2017 Sri Lanka – John Nivie

Footprints in the Sand

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”
– 2 Corinthians 5:7

As a student, have you ever thought about going on a missions trip, prayed about going, wondered if you could do it, supported a trip financially, talked about the possibility, or ever said to yourself, “I want to, but I do not have enough money and time, and maybe even talent?” I did. And I told myself, “Well, stop thinking and doubting. Have faith in Him and just DO IT!” I was very worried about my financial situation and that I could not bear such a high cost without any income, but someone decided to support my whole trip financially. They said, “You go John. I’m not a Christian, but your passion for this trip is what moved my heart.” So on 26th December 2016, the day right after Christmas, our team embarked on our church’s very first mission trip to Sri Lanka. This was my very first mission trip abroad as well, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect at first. But God definitely showed me so much through this short, 6-day missions trip. As a Christian who was a former Buddhist, I experienced so much of His love through this trip and as we travelled from the main city, Colombo, and to various villages located in rural Ampara, Monagarala, and Galle. I got to know even more about His heart not just for our team, but also His precious sons and daughters in Sri Lanka. Our team was really excited to see the Holy Spirit fall upon the nation to bring supernatural salvations, healings, and miracles.

Pastor Sarath, our local ministry contact, has a heart for more churches to be established in Buddhist strong hold areas, especially reaching the youth and elderly. Christianity is a minority religion in Sri Lanka, and religious freedom in unstable. Christians are often persecuted, so prayer groups and churches have been forced to close down. Though this almost seems like an impossible situation, our team walked through this valley with the local pastors, putting our full faith and confidence in God’s plans.

One of the services that was highlighted to me was the Monaragala Youth and Children’s program in Monaragala, a district in the Uva Province of Sri Lanka. 90% of the participants were Buddhists. As a child who grew up in a village in Malaysia, when I entered the gathering hall I felt like I had returned to my very old home, with trees and those chirping sounds of birds everywhere. The muddy and bumpy road leading to the house, and the rough concrete tiles just reminded me of my life years ago when my family and I received Jesus as our saviour. At that very moment, I knew that God wanted to highlight some of the hardships I was going through back then, and I kept hearing, “Forget about the past, do not dwell on the past. You’re now my precious son who is going to glorify me.” At first, I did not really understand what that meant, but this sounded like something I had read before in the bible. Before the welcoming ceremony commenced, I quickly took out my cell-phone and looked up my Bible app where I usually save the Bible verses that I have already read, and this was a Bible verse from the book of Isaiah! I was amazed and shocked at the same time at how right His timing was.

The youth welcomed our team with amazing performances. They were so talented, choreographing dances even to songs about Jesus when they themselves weren’t Christian. This once again reminded me of my past- of when I would dance on a stage with my primary school friends to “Lamb of God” as the background music when I was still a Buddhist. And here in this moment in Sri Lanka, after the performances, I was assigned to testify on how I became a Christian from a Buddhist. I was notified by our team leader, Sam Choi, that I would be sharing my testimony in front of the crowd that night while we were still on our way to Monaragala. To be frank, I was absolutely nervous, scared, and did not feel mentally prepared. But I took the courage and prayed, “God, just use me whenever and however You want.” There were so many distractions throughout the whole ceremony, and it got even worse when I shared my testimony. The demonic attack was so strong but I put my trust in Him, believing that He would accompany me until the end. Then when I became particularly vulnerable- sharing about how I was molested and attempted to commit suicide- the chaotic atmosphere turned quiet, and 2 young men in the front suddenly stopped chatting and they started paying attention to my testimony. Holy Spirit had His touchdown and I saw a teenager who was sitting in the very last row bursting into tears right when I finished my testimony with one last sentence, “I am not yet the person I need to be, but I am far from the person I was.” I always had low self-esteem, but God used me powerfully in such a chaotic situation.

After my testimony, our team had a great time with the youth and adults by doing some VBS (children’s ministry) dancing led by our very own VBS leader-shark Kayc. The title of the song was “Power in the Blood,” and it explains how Jesus died on the cross to cleanse our sins. The smiles lit on every single one of the children’s faces during this time just melted my heart. There were 2 little boys who did not speak English very well but we had one thing in common: we both knew the power of Amen. They said Amen every time they finished one move and they were just dancing right beside me. What amazed me was that they were not Christians, but that simple Amen was so powerful. God once again showed me that one does not have to be perfect to glorify Him. Even with just a genuine and sincere heart to worship Him will mean everything to Him.

Doing skits was one of the funniest and most exciting moments of this night, especially as ours prepared the ground before Pastor Myunghwa, our team preacher, shared on how one can gain access to Heaven. I myself acted as a guard to Heaven’s gates, and my guard buddy was played by Ezekiel, Pastor Sarath’s son. Back when I was young, I had doubts about entering Heaven. I thought I had to all these good acts in order to enter into Heaven. But in this skit as a guard to Heaven, I felt God was telling me, “You will be entering my kingdom with your family and friends who have heard about Me, and accepted Me as their Saviour.” In the skit, our team member Heidi enters Heaven through the name of Jesus, and she is able to save her friend (played by Lisa) by showing her how to follow Christ. The skit ends with both of them joyfully entering through Heaven’s gates. Can you imagine how wonderful it will be when all of the youths and adults who accepted Jesus as their Saviour are able to enter His Kingdom?

Soon after the skit we had an altar call. I did not really know how to pray for people, but again faith in Him made me pray with anointed Bible verses which I meditated on before going on this trip. There was one teenager who seemed to be sad and she approached me with a prayer request. “You, pray, me?” she asked tenderly, so I gave her a warm hug, and I declared Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord. I did not know what she was going through, but as soon as I finished praying for her, she started to cry and she told me she was feeling better. I did not know that a short prayer could make someone feel so much better so easily, and God once again showed me that everyone can glorify Him, even through the simplest actions. I felt God’s presence in that sanctuary hall, so strong and evident. And the two young men I mentioned before came to me and they told me that they were so happy that they got to hear my testimony, as they had experienced similar situations as mine. We will never know what God plans for us but He always makes His love known to everyone.

God’s faithfulness is always so complete. Back in 2012, I had a dream that I was walking slowly along the beach, super sad and depressed deep down in my heart. God was walking beside me, and He held my hand tightly and pointed to the sky and said, “Look John. Look at how far you’ve come.” For each and every scene, I saw 2 sets of footprints in the sand and I heard a whisper in my ears, “Do you see those tiny and big footsteps? The tiny ones are yours and the big ones are mine.” I became so happy after that. Then I noticed only one set of footprints in the sand. This happened at the saddest times in my life and I became so angry and I asked Him, “Where were you when I needed you? I’m still a baby Christian. I’m not perfect. And You said that once I chose to follow You, You would walk with me always. I need You to teach me how to pray, how to minister, how to handle all of this.” He replied, “John, didn’t you realize that I’m still walking with you? You’re my precious son. When you see only one set of footprints, it was then I carried you.” From the very first footstep in Colombo, and all the way through Ampara and Monaragala until our very last footprint in Galle, I always doubted everything and kept on questioning His presence and guidance, but again and again, He showed me how much He loved me. I was so worried about my financial support, but He overflowed my cup. I had doubted if I would be able to share my testimony as an ex-Buddhist, but He spoke through me to the nation about how we never have to be alone in Him. I was afraid to pray for people with limited Bible knowledge, but He used me to release healing and blessing over them. What more could I ask for?

I thank God for giving me such a golden opportunity to speak life over the nation of Sri Lanka, to glorify Him through so many profound ways, and to help build His kingdom on this Earth with awesome teammates. Our team prayed and prophesized over Pastor Sarath and his family before we left, and know that God will work through them to continue to break the ground all across this nation. Not only did I get to witness God’s wonderful ministry in Sri Lanka, but I also became more established in my identity. The mission trip is already over, but His work is definitely not done yet- in both the nation and us. Sri Lanka was indeed an incredible experience. Through the hardships, struggles, and pain He was holding my hand as I shared with these people His love for them. I will never forget the faces of those who prayed to receive Christ, and I will never forget their names. Stutti (thank you) to every one of you who supported us in both financial and prayer. May His blessings be with you always. Until next time, until it is your turn to say, “Well, stop thinking and doubting. Have faith in Him and just DO IT!”