2013 Malaysia – Jason Bongiovanni

Joy Bomb

“That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” – 1 John 1:3-4

This was my first ever missions trip. Going into training I had many different thoughts and ideas of what the missions field would be like. I had heard stories of miracles, signs and wonders, demons being cast out and the kingdom of darkness being destroyed by the awesome power of God. I don’t know what the rest of my team was thinking, but I was trying so hard to prepare myself for the warfare that awaited us. I wanted to see God’s glory fall in powerful ways, and I was not disappointed. It just didn’t happen the way I thought it would, and the weapon that we found waiting for us was definitely not what I expected. When we think of a battlefield the last thing we expect to find is joy, but that is what our team found, and through fellowship we learned to wield this mighty weapon to destroy the works of the enemy.

I first noticed this joy during our team fellowship times, but didn’t fully comprehend its power or necessity. Upon arriving at our first church and meeting Pastor John Mutang, our NPWM (Native Partners for World Missions) contact, we quickly saw that he is a man filled with joy. He quickly caught onto and participated in any jokes that were running through our team. Such as telling us the river consisted of tea and milk and letting Judy Kim (our team videographer) crack a hardboiled egg against his head one morning at breakfast. But it was not just Pastor John. Everyone we met seemed to be filled with this joy, and we all accessed this joy through fellowship. Whenever we went into a house there was always a time of fellowship. Being relational with the families was all it took to access this joy.

In tribal Malaysian culture whenever there is a visitor in a household, it is customary to break out instruments and to dance. It is a beautiful dance native to the Borneo region, with very slow and deliberate movements and fancy footwork. Wherever our team went, the people quickly encouraged us all to participate. When I signed up for missions, I had no idea I would be dancing so much. At first it was uncomfortable for me, but I’m sure my team will agree with me that I quickly came to rather enjoy it. Dancing is one of the ways that joy was released on our trip. One night after altar ministry had ended, everyone was still standing at the altar. There had not been outward manifestations, but everyone was so hungry for more. There was a little bit of an awkward “what do we do now?” vibe going through everyone. But the answer came to us quickly. The team members and the congregation all began to worship with dance, and joy filled the room.

As the week went on we began to pray for other new and creative ways to fellowship with the people we met. We were not disappointed. I watched my teammates play with the children, making them laugh and sometimes cry. But more often than not that one child that was crying, was sitting in one of our laps and holding us close by the end of our visit. I watched Eunice (our team leader) just sit next to elderly women and hold their hands in silence. Kathryn and Lydia (our team doctor and team mom) would give back rubs; Ted (head of pastoral hospitality) would tirelessly learn the local dialect and bless the people with the joy that just radiated off him the entire trip. In one tribal longhouse all the brothers and one sister got to do some bench presses with a group of guys. Needless to say, God inspired us to be very creative with how we related to everyone, and was able to work through us to release joy despite the language barrier. The joy was thick, and when it came time to pray, we did it with joy.

One way we came to pray a lot was for physical healing. The main cash crop in Borneo is palm oil. This oil is obtained from big palm fruits that weigh a couple kilos. One is not very heavy, but when many are gathered in one huge basket, you suddenly have a 100lb burden on your back. Many of the people we prayed for had back and knee pain from carrying these massive loads day in and day out. It was clear that the people we met seemed weathered and worn, but they had joy, and God is so good. His love manifested through many physical healings. By the end of the trip it was no surprise to me when God healed someone of knee and back pain, but it was just as glorious as the first time I witnessed it, and it multiplied the joy all around us. But joy doesn’t mean there aren’t hardships, and what James said in his letter was very prevalent to us. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

Personally the trials that I experiences were in the form of fear. Fear of not being good enough, fear of making the wrong move, or fear of not noticing what God wanted me to notice. On our second day of ministry we were visiting a longhouse, and Pastor John said there would be a short service with a short sermon. This took our team by surprise and I remember thinking “Cool, Pastor Myunghwa (our team preacher) is going to preach on the spot and it is going to be awesome.” Five minutes later while we were having fellowship she looks at me and says “Jason do you have your Bible?” I nervously said “Yes.” To which she responded, “You have ten minutes, keep it short and simple.” I didn’t say anything, I simply smiled and went to prepare. What could I say? My superior just gave me an order, Hebrews 13:17 tells us to obey our leaders and do it with joy without groaning, so that’s what I did. But there was one problem, I was scared out of my mind, and I had no idea what to preach on. I sat and prayed, and then it hit me. I’ll preach on fear, and I’ll do it boldly and joyfully. I was still scared, but I took joy with me in my obedience, and it gave me strength. Joy and obedience must go hand in hand.

As the week went on another fear was trying to get itself in my way. You see before we even set foot in Malaysia, in our first team meeting Pastor Emily (our team leader’s assistant) and Pastor Myunghwa both prophesied that there was a specific young man that I was going to minister to on this trip. Naturally when I heard that I was worried that I would miss this person. Every time we went to a long house I was always on the lookout for this one young man. But we didn’t meet very many, and the ones we did meet didn’t speak the best English. I started to think that God wasn’t going to let me know who this person was and I was just going to have to be content with being a blessing to someone without knowing it. But when God says he’s going to do something, He does it! One night after service I was walking over to pray for someone when I heard, “Hey Jason.” I didn’t recognize the voice but the way he said my name was as if he knew me. I turned, and surprise, there was a young man who spoke English better than I did. He began talking to me about the introduction I gave that night, which was the only time he really got to see or hear me. I still wasn’t sure if this was the person that I was waiting for, so I just talked to him to try to get to know him. I learned his name was Henry; I prayed for him and then learned that we were going to visit his house the next day.

When we arrived, his sister who was our translator for the service the previous night said to me, “You must be Jason. Henry was talking about you all night; he loves you for some reason.” Right then I had to believe that this was that one young man that was prophesied about. At that point I thought I would begin to worry about every single word I spoke to him, but then God spoke to me. He said “Jason, I highlighted you for him. You simply obeyed me to come to this nation and I did the work.” That day and the next day when I met with Henry there was no fear of failure, because God was the one moving. I was simply obeying. And because there was no fear, there was true fellowship, and from that fellowship came joy.

Before this trip, Pastor Emily also prophesied over me that God was going to “blow my mind.” And that prophesy definitely came to pass. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and where we see a simple emotion, God sees a mighty weapon of war. The enemy comes to steal kill and destroy. Not just in a physical sense but in an emotional and spiritual one as well. Christ came so that we may have an abundant life, a life with the fullness of joy in all that we do. When you pray for Pastor John and the churches in the Borneo region pray that the fullness of joy will be ever present with them. Joy is contagious, and it beats back the works of the enemy. Pray that the families of the longhouses will remember all the healing that God brought to them, both inside and out. And pray that God will continue to empower Pastor John, and Pastor Peter (the National Director of NPWM Malaysia)- that they would be taken to new heights with God and be able to spread His joy throughout the nation.

John 17:13 declares that if we are in Christ then we are filled with Joy. Joy is something we must believe that we have, it is something we must take with us into battle. Joy is our strength. You might ask “how can I feel this joy?” The answer is simple, fellowship; fellowship with God and fellowship with other believers. Isolation on the battle field leads to a very quick death, but fellowship with God and his sons leads to an abundant life and joy complete.

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