STEPPING OFF THE SHORES IN MISSIONS

By Pastor Justin and Jacquie Ryan

Pastor Justin and Jacquie Ryan have been doing missions for more than a decade. Throughout the whole time, God has shown and taught them many things. In one memorable trip, the Ryans learnt never to take perceptions for granted and the value of reaching to others even across the seas. Here, they share the story.

The Republic of the Philippines is an archipelago of 7641 islands. It is divided into 3 main geographical divisions from the North to the South, namely Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines experiences countless volcanic activities. Comprising over 7000 islands, it is home to some of the most beautiful white-sand beaches, coral reefs, lagoons, and lakes. With 90% of the population being Christian, one would often wonder why there would be a need for missions. God opened our eyes to the reality of the situation as we stepped on the shores of that nation for the first time in 2010. This is our testimony!

Bohol In Phillipines

One of the islands that God opened to us was the Island of Bohol. Little did we know that we were stepping into one of the most popular islands in the Philippines which is surrounded by 75 other smaller islands. The original inhabitants of this island, called the “pintados”, have a unique culture of their own.

We had the opportunity to minister in Bohol over many years since 2010. One of our most memorable experiences which we would like to share with you was in visiting one of the smaller islands off the shore of Bohol, called Panglao, in 2013. It was an experience that would be etched in my memory forever.

We woke up to another day of missions like any other day and we were headed to the island of Panglao that was connected by a bridge from the main island of Bohol. It was a short 20-minute journey, and we were ready for ministry. All we knew was that the people there were called Sea Gypsies and they lived by the shore. Sea Gypsies are a tribal group who live by the shores due to their seafaring way of life. They have a deep connection with the ocean. They live on stilt huts built atop the coral reefs. They have mastered the skill of free diving (diving without equipment) and holding their breath for several minutes, and their main occupation is fishing and diving for pearls.

The adventure began as soon as we got off the little taxi and walked towards the shore. We were led by the church leaders to a wooden slab built on stilts. The width of the slab was about 8 inches, built on stilts about 10 feet above the ocean which was covered in rocks. It was like doing a trapeze stunt having to balance ourselves on this 8-inch wood with no railing on our right or left.

We had to walk on this platform deeper and deeper over the ocean for close to 30 minutes before we finally reached the church. Even with the church leaders holding our hands, it was a terrifying ordeal as we broke out in a sweat and had shivers running down our spine. We remember telling God, “if this is the journey just to get to the church and we haven’t even started yet, You must have a great plan”.

As we stepped into the wooden church built on stilts surrounded by the open ocean, we were met by a sea of over 100 joyful faces greeting us with excitement. From men and women to children, they were elated to see a foreigner come to share the Word of God.

We still did not know what God’s great plan was until the mid-afternoon on the second day. The people, being of tribal descent, spoke their own language called Sinama. As our mission partner translated the message for us, we made it as simple as possible. At one point, my wife quoted the prophet Jeremiah and spoke about how before he was even formed, God knew him (Jeremiah 1:5).

Suddenly there was pin-drop silence in the church. Thinking our translator did not understand the point, she repeated it again, and again we got silence. He then leaned over to her and whispered in her ear and asked, ”Who is Jeremiah?” Rather surprised but remaining calm, my wife replied, “The Prophet in the Old Testament”. He gently replied, ”There is no such prophet”. So, my wife started to explain to them and tell them about Jeremiah.

Later after the session, as we sat down and spoke, this was when we discovered why God brought us there. You see, the main language spoken in the Philippines is Tagalog and Cebuano. Tribal people have their own language, and in this case, it was Sinama.

Over 30 years ago, a missionary came to Panglao and reached out to these Sea Gypsies. He learnt their language and translated the Bible for them, but only managed to translate the first 5 books in the Old Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, and the Book of Acts. He passed away before he could complete the rest of the translations and the work was never continued. Most of the people in the community grew up thinking that the Bible only had 7 books! So that explained why they never knew Jeremiah.

We later realised that they have never had any Christian resources in their language at all. What is so common for us where we can get Christian material online or from bookstores, was not a luxury that they enjoyed. We are spoilt for choice and they have never even seen a Gospel tract in their own language! More than it being a surprise, it brought us to tears as we now understood why God brought us there, and the journey walking on those stilts was so worth it.

As our emotions began to swell up within us, a heavy burden began to rest in our hearts; “This is missions, Lord, to step into the interior areas, find out the need, and do something about it so that people can receive the Gospel.” We did not want to meet a need just for a day, but to do something to change their destiny and the next generation.

As we flew back to Malaysia several days later, we began to seek God on what He wanted us to do. It was not going to be easy to continue the translation of the Bible. We wondered what we could start with. God replied, ”Your books”. You see, we had already written 2 books in English, a language they could not understand. So there began a new-found project which took us close to a year. Our mission partner, who was our translator, was fluent in Sinama and English. We equipped him with dictionaries and asked him to start translating our book “Soar Like an Eagle.” With a few other people checking it and after much editing, the process was complete, and a year had gone by.

We then made a trip back to Panglao with 500 books printed. We visited and ministered in several Sea Gypsy communities and blessed them with the books. We then moved on to our other book “Getting Into The Word”, and got that translated, printed, and distributed.

With these books, the people were excited to have a Christian resource in their hand and soon the church was starting to have Bible Study classes using the books we had blessed them with. We continue to do missions in Panglao until now and we give glory to God for the growth we are seeing in the people.

Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”

Sometimes God takes us to the mountains but in this case, He took us to the shores. It is so important in missions to not get comfortable with just doing the routine, but to be attentive to what God shows us in the mission field and to know what the actual need is. Missions are about taking steps of faith and making a difference that will not be temporary but last a lifetime.

Think about what we can all do to impact the next generation. Today the Sea Gypsies have 2 Christian books in their own language, and we hope to do more in the future. There are many other needs in the world that can be met by reaching people with the Gospel. Let us be willing to step off the shore to discover these needs and to make a difference. 

About the Ryans: 

The Ryans have been involved in the mission field for more than a decade. Recently, the Lord has led them to found Issachar Academy where they provide training specifically for missions in a hospitable environment. Besides missions, the Ryans also help Christians recognise and move in their seasons with God. To find out more about their ministry, you may visit their website at http://onevm.net/

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