After years laboring in a restricted-access country, IMB missionary Layla Murphy* was seeing openness to the gospel and even baptized believers among former Buddhists.
“Things were starting to progress,” said Murphy, who serves in Southeast Asia. “We were starting to get chances to do evangelism in some new places we’d never gotten to go before. It was really getting exciting, and then the bottom sort of fell out of everything. That’s when I got kicked out of the country.”
It had been a long journey to that point. Murphy was working in a country that had been isolated from the outside world for decades. Military rule and an ongoing conflict made it even more challenging. But she managed to live there, working as an IMB Journeyman in public health and then—after earning a seminary degree back in the US—as an English teacher as a means to share the love of Jesus.
“Ever since I was in college, God has given me a great love for the people of that country . . . it has that feeling of being home,” Murphy said. “If I’ve got to learn a new skill, I’ll learn a new skill. If I need to learn how to do farming . . . so that I can help others hear the gospel more clearly . . . I’m all for it.”
During her years there, however, she suffered setbacks. Immigration officers shut down her English classes and forced her to leave the city for months at a time. When allowed to return, Murphy had to live in a hotel where staff watched her comings and goings. Still Murphy found ways to share the gospel and deepen her relationships with a small band of believers and new converts. They worked together tutoring students, fearlessly sharing gospel truths, and prayer walking every street in that city.
“We knew that prayer walking is pre-evangelism. We wanted to get the ground ready for doing more work in the city,” Murphy explained. Then, at the end of one long, dusty day out, government officials swarmed the lobby of her hotel, and she was told she had to leave the country and couldn’t return. And in that one knee-shaking moment, so much of what she had worked for seemed to unravel. “I was completely shell-shocked, realizing that I just got kicked out. I had to leave this country that I have loved very, very much.”
Murphy landed in a nearby Asian urban center and prayed about what was next.
“God’s plans don’t always make sense,” Murphy said. “It didn’t make sense to get kicked out of my old country. It didn’t make sense to stay in the new country. None of that makes sense. But that’s exactly was God wanted.”
One day Murphy was walking through the vegetable market and she heard a familiar sound: words spoken in the language of her beloved country. Soon she learned that hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrant workers and refugees from “her” country lived in this city. There was even an established church for the people group. While she sought counsel for where she needed to move in order to share the gospel, a national pastor asked her to consider staying right there to teach and train new believers from the country that she now calls “home.”
On the first day of class for the new Bible school she began, she hoped for fifteen students. Fifty showed up. “God had put this hunger to learn his word deep in the hearts of my people,” Murphy said. “And this was the first time that they’d ever had the chance to learn [the Bible].”
And though, just like many of those she teaches, she would rather be back in her former country, “This has taught me to have that deepened trust in God.” Her students tease her that she also a refugee—the American refugee. “That sort of binds our hearts together,” Murphy said.
- Pray God will continue to bring students who want to grow in their knowledge and love of Christ, and that they will also be willing to share their faith with their countrymen.
- Pray for immigrant factory workers who have come to earn money for their families in their homeland. Pray that while they’re “strangers in a strange land” they would experience spiritual freedom by becoming followers of Jesus.
- Pray that church leaders in the home country would be hungry to grow in their knowledge and faith.
This story originally ran in the December 2016 edition of Missions Mosaic from Woman’s Missionary Union.