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  • Anton Chan

Reflections from the mission field

by Anton Chan

An Akha Church established by the headman and local believers, it is affiliated with Akha Churches in Thailand. Pastor Asholi is standing at the back row, second on the right, next to the writer.

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." Matthew 10:16 (ESV)

This verse "wise as a serpent and innocent as doves" is part of a passage where Jesus is instructing his disciples before sending them out to preach the Gospel. It is a guidance for how Christians should conduct themselves in the world, particularly when facing challenges or adversity. Jesus was using similes to instruct His disciples on how to behave during their ministry. He warns them that they were being sent out “like sheep among wolves”.

Let’s unpack its meaning:

Wise as Serpents: In some Bible seminaries, they teach students to understand the scripture by tracing the law of first mention. The serpent, first mentioned in Genesis 3:1, was cunning. It deceived Eve by tempting her to disobey God by eating the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. Yet Jesus used the scheming aspect of the serpent to teach the disciples to be wise as serpents when going into the world to share the good news. In this context, being “wise as serpents” suggests exercising discernment and strategic thinking. It encourages Christians to be aware of the potential dangers in the mission field.

Gentle as Doves: The word “dove” is mentioned in the Bible a total of ten times. The first mention is in Genesis 8:8–9, when Noah sends a dove out of the ark to see if the flood waters have receded. The next mention is in Matthew 3:16, when the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove at his baptism. In Luke 3:22, the Holy Spirit again descends on Jesus in the form of a dove. Jesus then uses the image of a dove to describe the Holy Spirit in John 1:32. In this context of Jesus’ teaching, being “gentle as doves” suggests displaying qualities of kindness, compassion, and humility. It encourages Christians to approach others with gentleness, even in the face of hostility or opposition from non-believers in the mission field.

A real-life story was shared with me by an OMF missionary in Chiang Rai, Pastor Asholi, who has served God for 20 years, reaching out to the Akha tribes in northern Thailand.

I visited Pastor Asholi from 28 to 31 March, 2024, as part of the CCMC mission committee dialogue to discuss future mission trip programs. I last visited him in November 2014 with another group of CCMC mission trippers. Praise the Lord, after ten years, the ministry to the Akha people has grown to 45 Ahka churches. You can read about Pastor Asholi's ministry at the link at the end of the article. This is a real-life story.

A group of 10 Akha families had been chased out from different villages in Laos after accepting Christ. They made ends meet over the next three years by staying in low-rent buildings and working as farmers or plantation workers.

By the providence of God, Pastor Asholi received a donation to buy a piece of land to rehome the 10 displaced families. After a long search, Pastor Asholi and a co-worker found a piece of land that could accommodate all families and was within budget. The owner wanted to sell the land as he believed there was a spirit inhabiting a tree on the grounds. The spirit would make noise during the night and brought fear to the owner and the neighbours. The price of the land was agreed upon and they started the legal process of transferring land ownership.

After hearing about the land purchase, a number of men from the displaced Akha families were stirred up. They contacted the owner and received his approval to clear the land. Since they were Christians, they decided not to fear the spirit living in the tree, and cut down the tree. They discovered a big owl within the tree, which flew away during the felling.

Upon finding out that the tree was removed, the owner decided to raise the selling price by another 50,000 Thai Baht ($1,850). This increase was upsetting news for Pastor Asholi and his team. A meeting was called, and they told the Akha families that the donation only covered the agreed price, and the increase of 50,000 Thai Baht had to be borne by them. The Akha families agreed although many of them will have to take on multiple jobs in order to raise the 50,000 Thai Baht.

I believe the phrase "wise as serpents and gentle as doves" has been wisely applied by Pastor Asholi and team in the mission field. They displayed astuteness and compassion in handling accommodation for the 10 Akha families. They encourage Christians to engage with the world and fulfil their mission of spreading the gospel by being both wise and virtuous in their interactions with others, embodying qualities of discernment, integrity and love.

Reference: To read more about OMF missionary Pastor Asholi’s ministry to the Akha tribes, you can click here: Our Missionary Journey - OMF | Mission among East Asia's people


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