I moved to Kunming, when I was 18 years old. I bought a one way ticket from America, immersed myself in the culture and language of China, and traversed thousands of miles across the nation to share the message of salvation with forgotten tribes.

Every weekend I would jump on an overnight sleeper bus that smelled of socks, armpits and rice wine. I watched through grimy windows as the blurred green scenery streamed past my bus as we barreled over bumpy mountain roads from Kunming to Dali.

Early morning when I arrived in the ancient city, I checked in to Number 4 Guesthouse near the West Gate. My room cost $1.25 a night—a steal if you were willing to put up with plank-hard beds with an inch of bed bug-ridden foam tops.

I always took my guitar. That was my entry point into culture. I found that music superseded all cultural boundaries as I sang Qi Qin’s “The World Outside Is Brilliant” in Mandarin Chinese. A crowd gathered to watch the pale skinned round-eye sing in their language. They clapped and smiled, and dropped a few Yuan into my open guitar case. That always paid for my travels to Dali.

I met a Bai tribal woman named Ma Rui. She would always try to sell me ethnic jewelry of which I had no use. I would always tell her about Jesus, of which she had no use.

Despite our bartering of Jesus and ethnic tribal goods, we became good friends. She insisted I call her jie jie, Mandarin for older sister.

Every weekend I took the 12 hour trip to Dali. “Ma Rui, when are you going to believe in Jesus?” I asked. “When you buy my jewelry!” she replied.

I never did, and neither did she.

“You really are stubborn, aren’t you!” I joked. “But someday you’ll understand God’s love for you.” Ma Rui giggled, and ran down the street after a tourist who might be interested in purchasing her cultural relics.

The next time I traveled to Dali, I could not find Ma Rui. “She moved to Dongchuan,” my local Bai friends told me.

We lost touch.

For more than 10 years I ministered to countless tribes throughout Yunnan. I traveled long and arduous roads throughout the province, planted churches alongside the underground Church, and grew the ministry that would become Within Reach Global.

Last year, My wife and I took an American team to Dali after a week in nearby villages. We were sitting at Sweet Tooth, a local western cafe, enjoying a chocolate brownie when Ma Rui noticed me from the sidewalk outside. Time stopped for a moment. I looked at her, and tried to put a name to her face. She looked at me knowing exactly who I was. What can I say? I have always stood out in Asia.

Ma Rui walked inside Sweet Tooth. “Little brother David!” she greeted me with a wide smile. “It has been a long time!”

“Way too long!” I replied in Chinese.

“I have something to tell you. But you probably won’t believe me.” She was brimming with joy. “Remember when you used to say I was so stubborn? Well, it’s true. I was. But I believe in Jesus now! I am part of an underground church, and have grown so much in my faith!”   

I couldn’t believe it. Well, yes I could. Despite her stubbornness to the gospel message I had shared with her for years, I always knew God had his radar on Ma Rui.

“That’s wonderful news, older sister!” I said. But it was greater than wonderful. It was years of sowing into a soil I thought would reject the seed forever.

Then suddenly I could not control my emotions. The seeds I had planted for many years had died deep in the soil of her heart, germinated, and finally pushed past the brittle surface of her soul. This little plant was more precious to me than the hundreds of souls that I had had a part in reaching with the gospel.

As a missionary, I admit, it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to think that no one really cares about what you’re trying to tell them. The name Jesus has no reference point among an unreached people group. But God is always working behind the scenes to bring transformation.

This one was personal.
This one had a price tag.
This one was God’s reminder to let me know that he always causes the seeds we scatter to spring up to life.

I was still single when I shared the gospel to Ma Rui, so I introduced her to my wife.

“This is Lorna. This is Ma Rui”

The 3 of us hugged and cried and sensed God’s joy in that tiny western cafe in Dali, China.

I was again reminded that I was simply a small part of the big thing God is doing in the nations. But as infinitesimal as I was, what I did mattered.

When I live missional, transformation occurs.

The harvest is in the seed, and the more I sow, the more God’s garden grows.

Salvation 10 years in the making did not seem so long as I listened to Ma Rui tell me about the fellowship she was a part of, her Bible reading, and the life change that had taken place. Time was trivial. So was the struggle of prayer and preaching that poured from my heart.

A single seed.
A powerful life transformation.
The Holy Spirit reminding me that he had it under control.

God opened the Book of Life, leaned forward with pen in hand, and signed a name in Chinese on the open page. “Ma Rui.” He shut the book and smiled. And somehow I get the strange feeling that he added “David’s older sister” to the right of her name.

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