Recently, members of an RI team in Asia received an unusual invitation from a group of Hindu villagers: come to our region and explain more about your faith! The team followed up on this opportunity and spent time talking about Jesus with the interested group. They left with an invitation to return and continue the conversation.
This exciting and unexpected request is the direct result of the hostels that were recently opened by RI’s local partners in two Asian countries. They invited students, ranging in age from 13 to 20, to leave their homes in remote villages and come to larger towns to study. These students live together, share meals and household chores, and continue their education beyond what is possible in their home areas. But as believers who desire for Christ to be known, RI’s local partners look to do more than meet the immediate need of education for disadvantaged groups. Their long-term goal is to open up entire communities for the gospel.
Although hostel life can be difficult at times, it is easy to see changes happening—often quickly—in the lives of students.
A key component of this ministry is the hostel leaders themselves. For these leaders, building relationships with the students has been crucial. In some cases, this is not easy; the girls’ hostel in southern Asia has proved especially trying. When it opened in January, seven students enrolled—all young girls who had never lived or studied outside their home areas. None of them had attended school in the previous two years due to COVID-19, making their adjustment even more difficult. Hiya, the hostel leader, has had to exercise tremendous patience as she tries to help them become more disciplined in their studies, and more loving in their inter-personal relationships.
In the southeast, Lan and his wife opened their home in a large city as a hostel. They treat their students as a large family—something that works well in that cultural context. Their students call them mom and dad, and everyone helps with chores. Lan laughingly reported that becoming a father to ten young adults has meant much less free time and many more daily repairs around the house.
Although hostel life can be difficult at times, it is easy to see changes happening—often quickly—in the lives of students who are exposed to this kind of mentoring and discipleship. In fact, several months after inviting ten students into their home, Lan and his wife baptized two of them. And all of their students—new believers and seekers alike—are learning to participate in and lead corporate worship. Additionally, they worship and study the Bible together twice a week, and gather with a local church on Sunday.
By beginning with these young students, RI’s local partners believe they will be able to build relationships in many villages. They have begun to plan regular trips to accompany several students at a time back to their homes, where they can spend a weekend talking with others about their new experiences. In the future, they hope to send the students home as evangelists to their own families and friends.
“The kinship system [in our culture] is very strong,” Hiralal shared. When families realize that their children are being cared for, they are interested in learning more about the faith that motivates RI’s team. As the students begin sharing what they’ve learned on visits home, their families, friends, and neighbors want to learn more. It’s a long-term strategy and requires much patience and hard work, but Hiralal is sure that results will come. Indeed, with an unexpected invitation to share about the Gospel, it seems that this strategy is beginning to bear fruit.
Pray for these students as they study—especially as they learn what it means to follow Jesus. Pray for the team’s long-term vision to become a reality as the yeast of the gospel slowly spreads throughout their entire relationship network!
Tom serves in Thailand as RI’s Asia Regional Director. Along with wife Candice, he oversees the work of the RI team in Thailand as well as two teams of local workers in Asia. He is a Bible teacher and chaplain in a local international school, and has worked with RI in various positions for over 20 years.