EDITOR’S NOTES: Christian aid workers Gary and Ann Warrior* from Arkansas and West Virginia are featured during the 2015 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
Focus Scripture: “Declare His glory among the nations, His wonderful works among all the peoples” Psalm 96:3 (HCSB).
2015 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal: $175 million. To learn more about the offering, go to imb.org/offering.
By Laura Fielding
CENTRAL ASIA (BP) — Several years ago, Christian aid worker Gary Warrior* was sitting on the floor in a Central Asian village with a congregation of about 20 people, getting ready to share about “the cost of discipleship.”
Someone made the suggestion to go around the room and share their testimonies. One woman simply said, “Oh, I’m just very blessed, and I’m so thankful to be here.”
Her friend elbowed her: “Explain to him your testimony, tell him what’s happening in your life with God.” But the woman again said she was “blessed” and just thankful to sing songs and read the Bible together.
Her friend retorted, “You tell him the truth. You tell him that every night after you go to these meetings, your husband beats you, and last week he beat you with a hammer!”
Tears jumped to Warrior’s eyes as he thought, How can I tell these people to go out there and suffer for Christ’s sake?
“God just grabbed me by the collar and He said, ‘You’re not asking them, I am.’”
PEOPLE OF GRIEF
Gary and his family — wife, Ann,* and four children, two of whom are now adults — first arrived in this Central Asian country in 1997. The former Soviet republic was suffering, broken and poor after the end of a five-year civil war.
Though the Soviets tried to stamp out religion, the country did not lose its strong Muslim identity. But many of these Central Asians feel hopeless and overlooked by the world.
“There’s a poem that says, ‘Oh people of grief, tears in their eyes like orphans, anger on their lips like captives. In a forgotten land they wept alone,’” Warrior says, fighting back tears. “So for us to be able to show up here now, in this point in history, and begin to tell them that God loves them — this is water on dry ground.”
Despite people’s thirst for truth and love, Christians are persecuted. Not necessarily from the communist government — Warrior estimates about 30 government-registered churches and 1,000 believers in the country — but from society. Leaving Islam brings great shame on a person’s family.
“Persecution comes every time the gospel is proclaimed here, but if we’re able to do it in the context of families and in communities, we can minimize the effects of that persecution so that people can stand together for the cause of Christ and not be chased out,” Warrior says.
PHYSICAL AND SPIRITUAL NEEDS
Before moving to Central Asia, Warrior was pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Grandview, West Virginia. The Warriors were the first family to be commissioned and sent out by the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists and the Mountain State Association. They are now part of Park Hill Baptist Church of North Little Rock, Arkansas.
As a pastor with a music degree and a master of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Warrior wasn’t planning on focusing on human needs work. But after seeing that even numerous aid agencies couldn’t respond to the great number of disasters and people suffering in Central Asia, Warrior started a disaster response team of Christian workers and national believers in 1998.
During their first disaster response, he discovered being there for people on the day of disaster “gave us real access to share the gospel.” The next year in that village, Warrior’s team planted their first church and baptized 13 people.
To help share the gospel in a widespread way, Warrior’s team dubs gospel movies into local languages and gives them to people they encounter. Through Lottie Moon Christmas Offering funds, Warrior’s team has dubbed 12 films — including “The Gospel of John,” “Esther” and “Courageous” — and created worship songs in the local language.
“This is the gospel presented in the local language in a way that I can’t speak it,” Warrior says. “It’s visually powerful.”
After Warrior’s team responded to disasters for 10 years, the country’s government also became better able to respond, which left him wondering, “What next?”
During one of their last disaster responses, the national team visited a Christian friend, Murod.* He craved Christian fellowship since he had not seen another believer for two-and-a-half years. The team wanted to help him somehow, and they discovered the village desperately needed clean water.
People were constantly sick with diseases like typhoid, hepatitis A and giardia because of drinking dirty water from polluted irrigation canals and streams — the only sources of water to which many have access.
One villager told Warrior that his wife was discouraged — she had given birth to three babies in the past three years, and each one had died. “If we can get them clean drinking water, we can change everything for them,” Warrior says.
With the help and training of a relief organization, Warrior’s disaster relief team transitioned to digging wells in 2009. It has been satisfying to “have the opportunity to make the connection between clean drinking water and the Water of Life,” he says.
Putting a well in Murod’s village was difficult — they had to dig 30 holes to find water — but today, there are nine wells. All that time spent digging provided many witnessing opportunities in the village.
Now, a small church meets at Murod’s house. Warrior’s team is encouraged by the continual strength and joy of Murod and his wife, Muhabbat,* despite the persecution and ridicule they receive from their village.
GIVING AND SUPPORT
Warrior is thankful for the U.S. churches — like Park Hill Baptist Church; First Baptist Church of West Monroe, Louisiana; Grand Avenue Baptist Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas and Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, Mississippi — that partner with him and his team to provide support and send volunteer teams.
“There are people who are followers of Jesus today who wouldn’t have been without those volunteers coming,” he says.
Warrior is also grateful the faithful givers to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Cooperative Program have “stuck with him” during his 17 years overseas. Although Warrior’s team has made about 2,000 gospel presentations every year for the past three years, it takes a long time for someone to become a Christian.
But these are exciting times, he says: “I’m seeing people who are coming to faith in Christ. Not every day, but it’s happening.”
Warrior and his team have planted five house churches that still meet today. In the past two years, they distributed more than 6,000 gospel DVDs. Last year, with the assistance of the Lottie Moon offering and Cooperative Program funding, the well-digging team installed 19 wells and provided clean drinking water for about 10,000 people.
“God has done that because we’ve been faithful, and the peoples in the pews back in America have been faithful to keep giving and to keep sending … and the result is there’s a church here, and there wasn’t when I came,” Warrior says.
- More opportunities to share the gospel, and for the country’s key leaders to come to accept the truth of the gospel of Christ.
- Protection on their team, and that they would keep loving, respecting and supporting each other.
- The Warrior family as they are separated by distance — their four children live in four different countries. Only their youngest is at home with them.
DECLARE HIS GLORY AMONG THE NATIONS
Find resources for churches at imb.org/offering to learn more about and promote the Lottie Moon offering. While Southern Baptists are encouraged to give to the offering through their churches, a Donate Now option is available for individual online gifts.
Related video: “Central Asia: The gospel is proclaimed here,” vimeo.com/139492275
Laura Fielding is an IMB writer.