By Mark Ellis
The places in the world that still haven’t heard the name of Jesus are often geographically isolated, politically closed, or sociologically hostile – sometimes all three. But that doesn’t stop Eric Ramsey and his dream team from going where few dare to travel.
His network of volunteers includes former Green Berets, a retired Army Ranger trainer, survivalists, doctors, outdoor enthusiasts, GPS/GIS mapping experts, and anthropologists.
Some of the tribes they reach have never seen a Caucasian or a foreigner. In their forays, they have been beaten by angry Muslim mobs, interrogated by police, and escaped from foreign military, among other close calls.
They do ethnographic research to better understand each tribe, before a missionary arrives to plant a church. “Our goal is to answer two questions: What does the Gospel look like for these people? And, what might congregationalizing look like?” says Eric Ramsey, president of Tom Cox World Ministries.
“We want to understand their worldview, moral and spiritual code, belief and value systems, how they do family, how they govern themselves, their beliefs about leadership, their purpose and connectivity to nature,” he says.
When they finish their work, his team supplies a lengthy research paper, along with an interactive DVD with map points, which puts a pioneering missionary “way down the road in accomplishing their task.”
Capture and escape from foreign military
On one trip in Asia, they were in a remote area closed to tourists looking for a certain unreached people group. As they hiked through the jungle, the former Army Ranger trainer on the team happened to notice a strange sight.
“Did you see 10,000 kw of electricity going into the mountain back there?” he asked Ramsey.
“Yeah, I took a picture of it. It’s kind of weird.”
“We were on camera too. That’s a military establishment and I expect in about 20 minutes we’re going to get picked up.”
Sure enough, 22 minutes later two government military vehicles pulled up. The men were detained, placed in one vehicle, their backpacks and other gear placed in the other van. Apparently, they had stumbled upon a munitions facility.
Ramsey hid his cell phone in his boot and managed to get a text off to his wife. “We’re getting a ride we don’t need right now,” he texted. “Can you ask the Big Boss for some help?”
His wife, Gaye, immediately got the word out to their prayer network.
In the back of the enclosed paddy wagon traveling down a windy dirt road, one of the men on Ramsey’s team began to experience motion sickness.
A light bulb went on in Ramsey’s mind when he noticed the man’s condition. He thought he could manipulate the man’s woeful state to potentially win their freedom. Through a translator, he began to paint a vivid picture of what the inside of the van might look like very soon if they didn’t stop.
As they passed an outdoor market, Ramsey asked the driver, “Can we get out here and shop?”
Surprisingly, the military driver pulled over and let them out. Even more astonishing, the driver let them get their backpacks from the other vehicle.
Ramsey recognized the market because they stopped there once before. Speaking in Pig Latin, he said to his team, “Remember where we bought water bottles? Let’s meet there in 11 minutes.”
The men scattered through the market while their driver waited. At the appointed time, they met at the water bottle stand, which backed up to the woods. “We cut behind the stand and started high-tailing up the steep mountain through the trees.”
They moved as fast as they could, knowing the military would track them. Ramsey got a GPS bearing on a road at the top of the mountain, so they headed in that direction, hoping someone might pick them up.
A bold prayer
“Ask God to bring us a van to get us out of here,” said Matt, one of the team.
“We’re out in the middle of nowhere,” Ramsey replied. “All I’ve seen is bicycles and small cars.” He asked the other man to pray, because his faith was lacking.
Ramsey was exhausted when he reached the top of the incline and found the road. The second man to arrive was just starting to pull of his backpack when a white van pulled up next to them.
“Hey mates, need a ride?” It was an Australian driving a 12-passenger van.
God answered Matt’s bold prayer at exactly the moment help was needed. They clambered into the van and eventually made their way to safety.
“I have story after story of God’s protection,” Ramsey says. “I was frustrated at the moment when Matt wanted to pray for a van. I thought he was stupid.”
“It is truly God’s grace that gives us what we need at the right time,” he adds.
With a relatively small staff, Ramsey coordinates mission projects in 124 countries that resulted in 15,000 professions of faith in Jesus Christ last year and 163 new churches planted.
Once Ramsey has spent enough time to gain the trust of tribal leaders, he has a favorite question he likes to ask one of the older men. “Could you tell me a story your grandfather told you that you know your grandfather’s grandfather told him and that you tell your grandchildren?”
Ramsey watches for a certain reaction after he asks that question. “They laugh and they smile and they get embarrassed, but when they give you that smile you know you are really on to something.”
“They begin to tell that story, and just the opening line begins to draw children, and young adults and women, and suddenly they are all gathered around leaning on each other. And that story really helps us understand their world view.”
The God who blinds enemy soldiers
On another trip in the middle of a war zone in a restricted country in Asia, they hiked for eight hours in search of a village, but couldn’t find it. They were running low on water and the sun was setting.
Two hours later, they were completely out of water. “Suddenly we heard the voices of soldiers and the movement of artillery,” Ramsey recounts. They didn’t know if it might be government forces or insurgents, but neither one would be friendly to them.
Their Buddhist guide was visibly shaken and motioned for them to be quiet. They kept walking, knowing they were being followed. “I started watching for the laser dot on the guys’ backs,” Ramsey recalls. His feet were numb, but he didn’t know if it was from fear or exhaustion.
For a full 45 minutes, they could hear the unnerving sounds of rifles clattering, bolts engaging, artillery moving, and distinct consonant sounds from conversations.
Getting weaker and weaker, Ramsey determined to put one foot ahead of the other. They came to a clearing with a rice field and a dam at one end. There was no way back. They would have to cross the large open space, where they would be sitting ducks.
Ramsey sent up a quick prayer for protection. “God, you do your thing,” he prayed.
They crossed the rice field, walked on top of the dam, then slid down a steep embankment holding their backpacks. Somehow, they escaped detection by the military group following them.
When they got to the bottom of the hill, their Buddhist guide started jumping up and down and did a backflip. “I can’t believe you are still alive,” he said, pointing at Ramsey.
Later that night around the campfire, the guide turned to Ramsey and said, “Is this God you serve so powerful he can protect you from being seen by enemy soldiers?”
“That is the only thing that makes sense to me,” he said.