Mike & Polly Brown serve with their family as LAC missionaries reaching at-risk children, youth and their families in Bolivia through Latin America ChildCare and ministry to pastors' kids. Prior to their recent arrival in Bolivia, they served in Costa Rica for 2 1/2 years.
I sat on the plane ready for takeoff. In a few moments I would be leaving Boston behind. In a few hours I would be touching down in Houston, TX ready to attend the World Missions Summit 4. I sat there excited and eager for what was to come. Of course, I didn’t actually know exactly what was to come. All I knew was that thousands of college students and hundreds of missionaries were about to come together in an attempt to see what impact could be made on reaching a lost world for Jesus. And I knew that many hours, days and months of prayer and fasting had gone into the event. I didn’t know what to expect yet had great expectation. I couldn’t wait to see what exactly it was that I couldn’t wait for.
What’s amazing is that even with such non-specific expectations for something big, I was still blown away. How? Because I don’t think I ever could have imagined what was about to actually transpire: a life-changing event altering the trajectory of the lives of college students, of missionaries and of the nations. Of course, I can only speak from my own personal experiences there and so that’s what I would like to take a few moments to share with you.
Day 1 – Out of the Blocks
I arrived in Houston with no real plan of what I would share with students when given the opportunity through the exhibit and the meals with a missionary. On the first day I found myself in the Latin America Caribbean (LAC) exhibit with students eager to hear. So I just shared from my heart. I did my best to answer questions and listen to them, hearing their hearts as well. I spoke with a number of students, but one story stands out to me: the story of a girl confused about God’s will for her life but with a desire to seek Him.
The story began for me when I saw three students standing on their own in our exhibit. I quickly introduced myself and offered them the opportunity to do the same. The young man was a missionary kid from Asia Pacific. One of the young ladies was his fiancee. Very quickly I learned about their plans for missions over the next few years. Then my attention was turned to the third young lady. She was a friend of the other girl and a recent Bible school graduate. I learned that she was seeking God for what to do with her life. She had a desire for worship ministry, but was completely unsure of exactly what she was to do or how. We continued the conversation for some time. I tried to encourage her, we prayed together and then we said our goodbyes. For all I knew that would be the end of the story for me. But it just wasn’t that kind of week. We’ll get back to this story later.
Day 2 – Picking Up Steam
I shared with more students on the second day. But it was also on this day that I realized that the event wasn’t only a place for me to share with others, but also a place to receive.
During a conversation with some of our leaders about language acquisition and a desire to learn another language after our arrival in Bolivia, I began thinking again about my desire to pick up sign language.
This was not a new thought. My wife speaks American Sign Language fluently as both of her parents are deaf. And God started opening my heart to the idea of working with the deaf as an unreached people group in Latin America while in Costa Rica in 2014. We even traveled to Nicaragua to visit some missionaries doing an incredible work with deaf ministry there. We have a lot on our plate but it still comes up in my heart from time to time. And this was one of those times.
I asked our leaders if they had access to information on the deaf in Bolivia. They recommended I speak with missionaries who are overseeing the unreached people groups initiative for LAC who happened to be standing nearby. Very quickly I was receiving information about the deaf in Bolivia.
After this conversation I headed to the LAC Experience room where missionaries from LAC were offering short talks about certain initiatives. The last missionary to share was speaking on unreached people groups. He shared that there are 50 million deaf people in Latin America and how there are very few missionaries working with them. Then he said something that rocked me: “There are 50 million people who live in silence, not because they are deaf but because nobody is willing to share the gospel with them.” (Joil Marbut). Wow! I want to encourage you to read that again and contemplate the depth of that quote.
Day 3 – Finishing Strong
I found myself not scheduled to be anywhere or do anything specific, so I decided to head back to the LAC exhibit. Shortly after my arrival, Ashley showed up.
A student named Ashley came into the exhibit, saw me and said, “Oh, there you are.” It was almost like she was looking for me specifically, though she wasn’t. She was just looking for an LAC missionary to talk with. She asked me to share my heart for missions and to share about what was represented in our exhibit.
So I shared my heart and what we do and then moved on to sharing about the different areas represented in the exhibit. One section was a jungle theme representing the unreached people groups still in Latin America Caribbean. Then I shared something that I don’t remember sharing with any of the other students during the three days: I shared about the need among the deaf. I don’t know why I decided to share about it this time, but I did.
Ashley then shared with me that she takes American Sign Language (ASL) at school and feels most comfortable with signing as a second language. She was wondering if there might be a way to incorporate that into missions. I was taken aback. I wasn’t supposed to be there. But I was. I hadn’t been sharing about the need among the deaf. But I did. And it happened to be to a girl that knew ASL.
I shared with her the quote from the missionary I shared above. Then she said, “I just remembered something. Look at what I wrote in my journal on the first night.” She leafed open her journal to the first page of notes. Sure enough, written on top were the words, “Reaching the disabled*deaf communities.” She said it was something she felt like maybe God was putting on her heart. I was in awe. That HAD to be God!! I’ve seen God show up many times before, but it never gets old! Ashley is now excited about giving a year to serve the deaf in Latin America Caribbean.
My faith was so high after that encounter. I went to the night service with big expectations. I couldn’t wait to see what God was planning to do. At the end of the service, the missionaries were asked to be stationed in various areas to pray over the students as they came down to us. I prayed for one young man, but I couldn’t help but notice the girl I had talked to on the first day, who was so confused about God’s will for her. She was praying with her friend I had met her with. They hadn’t found a missionary. I kept feeling like I should pray for her. So I went over to them.
I asked the girl what had been happening since our conversation. She told me how God had been telling her to let go of her own ideas and dreams and to trust Him. I began praying for her. I felt like God put on my heart that He wanted to burn His desire for her within her. When she had finished praying, I told her about what I had felt. I told her that I believed God wanted to show her and burn within her His plan for her. She responded, “He just did.” And then she began to share what God had just spoken to her about His plan for her. Wow! Just wow! What a privilege to witness the change that God can make in a short time. She went from confused to convinced. Only God can do that!
The coolest thing is that I wasn’t important to any of these stories. None of us were. God didn’t need to use missionaries to speak to college students. He didn’t need to use a missionary to speak to me. But He chose to do things this way. And that left me in awe.
Now I sit here once again with anticipation and expectation.
I cannot wait to see what the future holds.