|Chapter 10||I AM GOING TO KILL YOU|
It is hot today - too hot to move! Esther is playing with her Thai friends. She can really rattle off the language. Elmer went out into the jungles. It is getting dangerous in the country areas. In addition to the ever-present robbers, bands of communists now rove in places where we once traveled as a family. I will not go in those areas. I get too nervous.
The choice had been made - I was the "city missionary" and Elmer was the "country missionary." Elmer felt a tremendous burden for the village people. Entire villages had never heard of God's plan of salvation. We were the only missionaries in a province of 144,000 people, so the weight of the responsibility rested heavily upon us. The Mission sponsored the Gospel of John House-to-House Campaign. The goal was to place a Gospel in all the homes within our area of responsibility. The booklets contained a lesson sheet with an address where interested people could mail the lesson and receive other lessons. The team which traveled with Elmer helped distribute these free books and also sold other Christian books and Bibles at low cost.
The following letters to our chairman are revealing. In 1952, I wrote: The children and I watched as the team headed down the river. In a few days, the bookseller came back for more Bible tracts and brought a letter from Elmer telling how the people beg the team to stay in their village to preach. Elmer gets permission for a meeting to be held in the central meeting place. The team is welcomed wherever they go. These villagers have never heard about Jesus.
Later, Elmer reported:
I made an 18 day boat trip stopping at numerous villages along the river. Thousands heard the gospel for the first time. We left over 25,000 pieces of literature with the people. Everywhere large crowds gathered to hear the message.
Another progress report to the chairman:
On a 13 day trip we gave out Gospels of John in 22 villages, 16 of which were new places where we had never gone before. Some villagers were afraid of me as they had never seen a white man before. Some wondered why we were giving out free books. But many came to the night meetings to hear us explain the gospel story. This year, a total of 149 villages were covered house to house. Almost 17,000 Gospels of John were given out in those places. Many of the villages heard about Jesus for the first time.
Nongkai province, over 160 miles long and 20 miles wide, had only 14 miles of road and much of that road was covered with water during the rainy season. So traveling to the villages was difficult and included travel by foot, oxcart, bicycle, raft, assorted boats, the Land Rover (and later a Toyota pickup), bus, pony cart and even by elephant. An elephant was used only once. In Loei province, Elmer and Wayne Persons hired an elephant for a trip into the mountains. It was a slow ride and every time they reached a stream, the elephant would fill its trunk with water and shoot it over its back to cool itself. It also cooled Elmer and Wayne I That was the last and only time they traveled by elephant.
Wayne Persons, Ed Truax, some Thai Christian men and I traveled in two Land Rovers to visit the Hmong tribes people in the mountains of northeast Thailand. It took three full days to go 52 miles over very rough mountain roads. We camped in a tent near a little stream and ate boiled chicken and sticky rice. The first night out, the Thai pastor was awakened by the sound of a tiger roaring close by. He quickly got up and lit a fire to scare the animal away.
We left the vehicles at a village at the base of the mountains and hired a guide to take us to the village. We walked two full days through dense forests and cold streams. It rained heavily the whole time. Leeches attached themselves to our arms, legs and feet.
We finally arrived at the first village. They did not understand Thai but understood the Lao dialect which Wayne and I knew. They also understood Chinese which Ed Truax spoke. A meeting was held at the chief's home. After a night's rest, we went on to another village. Five more hours of hard walking with three of those hours straight up mountains! The evening service was well attended. We slept in the home of the witch doctor. All around us and over us were his ceremonial articles - bloody feathers on a stick, a small drum and other objects of pagan worship. In both villages, we noticed people had crosses on their clothing. They could not explain the origin of these crosses but told us that they were worn as a sign of trust in a goddess of mercy sent to them by an angel many years ago. In the first village, all the women wore trousers. In the second, all the women wore white skirts with black blouses. Women and men in both villages wore silver rings around their necks. Their wealth determined the number of rings. The tribal houses are right on the ground and are all without windows.
It was on the way back from this trip that Elmer had to wait for a swollen stream to go down before he could get home. Meanwhile, I was waiting in Bangkok for another baby!
Elmer rode the bicycle 17 miles each way through terrible roads to go to a meeting. At times he even had to carry the bicycle, too much mud or water. He will go again soon for some special meetings. Can't even get a Land Rover in there. No wonder he doesn't gain weight!
One night in a remote village along the Mekong River, a crowd of 200 or more gathered to hear Elmer preach. As they sat on the large porch of the meeting place, Elmer showed them pictures from a picture roll. All of a sudden, seven men pushed into the crowd. One marched right up in front of Elmer and said, "I am going to take you out and kill you!"
Elmer responded, "Please sit down and let me finish preaching first." Strangely, the man sat down on the floor beside the head man of the village. The head man turned to the stranger and said, "The governor has requested that I protect this missionary. Don't you do anything to him."
That enraged the robber. Angrily he replied, "We will take you out, too, and kill you with the missionary!" The threat was too much for the bodyguards of the head man. Two of them pounced on the robber and the men of the village jumped on the other six. All seven were tied up. In an amazing way, God had intervened in what had been a life-threatening situation. Elmer told me later that he had no idea why he had asked the man to sit down and allow him to finish preaching. It just popped out of his mouth.
There were other experiences with robbers, too. A man in a certain village was most anxious to have Elmer and the teams come and hold meetings. The Land Rover, however, could not make it over the terrible road, so the team turned back. On the way home, some people informed them that the man who invited them to the village was really a bandit chief who probably was planning to rob the team once they got to the village. Two Thai team members decided they would walk to the village, and thus arrive unnoticed. At the village they found out that the robbers were indeed looking for "the American" and planning to rob him. In this instance, God used impassable roads to protect His servants.
On another occasion, Elmer and a Thai pastor were out in a village along the border holding meetings. Elmer noticed three policemen watching the proceedings from a distance. When the meeting was finished, one of them approached him and asked to see a written permit for preaching. Elmer told the police man that he did not have anything in writing, but that he did have verbal permission from the assistant governor. The policeman responded, "We must take you to the police station."
The policemen, each carrying a Tommy gun, got into the Land Rover along with Elmer and escorted him into town. The officers at the border station decided to take Elmer to the chief of police. Elmer waited nervously outside while one of the policemen went in to explain the situation to the chief. In no time at all the policeman came back outside. "Sorry. It is all a mistake," he said. "You have permission to go anywhere you want to go. I shall inform all border police." The chief of police had recognized Elmer.
"Teacher Sahlberg" now had the most official permission to preach and give out literature in all of Nongkai province!
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