Things haven’t changed for an Asian missionary since she spoke with The Valdosta Daily Times five years ago regarding her work with the Valdosta-based international mission of the Mailbox Club.
If anything, her work distributing the children’s Christian literature in her native country has become more difficult.
As in March 2008, The Times agreed to let her use an assumed name of Sarah, which is different than the assumed Americanized name she uses for her Mailbox Club business which is different than her given Asian name. Sarah uses these assumed names to protect her identity from reprisals at home, an Asian country under totalitarian rule. Publishing her home nation could even put herself and her mission at risk.
Five years ago, The Times described Sarah’s work as sounding like something from a James Bond plot. She tells stories of barely escaping an undercover policeman posing as a taxi driver as authorities closed in on a meeting she had scheduled with Christian clergy.
Then, we described her as being a “Christian outlaw,” part of a Christian underground in a nation that is ruled by a totalitarian regime and is traditionally about 90 percent Buddhist. She is a representative of the Mailbox Club, a Valdosta-based organization that publishes Christian correspondence courses in 70-80 languages for an estimated 2.2 million children worldwide.
This week, sitting in the Mailbox Club’s Valdosta headquarters, Sarah says her work has become more difficult as her country’s government becomes more savvy in infiltrating emails, tracking websites and manipulating social media such as Facebook. Even hitting “Like” on a Facebook post which the government finds questionable can trigger a meeting with police, she says.
Marvin White, the Mailbox Club’s Asian liaison, says emails to Sarah can put her at risk. They send messages to one another through an intermediary who regularly travels between the U.S. and Sarah’s nation.
While the Mailbox Club often hosts large events when its American liaisons visit other countries, White and Sarah meet quietly, hiding in plain sight by discussing their mission, during his visits to her nation. Though a missionary, White regularly travels as a tourist in Sarah’s nation and in some other Asian locales.
Sarah’s paying job is as a teacher. She has volunteered as a Christian missionary associated with the Mailbox Club for 10 years. Her father is a pastor and the government has registered him as a known resister to the totalitarian rule.
Despite her decade distributing Mailbox Club literature to approximately 3,000 children mostly in the hill country and working with pastors, she has never been caught by the government, never tagged for questioning.
“It seems I have been supernaturally protected by God that my ID has not been revealed,” Sarah says.
There have been many close calls. The time she arrived at a location to meet a pastor but instead encountered two undercover police officers who watched Sarah for 30 minutes. When no one arrived to meet her, the officers left. A minute later, the pastor arrived, running late for their meeting.
Printing the Mailbox Club’s lessons within her country requires deft tactics. As soon as the pamphlets are published, she must move them immediately without causing a stir. Allowing the printed materials to sit for too long in one location endangers the entire operation.
Then, there’s the more recent incident of the pastors meeting and the undercover police taxi driver. She and a few associates traveled to a city to negotiate cooperation between the region’s pastors of differing Christian denominations. In this particular area, the city’s government keeps a tight grip on religious expression.
She held a brief meeting with one pastor. Returning to her hotel, the pastor called. The taxi driver had worked with the police. The pastor told Sarah that police were visiting him.
After the call, she told her associates they needed to leave immediately. They packed within two minutes, but Sarah encountered possible delays arranging transportation for their departure. There was not enough seats for Sarah and her three associates to leave immediately.
“I said give me eight seconds,” Sarah recounts, hoping to quickly decide what to do next. “I don’t know why I said, give me eight seconds, but eight seconds later, the seats were available.”
With the pastor unable to remember Sarah and her associates’ names, they escaped undetected.
Since arriving this past Sunday in Valdosta, one South Georgian explained to her that eight seconds is the time a rider must stay on a bull for a rodeo ride to be scored. Sarah likes the comparison.
She will stay in Valdosta throughout the week. She was scheduled to visit Westside Baptist Church Wednesday evening. She is scheduled to visit Benevolence Baptist Church Saturday and meet with several Crossroads Baptist Church Sunday school classes Sunday morning.
From Valdosta, she will visit other U.S. locations before returning home. Sarah regularly travels, so her visit to the Mailbox Club and Valdosta should not set off alarms with officials at home.
Yet, many of her friends wonder why she returns home. Some who are aware of her underground Christian mission wonder why she would risk being caught, interrogated by police, have her movements tracked, and possibly imprisoned if her activities continued. Why not stay away, live in America or somewhere else overseas?
Sarah returns home because she believes her country has the potential to change, possibly within the next generation. She believes she can be a part of that change.
“What I do is not by choice,” Sarah says. “It is my calling.”
To learn more about the Mailbox Club or donate to its missions: Call (229) 244-6812; or visit www.mailboxclub.org.