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My Utmost for His Highest

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Not as the Serpent Intended

Our work with the Agta people—a semi-nomadic, tribe indigenous to the Philippines—started in 2005. Through a guy we knew, we managed to find and go into the “hub village” we had been told about. We knew we were going to have to hike in, so we prepared and began hiking. It’s an all day hike—about seven hours or so. It’s not accessible by vehicle. You’re walking on trails that are you know a foot wide sometimes, with a fifty foot drop off and no guardrails or anything, so it’s intense. We did find the village, but the people were being very standoffish. We were able to greet a couple of them, but for the most part they were very uncomfortable with us being there. They weren’t used to being found. “What’s this Americano doing here?”

My friend, Gary, went down to the river to wash up, and he kept yelling at me, “Carl! Carl, you have to come down here! There’s a snake down here! You gotta catch the snake!” I thought he was pulling my leg. He knows I like snakes, and I honestly thought he was just trying to get me out to the river, because I really didn’t want to go swimming. I wasn’t feeling good, and the water was cold. But as it turns out, there really was a snake. It was this gorgeous, gorgeous, bright green viper with a really nice arrow shaped head—obviously a viper; obviously a very dangerous snake. And that made it all the more exciting!

a green snake being held with its fangs bared
So I got a piece of bamboo and managed to pin it down, and caught this snake. Well, while I’m in this process, the people who had been very standoffish not letting us approach them, just kind of disappearing off in the jungle, they just couldn’t stand themselves. “What in the world, is this crazy white guy doing?” My background with snakes comes from my dad who was a keeper at the St. Louis Zoo in the Herpatariam. I grew up around all these snakes and I knew how to catch them safely. But the people are telling my Filipino traveling companions “Don’t let him do that, that’s a dangerous snake! That snake will kill him!” They were worried about me! This Americano’s going to die out here in our village and we’re going to get blamed for it! So one of the guys that’s with me says, “Don’t worry. He knows what he’s doing. Just watch.” Well, they did they watched with rapt attention. So after I caught the snake I got out my pocket knife, and opened up its fangs and got them out and gave the Agta people a little talk on snakes. You know typically here these are people that often don’t have enough to eat and a snake’s good eating. It’s good food—it’s a nice white meant, but of course they are afraid of it. So I was showing them where the venom sacs are located, where the fangs are, that if you cut the head off the rest of it is perfectly good to eat and tasty, and yaddy yaddy yada.

Carl holding the snake next to a river
They were enamored, crowding in to see more, hear more. It really opened the door, so we proceeded to tell them the story of the Garden of Eden, when the serpent approached Eve to sin, and that that’s what separated us from our Creator. Then we took the story to Jesus, our savior who paid the price so we could be reunited with our Creator…it was just awesome. These are people that don’t care about time, so this proceeded all evening. We were telling a story and talking, and I’d put the snake away, and they’d want to see it again, so I’d pull it out and tell a little more of the story. Over the course of the evening, they got the whole story from Creation to Christ. By the time we were ready to go to bed, we had sung some songs, and we had an invitation time and practically everyone in the whole village came forward! So it turned from they don’t know who we are, not wanting to approach us, to catching that snake, and then a church service. All in one day!

A Man & a Book

It started with a simple invitation from a group of 27 local, Tanzanian churches, for Billy to come and lead a Community Health Evangelism seminar. The church leaders saw the potential these new principles had for their local communities and pulled out all of the stops—including hiring a photographer to document the event. Neither Billy nor Prosper, the young, budding “photojournalist,” could have predicted what God would do with their friendship over the next several years, nor could they be aware of how little it had to do with a camera.

A man reading from the Bible

After the seminar, the church leaders urged Billy and Leah to hire Prosper to work for them, both to help him make ends meet, and with the ulterior motive that large amounts of their time together could be spent on discipleship and mentoring. Over the course of time, Billy shared the contents of a small booklet with Prosper, called Come, Share Your Faith—an invitation Prosper took literally. While Billy and Leah were on furlough, Prosper stayed busy in Tanzania, creating quite a stir doing exactly that—sharing his story of contagious faith. Every Sunday, he would show up at his local church with new people, men who were intrigued by this man that would stop and talk to them on the street or at the store and shared about a relationship with Jesus like they’d never heard of before. The local leadership became threatened by Prosper’s success and his popularity; after all he was bringing more people into the church than the pastor was, and these men were turning to him to answer questions and give opinions instead of seeking out the “proper” leadership structures. They made a decision to try and “slow him down” by enacting some church discipline. Prosper sensed the Holy Spirit leading him away from this church body and calling him to try something new.

Along with seven other men, Proper began his own “house church,” meeting regularly with them and discipling them. When Billy and Leah returned to Tanzania, they came alongside Prosper, offering more discipleship resources, and encouraging him to start his own church plant. Out of these relationships, the Moshono Christian Church in Tanzania was born. They moved to their own property, and began meeting in a make-shift structure, funded by the tithe off Billy & Leah’s federal tax return. Prosper, now married to his beautiful wife, Sophie, with their powerful testimony, continues to lead the church. He lives and breathes discipleship, and can often be found sitting on the side of the road with a traveler, pouring over a little booklet, talking excitedly about a God and his Son who changes lives.

He Reigns

This week I stood on the ground I have feared for the past six years—ever since my husband came home and told me he thought God might be leading our family to work in this region. But even more powerfully, I worshipped there. I would have given almost anything for you to be in the same small, non-descript building with its understated glass cross at the front, and a group of about 50 foreign believers in a city of roughly one million Muslims. It’s the only one of its kind.

I’ve been in some powerful worship services before: standing as one of 23,000 youth in an arena in St. Louis for the Urbana Conference; being one white face in a sea of displaced Rwandan refugees worshipping in a Congolese church in the midst of the Rwandan genocide; raising my hands with a group of my high school peers in an evening of songs and praise that had become a weekly tradition at our boarding school growing up. But nothing quite compares to joining this local body of faithful workers in North Africa, worshipping their God underneath the watchful eye of surveillance cameras, knowing the challenges they face, and feeling, despite the fact that I have never been there before, that I was standing among family. There’s just something about worshipping in a foreign context to add weight and depth to the lyrics we can become over-accustomed to. It was so good to be in Africa again—to be “home.”

“It’s the song of the redeemed, rising from the African plain…”

a north african girl writing on the chalk board
I felt like I was singing the words for the first time. “Here we are, Lord, praising your name from the soils of Africa and it is good. “

“The song of Asian believers, filled with God’s holy fire…”

A Korean brother directly in front of me, begins to pray, thanking God for the faith He’s given to us, asking the Lord to bring it to completion because he knows the answer to any lack of faith in our hearts is the work of God to complete, reminding us all that God is the Author and the Finisher of our faith. Conviction wracked my heart as tears began to stream down my face, because I have struggled with the knowledge of how small my faith has been in relation to moving to this region. I have carried large amounts of guilt believing for years that there was something wrong with me, telling myself over and over, “If you are so afraid, you just must not have enough faith!” and entering into the self-defeating cycle of trying to muster more faith on my own. Standing there during his prayer, I felt the Lord whispering into my heart, “There’s nothing wrong with your faith, daughter. It’s’s just not finished yet.”

“Let praises echo from the tower of cathedrals, to the faithful gathered underground…”

“This, I found myself praying, this is what faith looks like. I don’t have this, Father! “ “Not yet, but you will. I started this in you, I will finish it. I’m proud of you for coming this far. That’s an obedience I can use to expand My Kingdom—to bring My vision for the nations!” I felt the burden of the guilt begin to lessen, as I surrendered the responsibility to procure something like the faith I was seeing around me, when it wasn’t there in my own heart. How arrogant of me to think that I could ever muster enough faith in my own life to make this make sense. I felt myself returning to the Author of Faith, trusting Him, but still the fear of what might be left my fists clenched at my side, stubbornly hanging on to what I needed—a false sense of control.

“And all the powers of darkness tremble at what they’ve just heard, because all the powers of darkness can’t drown out a single word….”

alley in an old city
I have often wondered if I would struggle with fear of this work forever. I thought for sure if I moved forward in faith for long enough, eventually I would push through it, and be done with it, but that hasn’t been the case yet. I continue to wrestle, sometimes even feeling like it holds me captive. But standing there on Sunday surrounded by people that were doing it—living out their convictions, putting their hands and hearts and feet and backs into the work God had called them to; not just talking about, or thinking about it, or planning for it, but actually doing it! The lyrics reminding me again of the ending we have already been assured of. We know who holds the ultimate authority, even over the forces of darkness. For the first time the passion in my heart to see God’s vision for the earth a reality more than outweighed the fear or concern I feel when I think of what might come if we choose to be a part of it —it obliterated it. I felt something break loose in my spirit.

“It’s every tribe, every tongue, every nation, a love song born of a grateful choir.”

How our hearts long for this—and how they leap for joy when we are experiencing a small glimpse of what it will be like when our Lord returns. This is our end-game, and this is our coming reality. How blessed we are to be used in this small way.

“It’s all God’s children singing glory, glory, hallelujah! He reigns, He reigns!”

The Voice

We had gone to the Philippines to start a flight program, but right after we got there, the mission that requested the flight program, pulled up stakes and left… practically overnight. So that really left us wondering what we were supposed to be doing there. We knew that the original intent of the flight program was to carry evangelists into the remote mountain areas around us to reach out to the unreached indigenous people groups. So, I thought, “Well, let’s find out what the needs actually are.” So we kind of put word out, “Let’s start looking into these villagers around us.” The problem was that the Agta, the people group we were working with, are a semi-nomadic tribe. They move around—they move around a lot!—and you don’t always know exactly where to find them.

So word got back to me that there was a group of Agta that were just an hour’s walk from the place where the road into the mountains ends. I’ve been a missionary long enough to know it’s not going to be an hour, but for some reason I let myself believe it. So we drove out to where we were told we could hike back in and find a group of these people. We started hiking, and an hour turned into two hours, turned into three, four, five hours. We did finally find this little village. There were like two huts there—temporary huts that could be moved. That was it. But we got there right at sundown, and there was no way we were walking back out in the middle of the night—you know we didn’t come prepared for that! We also weren’t prepared to spend the night out there on the riverbed, but we didn’t have much choice.

view of a valley with rice terraces in the philippines

So, we got there. By “we” I mean I had gone with a pretty good entourage of Filipinos, because I didn’t know exactly what we were going to encounter or what languages we were going to need to work with, so I had a pretty good representation of personnel with me. Well, we got there and started settling in for the night, and the people were acting really silly—just a bit like there was something special going on. In my American pride I thought it was because this Americano was out there, and that was part of it. But what really had them excited was that one of the guys that I had with me was one of our radio evangelists—a guy who did the outreach broadcasts for the Christian radio station we worked with. Unbeknownst to me, this group of Agta people had a radio! Now these people could literally pick up all of their personal belongings in this world and carry them on their back or on their head, you know. Everything they owned they could carry. That’s all they had in the world, but among their few possessions they had a transistor radio and they had actually been listening to the radio broadcasts! Tey recognized the voice of our radio evangelists. Here we thought this was a completely unreached people group, but actually, since we had been putting out broadcasts, seeds had already been planted before we even got there!

They had been listening to the preaching and teaching and they recognized this man’s voice as the man on the radio! “The Voice is here in our village… and with an Americano!” 

man talking on the radio for in the Philippines
He was like a celebrity. They were just beside themselves with excitement. The fact that I had brought “The Voice” with me, opened many doors for conversation with these people—conversations that otherwise they would have been reluctant to have. We thought we were going to be the first exposure to the outside world—and more importantly the Gospel—that these people had ever had, but in reality God had been preparing them for His Good News long before we even got there!

Crowl's Retirement

Howard, June and Chris Crowl are officially retiring after 66 years of missionary ministry.  Read all the details here!