It was a magnitude 6.9 earthquake.
But for Reese and his family, Southern Baptist representatives in northern India, the Sept. 18 earthquake was not just another natural disaster. It was a ministry changer.
One week after the earthquake, he hosted a team from The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., conducting disaster relief in the affected areas. The team originally had planned to share Christ in another section of Sikkim state, but after the earthquake their plans changed. Each day held uncertainty: where to find food, where to sleep, where to serve.
Reese led the team on a three-day journey to a relief camp in a small village in the corner of a valley green with rice paddies. The team and several national partners obtained entry permits and endured long and bumpy taxi rides and intense hiking.
Reese, the team and the national partners slept in a Buddhist school a few hundred feet from the camp.
Once the team settled at the school, they started providing medical care. But the medical and relief work was not the greatest need at the camp. The Lepcha people who sought refuge at the camp really just needed to talk.
The camp supervisor allowed the team access because he believed the Americans could provide a morale boost for the fearful and discouraged Lepcha.
Though things seemed to be running smoothly, Reese faced a spiritual attack at the camp. He was concerned about officials who were curious why the team wanted to help in a remote location that the national army had already supplied with relief goods.
Reese, the volunteer team and national partners had spent one night at the school, but he was hesitant to stay another night. The team was sharing the Gospel boldly, and Reese felt they were in potential trouble with officials. He left the school and walked down to the campfire "really scared." He needed to pray about the next step of the trip, and he saw two of his national partners, their faces lit by the warm glow of the fire.
Timothy, a national partner who accompanied the team as a translator, stood to greet him and looked him in the eye. It was a crucial moment for Reese.
"Brother," Timothy said to Reese, "I can see you are worried, but you are doing a very good job. I think we know each other well now. You are like my own brother, and I love you." He grabbed Reese's arm. "I am with you."
Reese strained to hold back tears. "I thought to myself, 'I have my first friend.'"
With his brothers behind him and a reminder from the Lord of His sovereignty and protection, Reese, the team and the national partners stayed another night.
The next day, team members ventured up the mountainside into the rustic Lepcha homes.
"A woman that was 46 years old heard the Gospel for the first time, and the Gospel was presented in half a dozen homes where it had never gone," Reese said. " opened doors that I could have never done on my own."
National partners also got to share Christ in a new place. They told Reese repeatedly, "It's a privilege to be here and a blessing. If you come back here again, please bring me with you."
Reese was invited back to the camp, even by people he thought were most suspicious of the team. He planned to return for more work. Contact was made with two national partners who could be trained to work in that area specifically, he said.
" happened kind of in the midst of, 'What do we do? We can't do medical here like we were planning. What do we do?'" Reese said.
By the end of the week he had a new perspective on several aspects of ministry in northern India, including short-term mission trips.
"For maybe 15 years, I've been utterly against short-term missions," Reese said. "But I was wrong ... because this border would not have been pushed open if had not come."
Shortly after his arrival in India nine months earlier, if asked what God was doing in the area, Reese said he might have answered something like, "Lots of stuff."
Today he can see the fine details.
"God came here to bring the Kingdom, and it's going to happen : by making disciples who make disciples."
Neisha Fuson writes for The Alabama Baptist, online at thealabamabaptist.org. Some names were changed for security reasons.
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