In a grove of coffee trees, tucked away in the verdant, rural hills of a Southeast Asian village, a people group’s only Christian quietly collects coffee cherries in a bamboo basket slung over his shoulder. He’s pretty happy.
Aung Shwe* (pronounced sh-wee) has a quiet demeanor and a naturally smiling face. I asked for his story, and he gladly shared it with no sign of lament or self-pity. So I had to know: “How do you deal with the loneliness of being the only believer in your village?”
I expected him to say, “It’s really tough,” or, “I have really hard days.” But that’s not how Shwe answered.
He told me he’s never really felt alone, and walking with the Lord in isolation hasn’t been that difficult.
He told me why and shared wisdom that can help all Christians remember who they are in Christ, whether in a season of loneliness or in a season of community. Here are four lessons I learned while chatting with Shwe in a coffee grove.
Christians Are Never Alone
Although Shwe is the only Christian for miles, he said he’s the least lonely he’s ever been in his life.
Shwe takes the Holy Spirit seriously—he doesn’t feel alone because he wholeheartedly believes in the Holy Spirit’s guidance and presence in his life. He says he feels the Holy Spirit’s presence clearly as he reads the Bible and prays.
In my own life, I’ve had seasons when I’ve felt isolated and I struggled to find like-minded friends. Listening to Shwe, I was reminded believers have a constant companion—no matter what our external circumstances may be. We have a God who knows and sees us. A God who cares about the minuscule and the meteoric, and he’s sent us the Holy Spirit.
Don’t Be in a Hurry When You Share the Gospel
When I asked how Shwe came to faith, he said an itinerant evangelist came through his village and asked to show the JESUS film. Shwe hosted the screening in his home. After watching, Shwe was intrigued, but the evangelist left quickly after showing the film. Shwe had to wait a decade to have his questions answered—ten years to hear the gospel fully explained.
We live in an instant culture, one in which we value immediate results and checking things off to-do lists. But cultivating relationships in which we can share the gospel takes time. If we’re in a hurry, we’re likely to miss when and where the Holy Spirit is moving.
Live above Reproach
Things started getting difficult after Shwe was baptized. His community didn’t take well to his leaving Buddhism, and they started harassing his family.
He told his wife and children, “If anyone [harasses you], please tell them to come to me directly, and I [will] explain to them why I made the decision and what it means to me.”
No one has taken him up on this. Drunkenness and gambling addictions are vices that plague the community, Shwe says, so people are too ashamed to confront him because they know they need to be confronted as well. With the help of the Holy Spirit, Shwe lives above reproach, and the community won’t approach him directly because they can’t find anything to accuse him of, except that he’s become a Christian.
“They see my life has completely changed, and as soon as they start saying something to me, they start feeling ashamed of their own lives,” Shwe said. God is using the transformation in Shwe’s life to convict his community of their own sins.
Our living above reproach is important so others can marvel at God’s goodness to forgive and save us from our sin. We might have to endure the scorn of our respective communities, but we trust in a God who transforms even the most callous hearts.
Look for Bridges in Everyday Conversation
Daylight hours in this area are spent in the fields. In the evenings, people gather around fires to chat, usually according to gender and age. Shwe finds these fireside communities and joins in the conversation—preferably before everyone is drunk.
The older men talk about business, money, drugs, and what the younger people are doing. Their conversations are negative and center on their troubles and sufferings. Therefore, Shwe’s bridge to the gospel is often how suffering came to the world through Adam and Eve.
“Whenever, or whatever we’re talking about, I try to find a way to enter and talk about God at that time, and when I do, some people are like, ‘Yeah, that’s true, that sounds right,’ but then a lot of people will get up and leave the room and go to another house,” Shwe says.
That doesn’t deter Shwe. He knows the ones who remain are there because they want to be.
Talking to Shwe was a good reminder that letting our light shine before others (Matt. 5:16 ESV) is a joyful privilege, not a burden. Where do people in our communities hang out? Who are the people God has placed in our lives whom we can share with? As we engage in conversation, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal bridges to the gospel.
A Worldwide Family
Even though Shwe is physically isolated from other Christians, we can serve him as brothers and sisters in Christ by praying for him as he walks with the Lord in isolation.
- Pray the Lord will provide Christian community, even if it’s only for a short period of time. Over the past two years, the Lord has surprised Shwe with visits from Christians from different countries who’ve come on short-term volunteer trips. These visits from international Christians have greatly encouraged Shwe and have shown him the family of Christ is a global one.
- Pray for strength and perseverance for Shwe when he faces scorn and hostility from his community. Pray he will continue to keep company with the Holy Spirit.
- Let’s pray that one of the men Shwe has been sharing with during the evenings will believe and that the two men will become close confidants and bolster one another’s faith.
- Shwe’s daughter’s heart is softening toward the gospel. Pray she will choose to take a step of faith and commit her life to the Lord. Shwe is a new grandfather. Let’s partner in prayer for his granddaughter to grow up knowing and loving the Lord.
Caroline Anderson is a writer and photographer with the IMB. She currently lives in Southeast Asia. Her childhood in Asia consisted of two important ingredients: braving hot chili peppers and telling people about Jesus.