realized ... there is no Gospel," Hernandez said. "They have no Bible."
In village after village, the pastors spotted dilapidated church buildings abandoned and left to the ravages of time. The pastors found the same spiritual decay in the hearts of the people they encountered.
But there was hope.
In one small village, residents crowded into a small house and intently listened. They asked questions about concepts the pastors shared as children played outside.
"They have no reference to God's story and to the story of Jesus, and even who God is and who we are," Hernandez said. "They don't have the faintest idea, and that is why they are hungry. Their souls are thirsty for the truth, but they are completely lacking about God's truth, about Jesus, and about us."
The villagers requested time to consider the Gospel message. They didn't make any decisions, but the story was told. The pastors were invited to return and were offered a place to stay in a village school. Their next visit, however, would be months away.
Making the group their own responsibility to embrace with the Gospel is a daunting task. It can take several days to travel to the small island, where visitors confront the differences in culture, time and climate. It's a place where few have heard the message of Jesus Christ.
The pastors endured the difficulties and encouraged those they met.
"We are here to share the Gospel first and foremost," Hernandez said. "But we also come to see what are the needs, what is the reality, where are people spiritually ... and then we can go back and inspire others and ... ask others to come back with us."
Leaving the village, the pastors paused on a hill overlooking the ocean and nearby islands, read Scripture, prayed and praised the Lord for His work.
"It's not about us; it's about Christ," Hernandez said. "It's a privilege to come to serve."
Learn more information about embracing an unreached people group at www.call2embrace.org
Ivy O'Neill is a writer with the International Mission Board based in Southeast Asia. For more stories specific to Asia, visit [http://www.commissionstories.com/asia/]www.asiastories.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress
) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp