Spreading the Gospel
About the Guest
Amy Peterson, author of the book, "Dangerous Territory," tells how she tried to satisfy her sense of wanderlust by serving as a teacher in Southeast Asia. As only one of two Christians in a town of 250,000 people, Peterson talks about the challenges and joys of sharing the gospel with her students. During her time there she also saw her thinking change between how she defined great things and how God defined it.
Amy PetersonAmy Peterson is a writer, Adjunct professor and assistant director of honors programming at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. She has a Master’s degree in missions and intercultural studies from Wheaton College and has used it to work with people from over a dozen countries. Amy has written for Books & Culture, The Millions, Christianity Today, The Other Journal, The Cresset, and Art House America, among other places. Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World is her fir...more
Amy Peterson tells how she tried to satisfy her sense of wanderlust by serving as a teacher in Southeast Asia. During her time there she also saw her thinking change.
Spreading the Gospel
Bob: Is it possible for a pastor and a plumber to both live lives that are focused on advancing God’s kingdom? That’s a question Amy Peterson remembers wrestling with as a young woman.
Amy: I had this wrong-headed sort of paradigm that there were two kinds of Christians: normal, everyday Christians in American suburbia and the true heroes of heaven, who were missionaries. I think that that’s a false dichotomy.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, December 15th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll hear today from Amy Peterson about how her desire to serve God with her whole life led her to a place of disillusion and doubting. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Thanks for joining us. Ask our guest about the senior thesis she wrote when she was in college—what her subject was that she wrote—I don’t know what it was—50 pages?
Amy: Something like that; yes.
Bob: Ask her about that.
Dennis: Why do you want me to do it? She’s your daughter. You know the story. [Laughter] You’re just setting it up for—
Bob: Just trying to help you out here. Just trying to give you a little—clue you in.
Amy: Maybe, you should have fed him that question before we started recording.
Dennis: Maybe; thank you.
Bob: Good thought.
Dennis: Thank you, Amy. Amy Peterson, who is Bob and Mary Ann’s oldest daughter and has given birth to two grandchildren, lives with her husband Jack in Upland, Indiana, where she is an adjunct professor at Taylor University and has written a book called Dangerous Territory.
So, Bob, why don’t you ask her the question you wanted me to ask?
Bob: Well, I know the answer to the question, because I remember—we went back and forth a little bit—I helped a little bit with that project.
Amy: You helped with all my projects, Dad. [Laughter]
So, why don’t you—why don’t you phrase it this way?—“Tell our listeners a little bit about…”?—that would probably work.
Bob: You could be a radio cohost. [Laughter]
Amy: Well, thank you!
Bob: So, share with our listeners a little about that senior thesis you wrote. What was the subject?
Amy: I wrote my senior thesis in college on representations of wanderlust in American pop culture in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Bob: The reason you picked wanderlust as a subject to explore—
Amy: It was because I had a lot of wanderlust. [Laughter]
Dennis: That’s what this book is all about!
Amy: Yes; yes.
Dennis: It really is. I mean, it’s a story of a young lady going, for all practical purposes, alone—although there was one other person who went with you—but you were going to a town of 250,000 people, where you two were the only followers of Christ in a Southeast Asian country. You really were on a journey. You were on, well, a wanderlust; right?
I really wanted to see the world; I wanted to have adventures. I really appreciated the diversity of cultures and peoples in the world, and I wanted to see it all.
Bob: You had spent some time overseas.
Bob: You studied abroad in Italy.
Amy: I spent a semester in Italy; and then, I backpacked across Europe for a month after that.
Amy: So, I had gotten some of the wanderlust—no; I hadn’t really gotten it out of my system.
Dennis: No; you hadn’t—
Amy: No. [Laughter]
Dennis: —not if you went and did this. I want you to tell our listeners, after you arrived in country, how you met the young lady by the name of Veronica.
Amy: Yes. I had been teaching classes at the university in Southeast Asia for about a month. There was a young woman named Veronica. Maybe, after the first or second day of class, she came to visit me in my apartment. She came over, and she brought some fruit. We sat down and made some tea. About the first thing she said was, “Amy, are you a Christian?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “Brian in the Backstreet Boys is a Christian.” [Laughter]
She was a big fan of that boy band—the Backstreet Boys. She had read an interview where Brian talked about his Christian faith. So, she was curious. She didn’t know what that was. I thought it was kind of a silly and inconsequential question, you know, fueled by a love for a Backstreet Boy. So, I kind of dropped it; but Veronica actually kept coming back to me, week after week, with more questions about my faith. She asked if she could have a Bible.
We started reading one of the Gospels together. Every week she would come over, and we’d talk about what she had read. On her own, she read Genesis and Psalms and Ecclesiastes and Romans and, I think, 1 Corinthians. So, while we were studying Luke, she was also reading, kind of voraciously, through other parts of the Bible and really falling in love with what she found there.
We kept studying the Bible together every week. After we finished our study of Luke, we were meeting together.
She looked at me and said, “Amy, this is all true; isn’t it?” I said, “What?” She said: “Jesus really lived. He really died. He really rose again.” She said, “This way of life is the most beautiful way of life I’ve ever heard of, and I’m not good enough to receive it.”
Dennis: This is why you went!
Amy: That’s why I went. I think that was the moment when I realized, “It is true!” You know, like I had had some doubts: “Would it still seem true on the other side of the world to someone who hadn’t grown up in church?” Here she had spent two months reading the Bible; and these answers came out of her mouth just as if she had grown up learning the catechism like I had; you know?
When she said all that, I said, “Veronica, if you already believe those things, then, you’re a part of the family of God. That’s all it is—believing that you’re not good enough, that God loves us anyway, [and] that Jesus died and rose again—
—“that’s basically what it means to be a Christian. If you believe all that is true, yes; you can be a part of the family of God.”
Dennis: So, Veronica did what any new believer in Jesus Christ does.
Amy: She started telling everyone.
Dennis: —and even developed a plan. Tell us about that plan.
Amy: Yes. Well, first, I have to tell you—first, I have to tell you this story. Veronica and I—well, she had been sending passages of Scripture to her friends, who went to other universities. She had also been talking to her classmates about the Bible, and a few of her friends started studying the Bible with us as well.
Then, I was getting ready to leave for our mid-semester break in January for the Lunar New Year. I took Veronica out to dinner before I left; and I said” “Veronica, you should be careful while I’m gone. If you email me, be careful what kind of language you use. Be careful who you talk to about this.” She looked at me with this mixture of pity and confusion in her eyes; and she said, “Amy, I have already told you that if I have to choose between God and my government, I choose God.”
And she said: “I have a more powerful weapon. The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.” My jaw kind of dropped; and I nodded and said, “Uh-huh.”
Dennis: So, here’s—
Amy: What can you say to that?
Dennis: Here’s Amy Lepine, who went over there, with your own set of doubts—
Dennis: —now getting rebuked—
Amy: —by a baby Christian.
Dennis: —by a baby Christian.
Amy: Yes. So, she knew what she was doing, I guess. She asked if she could keep my copy of the JESUS film while I was away for a month for our break. I said, “Yes, but be careful.”
When I came back, I learned that she had shown the JESUS film to her family; and her dad said, “This is not true. Can we watch it again?” So, they watched it again. He said, “This is not true, but I think we should invite the neighbors over to watch it.” [Laughter]
So, the neighbors came over, and they watched it together. Her dad and the neighbor guy agreed, “This is not true,” but the neighbor guy said: “The people in my ancestral village have not heard this story, and I think they should hear it. Can I make a copy of that DVD?” He did. He took the movie out to his ancestral village, and everybody watched it. So, Veronica was—
Dennis: —a little evangelist; wasn’t she?
Amy: Quite openly; yes. When I came back into town, and she told me about that, she also said, “Amy, I have a plan for my people.” I said, “Okay?” She said, “I will tell people about Jesus; and if each of those people tells people about Jesus, the message will just spread all over like in that movie, Pay It Forward.” [Laughter] Do you know that movie, Pay It Forward?
Amy: So, she had seen that movie; and she thought, “Well, if that worked there, we can do that with the gospel.”
Bob: What a concept; huh?
Dennis: Huh?—like why wouldn’t we be doing that in America; huh?
Amy: I know; right? [Laughter]
Amy: So, that was her plan! She was ready to share the gospel with her whole country.
Bob: And were you finding yourself, in that year, thinking: “This is like the Book of Acts. It’s happening again, and God’s allowing me to be a part of this”?
Amy: Yes; it felt like there were miracles all around. God was doing above and beyond what I had ever expected and that it was clearly not me doing it; you know? He brought Veronica to me. She was the one who was sharing with these other people. So, it was clearly not me. It was clearly God at work, I felt, and He was—God was clearly doing more than I expected.
At the same time, I felt like I had found it: “This is my place. This is my vocation.” I could, maybe, spend—not just another year there as I was planning to—but maybe the next ten years there, because it was so full of life; and I was really happy there.
Dennis: So, what happened?
Amy: Well, I came home for summer vacation. About a week after I got home, I got an email from Veronica. She said that she and the other students had been on their way to Bible study with one of those Christians from the capital city, coming down to meet them. The police had been following that guy from the capital city down to our town. He, inadvertently, led the police to their Bible study.
They’d been taken in to the station, and interrogated, and threatened. They’d actually been brought in for a few successive days to the police station—questioned together / questioned separately. Their Bibles had been confiscated. All their religious materials had been confiscated, and they’d been told things like: “If you meet together again to study the Bible or if you talk to anyone about Jesus, you could get kicked out of university. You might never get a job. Your parents might suddenly find that they’re losing their jobs.
“Your younger siblings might not be able to gain admittance into the university.” Yes.
Dennis: And so? You had a choice.
Amy: So, I was—I was shocked because, while I had known that that was a reality in the country, I had never experienced it while I was there. I had always felt so safe. I was shocked. I was very sad and very angry at God, honestly.
Dennis: Yes; tell us about that for a second. This is the God you doubted as you went over. Now, you’ve seen Him work. Now, you’re back on safe “American” soil; and now, you’re angry at Him.
Amy: I felt pretty guilty too; you know?—because I was not experiencing any of this persecution or these negative effects of believing in Jesus, but these young women were. I was the one who had taken that message—
—it was like I had gotten them in trouble; but here I am, fine and dandy.
I felt guilty. I felt angry at God that He would let this happen to them when they were Christians for less than six months. They were baby Christians. They had no other support system—nowhere else to turn—and He had allowed this to happen to them. I was angry. I spent some time lying, flat on the floor of the bedroom, crying and reading a lot of—is it 1 Peter or 2 Peter where it talks about how we will experience trials and suffering and persecution? Reading that, trying to believe it—
Dennis: So, let me stop you there.
Dennis: So, Dad—
Amy: I don’t think they were totally aware of how I felt. I hid it pretty well.
Bob: Yes; I would say, when Amy came home after that first year, her enthusiasm or her—even what she’d experienced in that first year—she downplayed that.
I don’t think we had an understanding of just how powerfully and how unexpectedly God had worked. I don’t—I mean, I knew about these girls; and I was thinking, “That’s great.” I know Amy, and I know the Bible—I know its power—so I was not surprised that there had been some fruit.
Then, I remember Amy sharing that this had happened with these girls. I thought—because I’m an optimist, I thought: “Well, that’s too bad, but it will work out. It will die down. It won’t be what it is.” I don’t think I was—I know I was not aware of the impact it was having in her own heart / in her own soul. Part of that was because I didn’t dive in as I should have. I should have been more alert / should have been more in tune. I had four other kids I was dealing with, at the time;—
Dennis: Yes; sure.
Bob: —and I had a job here, and I just kind of compartmentalized it and moved on.
Dennis: So, that was how many years ago, Amy?—was that a decade ago?
Amy: That was 13 years ago.
Dennis: Looking back—
Dennis: —sort it out now for us.
Amy: You know, I think, at first, I was angry, and I was shocked, and I was hurt; but also, like Dad, I was a little bit optimistic that, by the end of the summer, it would work itself out: “This was just a little blip.” I was actually planning to return to country. So, the full effect of what was going to happen hadn’t hit me yet. I was dealing with a lot of feelings, but they got even worse.
About ten days before my flight to return to Southeast Asia, I got an email from the university saying that due to curriculum changes they could not renew my contract. That was like a second blow; because all that summer, I had been thinking: “This happened, but everybody is still okay. I’m going to go back, and we’ll be more careful. It’s going to be fine.”
When I got that email, and I knew that I couldn’t go back, and I knew that they were still being watched, then, it hit me even harder. At that point, I had a choice; you know? I had been planning, all summer, to return—this was ten days before my flight. I had to decide: “Was I just going to stay home in Arkansas?” or “Was I going to move somewhere else?” or “Was I going to try to get placed in another country, doing the same thing?”
I prayed. I asked people to pray, and I fasted. At some point, I felt like I would go back. So, that second year, I went back to Cambodia, another country in Southeast Asia / a country that is religiously free and open—so missionaries are welcomed there. People—the Cambodian people are free to practice religion. So, I went back.
At first, it felt great to be back.
There were a lot of similarities between where I had been the first year and the second year, just in terms of the region, the geography, the weather, and the people. Then, there were a lot of differences too. Some of the differences were superficial—like, I had been in a very poor town; and now, I was in a capital city that was rich with a lot of development money from around the world. I had been teaching very poor students, who were very eager to learn; and now, I was teaching kind of wealthy students, who were a little bit ambivalent about learning.
So, there had—and I had gone from a team of two to a team of nine. There were some pretty big differences, but the biggest difference was that I felt so shaken; you know? I felt like I had spiraled into kind of a dark night of the soul. I felt unsure about talking about Jesus/sharing my faith, because of what had happened to the converts from the first year.
Bob: You had to break communication with these girls.
There came a point where you just no longer sent emails—for their own safety; right?
Amy: Yes; their emails were still being read, and their phones were watched too. So, it wasn’t safe for them for me to stay in communication with them. There was still another teacher from our organization in that city—so there was that. At mid-year conference, they brought me handwritten letters from the girls—that sort of thing—but I really couldn’t stay in as close contact with them as I wanted to.
Bob: And the word that was being circulated in that country about you?
Amy: Was that I was a CIA agent, who had been secretly fluent in the native language all along. That was really the government’s fear—was that Christianity was political, and it had been in some parts of the country. In some ways, that was a legitimate fear; but—and I mean, Christianity does overturn the powers of this world—it is dangerous. So, it’s definitely a legitimate fear; but, yes, they thought I was some secret political operative.
Dennis: So, if there is a young person, right now—young man / young lady—who maybe wants to do something heroic for God / who wants to change the world, what would you say to them?
Amy: I work with college students. I actually get asked this question kind of a lot. What I usually tell them is that, if they want to go / if they feel that calling and that passion to serve God overseas, then, they should go; but as they go, they need to go in full recognition of their status as the beloved of God—not going to try to do something great or do something big for God—because we can’t judge what is a big thing for God.
You know, when Jesus and the disciples were watching people put in their offering coins—right?—Jesus said, “The widow’s mite was the greatest gift.”
Jesus said: “The last will be first. The first will be last.” When the disciples were arguing over who is going to be the greatest in the kingdom, Jesus wasn’t happy about it.
Amy: I don’t think we are supposed to understand: “What is a great thing for God?”
Dennis: I agree.
Amy: We are supposed to understand what it means to be faithful. That might be going overseas; and if you want to go overseas, I usually tell people, “You should go.”
Bob: Tim Keller says, “We should fundamentally have the humility to say to everybody we meet, ‘There is much I can learn from you.’” That’s true in Indiana, in New York City, in Little Rock, or in Southeast Asia. If we, instead, have a pride that says, “I have all the answers, and you need to listen to me,” we’ve somehow perverted—
Amy: That’s a problem.
Bob: —the message.
Dennis: That is a problem. And I just want you to know, Amy, I thoroughly enjoyed your book.
Amy: Thank you.
Dennis: I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing your story, in person, after watching you grow up, as a young lady, and now see you as a faithful wife, mom, and also adjunct professor at Taylor University.
It’s fun—really fun to see how God has taught you. I appreciate you sharing your lessons with our listeners, here, on FamilyLife Today. I hope you’ll write something else and come back and join us again.
Amy: That sounds great. Let’s do it!
Dennis: Let’s do it!
Bob: Let me, again, just encourage our listeners—if you’d like to get several hundred copies of Amy’s book, which is called Dangerous Territory—
Dennis: And I would say, “You need to get the book if for no other reason than to hear Amy’s dangerous adventures on her moped or whatever it was—
Amy: Ooh; yes.
Dennis: —“that she was riding over there.”
Bob: You miss your scooter; don’t you?
Amy: So much! [Laughter]
Dennis: I mean, you can just picture having your daughter—it was Cambodia; right?—
Dennis: —in Cambodia, with it quitting out in the middle of who knows where; you know? Yet, God was looking out after Amy.
Dennis: And you’ll have to read the book to get the rest of the story.
Bob: You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com to get a copy of the wonderful book, Dangerous Territory.
I’m saying that, of course, because it was written by my daughter, Amy. We have copies in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com to request a copy; or you can order by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the title of the book: Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World by Amy Peterson. Order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, I imagine, like us, most of your holiday plans are pretty well set. You know where you’re going to be, who is coming into town, or where you are travelling to, or how you’ll be celebrating the Christmas holidays. I don’t know if, in thinking about Christmas or the week after, you’ve also considered whether you want to make any yearend investments in ministries that God has used in your life.
Here, at FamilyLife®, we believe that, when it comes to giving, everyone’s first priority ought to be their local church. Your local church is doing the frontline work of ministry in your life, and that’s where you need to be investing and ministry you need to be supporting. Beyond that, as you are able to give to support ministries like FamilyLife Today, you just need to know we are so encouraged when we hear from partners who say: “We share your mission and your burden. We want to be a part of effectively developing godly marriages and families.” When you make a donation to FamilyLife Today, you are helping extend the reach of this ministry, helping more people more regularly receive practical biblical help and hope for their marriages and their families.
A yearend contribution right now would be very timely. In fact, our friend, Michelle Hill, is here again today.
Michelle has been keeping her eye on a yearend matching-gift fund that has been made available to us, and she’s got an update.
Michelle: I am keeping a close eye on the match and I’m liking what I’m seeing! … Bob, friends from across the nation and around the world are joining with us, because they believe that God is using their donations effectively here at FamilyLife… and because FamilyLife brought help and hope to their families.
So some quick shout outs…Diane from Pittsburgh, Elizabeth from Auburn, Cynthia, Ronnie…Margie from Virginia….along with about four thousand others, so far you’ve given five hundred eighty three dollars to towards the two million dollar match…THANK YOU!
Bob: And it’s easy to give online. You can do that at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also give by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY. If you’d rather write a check and mail it to us, you can do that—our mailing address is FamilyLife Today, PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
And we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend. I hope you can be back here on Monday. We’ve got another young woman who is going to be joining us, who left Nashville, Tennessee, as an 18-year-old and became an adoptive mother to 13 girls before she got married. Katie Davis Majors joins us with an update on the work that God has called her to in Uganda. Hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry.
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