You can only learn so much from photographs, briefings, and notes scribbled on notebook paper. No matter how many times a soldier shoots target practice, he won't understand war until he's thrown into a raging battle with fiery explosions and bullets flying past his head. Even the best preparation can't exactly rehearse the experience, just as looking at a postcard of the Grand Canyon can't accurately relate its grandeur.
Although we had the best (and only) training available for this pioneer operation, we felt stragnely ill-prepared to go into the villages. How would we drop in heavily populated areas without being noticed? Where was the best place to hide the VCD's? How many should we distribute in each area? How would we transfer them from a backpack to hip pack to pocket without drawing attention from those around us?
The anxiety surfacing from all these questions was only exacerbated by the fact that, seemingly on the enemy's cue, the government had earlier that month issued a crackdown on "distribution of illegal religious materials by foreigners." Not only would we be thrown into the fire without much training, but we would also have the eyes and ears of government officials to worry about.
The uncertainty was dangerous to the mission, so we did our best to prepare, but certain times came when we had to do our best to listen to the Spirit, and move forward only on faith. I had an inkling that God would show us more during these times, while we weren't so focused on the physical that we forgot what he was doing in the spiritual realm. Besides, most of us were thrilled by the spontaneity of the journey. It's not every day that you get to go secret agent for the gospel, so I tried to soak up every bit of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Out of all the villages we walked through, I think I'll always remember the first. It had nothing especially appealing to distinguish it from the others, but I can't seem to shake the feeling I had dropping those first few VCD's in inconspicuous places like rockpiles and vegetable patches outside the village. It was a mixture of nervous energy and excitement, something like the mischievous feeling of trespassing tinged with the pride of receiving an award.
I kept thinking about the fact that these discs held the name of Jesus, the only way to eternal life. These people had never heard his name; they had been bound by ancestor worship and a demonic brand of Buddhism throughout their history. I had the privilege of bringing Jesus to them in an effort to break the chains. We all realized how foolish our scheme looked from worldly standards. Why would you take VCD's into an agrarian community? But we also knew that we have a God that uses the weak and foolish things of the world to shame the strong and wise, and that was where we focused our faith.
Steve and I circled around the village on what looked like their equivalent of a service road, and we entered the village from the back. We had been told to avoid dropping VCD's on the way into a village, but to try our best to drop as we moved away from a place they might be discovered. Backtracking, we were informed, was a good way to get deported.
The pungent odor of maneur greeted us as we passed some stables. Water buffaloes, the type of livestock primarily used in the area, peered at us through the wooden fences, chewing intently on some straw. We stopped for a photo-op--Steve in between two of the buffaloes.
"Look! Three buffaloes," I said, hoping to coax a genuine smile out of Steve. The best way to keep a low profile was to act like tourists, snapping pictures and showing our bewilderment at being immersed in a different culture. To act too trained would ignite some suspicion. Steve and I had fun together, so we didn't figure to have too many problems.
Continuing along the alleys of the village, we wandered upon a group of about six young men about my age. They appeared to be taking a break from some kind of construction work, and they were surprised to see foreigners invading their home turf. Rather than becoming defensive, however, they asked us where we were from, and I did my best to answer. We turned to leave, and Steve dropped a VCD where they would find it on their way back into the center of the village.
As we felt our way through the paved maze of brick and stone walls, we began to get more ideas about good places for drops. Because people always sifted through trash heaps in search of recyclable materials, we tended to drop most times we saw one. Woodpiles also became a favorite place to stash the gospel. When people retrieved wood to make a fire, we hoped they would catch a gleam of light reflecting off the CD and grab it.
For fear of wandering eyes, we only dropped 8 or 9 in Village #1. Scouting was the more important objective, and so we would be prepared for the other villages we would visit on Day 1. One down, fourteen to go.