"They knew I was a foreigner," the 48-year-old entrepreneur recalls. "Foreigners are the only ones who wear helmets."
Fortunately for Hart, the police were not working the checkpoint that day, and he and his friend -- the one driving the motorcycle -- passed safely in and out of the restricted area. The two men risked entering to check the status of a water well they had installed and to visit new friends in a nearby village.
Hart's wife Amanda* is glad she didn't know about this little adventure.
"He doesn't tell me the scary stuff," she says.
But how did this marathon runner and seller of high-end Amish furniture from Appalachia wind up in a war-torn, flood-ravaged region of the world?
It all began with a challenge during a typical Wednesday night prayer service at First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, N.C.
"The pastor wanted to talk about adopted unreached people group," Hart recalls. As soon as he heard the name and location of the people who number roughly 50 million, the Holy Spirit gave Hart "a very clear word."
Since that Wednesday night, Hart has been doing whatever it takes to reach this people group, including praying, researching and, since 2007, visiting the region four times and twice working among those from this ethnic group living in other areas of the world.
"I never doubted a calling to them -- not that I knew what that calling looked like," Hart says. "I didn't know what it meant, but there was a definite calling to that people group."
Sitting beside her husband of 27 years in that Wednesday night service, she doesn't doubt that God's calling "grabbed hold of his heart." But Amanda, a published writer and artist, is not yet ready to sell their small mountaintop farm, leave her chickens and goats behind and move across the world to live among this people. In fact, she admits, she really doesn't even want to visit -- in spite of her husband's urging.
"He wants me to go so bad," Amanda says. "I'm not comfortable yet going to Central Asia. As soon as I get a word from God, then I go, but that hasn't happened yet."
That doesn't mean Amanda is any less supportive of Paul's ministry to the people, whom she has grown to love. As she listens to her husband's stories from his visits, she's come to see them as "real people" and to embrace his new friends as her friends, even though she's never met them. Along with Hart, she studies the religious texts and customs of the people so she can pray intelligently on their behalf. She becomes almost fiery discussing media stereotypes of the people. Even the briefest conversation reveals she is as fervent an advocate for the people group as her husband.
"It's made me more aware," Amanda says. "It's not that they have rejected . They don't have access to . ... They've never even heard about Jesus."
It isn't the people who scare her, Amanda says. She is more than willing to work personally with this ethnic group in other -- safer -- places anywhere in the world. Quite simply, she explains, she fears the dangers of traveling to that particular region of the world.
Her fears are well-founded. Known for assaults, kidnappings and assassinations -- particularly targeting Westerners -- the region is among the "Top 10" in kidnap for ransom, according to the U.S. State Department and commercial security companies. This level of violence combined with political instability and natural disasters offers a trifecta of legitimate reasons to stay away.
As a result, Hart's decision to go in spite of the risks initially weighed heavily on his wife.
"When he first went over there, I was pretty much a basket case," Amanda admits. "But he kept assuring me that's where the Lord want him."
So, while Hart goes, Amanda prays. She prays for the people and for her husband. She prays for herself. She also enlists others to pray. As the overseas visits continue, she has come to see prayer as her primary responsibility.
"When he's over there, I'm praying, and I've got everybody I know praying too," Amanda says. "I think prayer is the most powerful tool we as Christians have. We are linked to the power of God Himself through prayer."
While Amanda recognizes the dangers to her husband's security, Hart brushes those concerns aside.
"Danger is relative to me," Hart says. "I've never felt threatened. I've never feared for my safety."
He recognizes, though, that dangers to local believers are very real. Very few, if any of the people group, are followers of Jesus.
Hart focuses, instead, on coming alongside villagers, building relationships and meeting human needs. Sometimes that means digging a well or teaching children. Other times it's talking about how to build a successful business. Regardless of the specific project, Hart recounts story after story of the hospitality of local villagers and of shared conversations over cups and cups of tea. The picture he paints isn't of violence and mistrust but friendship and loyalty.
"Our people group be described with one of their own proverbs: 'They make the best friends and the worst enemies,'" Hart says. "They are passionate and loyal. They love roses and poetry.
"They live in a land that is very harsh. It's very hot," he says. Electricity is sporadic, "but it's a beautiful country, a beautiful place, a beautiful people."
Of course, in a region as volatile as this one, the Harts realize that access may be restricted at any time. Visas may be denied and letters of invitation withdrawn. Amanda knows, though, that her husband will continue to support and work among this people group regardless of his personal level of access to Central Asia.
"He's going to continue to want to work with this people group wherever he can get to them," Amanda says. "If they shut him out he can't go anymore, then he'll go where he can."
Until then, Paul will keep going and Amanda will keep praying.
*Names changed. Tess Rivers is an IMB writer. IMB is seeking to collaborate with Southern Baptist business professionals in the international marketplace who understand God's global purposes, and IMB's Marketplace Advance provides a framework to foster these relationships. For more information on becoming a marketplace advance partner, visit imbgsm.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. View a related video at www.commmissionstories.com
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