In a conflict-stricken land of more than 4 million people in the Central Asian highlands, a small team of evangelists and pastors have moved into the cities to build friendships, share the gospel and watch the Lord establish his church.
Haroon has a passion to train up young evangelists like Imran, a 24-year-old Bible-college graduate who grew up in the area. He tells the story of their recent survey trip to the Valley of Beauty, an area in the Himalayan foothills where there are no known believers.
It was late one evening in Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. We’d spent the day praying over the valley where Imran and his wife will soon move, looking for somewhere suitable for them to live, asking that God would lead us to some open-hearted people.
We’d planned to get back to a friend’s house in a nearby city – two hours away – for the night, but not far into the journey the weather had taken a turn for the worse. Narrowly avoiding getting caught in a landslide, and having been passed from pillar to post searching for accommodation in this remote area, we now found ourselves in danger.
The rain was falling heavily, so that our clothes and shoes were soaked through and we were shivering. The roads were treacherous, the terrain was remote, phone lines were down, and to top it all off local military authorities had jammed all the mobile signals. We were on our own, with no chance of reaching anyone we knew.
Eventually we found a shopkeeper who wouldn't let us stay with him but assured us that there was a hotel we could stay in on the other side of the valley. So, as darkness began to fall, we found ourselves taking a detour from our planned route, into unfamiliar territory.
We followed the track up the opposite side of the valley towards some light. In a little market, we asked about the hotel the shopkeeper had mentioned. We were met with disinterested expressions from those we asked. 'Hotel? No, nothing like that round here.'
By this time we were thinking the worst: maybe we won’t get back safely to our families, maybe this night will be our last. To tell you the truth, we were really afraid. Christians are not popular in this region; indeed there are even some militant training camps scattered around the valleys.
There were two young men within earshot who were buying some samosas and pakoras, ready to break their fast. What unnerved us was how they were staring at us. One walked over. He shook me by the hand. 'They are right that there’s no hotel here, but you really need a bed. Come with me.’ And there in the market, as darkness fell, he sat us down, gave us some chai, and some food to eat. While we ate he went up to his house on the mountainside, and brought us back some dry clothes to get changed into.
‘Tonight you’ll stay in our place,' the young man explained. 'We’re four brothers – come and meet us and stay there’. We weren't reassured!
Should we go with them? Did we have a choice? Four strong young Muslim labourers, living in a house on the side of the mountain in the middle of nowhere. Two Christian pastors with no safety net and no other options.
But at the same time, we were both comforted by the Holy Spirit. We felt He was saying to us, ‘Everything will happen according to my will. It’s my will that you are staying with these people and in the future I will give people to you.’
Once we'd been shown our place to sleep, Imran and I made a plan. 'Half the night you stay up and keep watch,' I said to him, 'and then the other half I’ll keep watch, so that we don't get any trouble in the night.’ I took the first shift, and was sat up thinking and praying, pleading with God that he would allow us to get safely home and give glory to his name.
That's when I heard movement. By now it was the middle of the night, some time after 2am. The young men were no longer asleep. And they were coming over to us. I sat bolt upright.
In the torchlight, instead of the glint of a weapon, or a raised fist, I saw a smiling face. 'The sun is about to rise; will you eat a meal with us before the fast begins?’
So began a little friendship. Jesus talked to his disciples about finding a 'man of peace' as they took the news of the kingdom to new areas. I wonder whether these brothers, these new friends, are to be our people of peace in the Valley of Beauty. We are asking God for wisdom and for a clear opportunity to go there and to work for Christ’s kingdom.