This book, written by a missions journalist as he traveled throughout 20 different countries, highlights the lives of Christians past and present whose examples of endurance, courage, sacrifice, and humility will connect readers with God’s unstoppable work across the world.
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About the Author
Tim Keesee is the founder and executive director of Frontline Missions International, which has served to advance the gospel in some of the world’s most difficult places for over twenty-five years. He has traveled to more than eighty countries, reporting on the church from the former Iron Curtain countries to war-torn Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Keesee is the executive producer of the DVD documentary series Dispatches from the Front. Learn more at frontlinemissions.info.
Read an Excerpt
Sayid, Aaron, and Jillian (North Africa)
"So I say this very sobering word: God's plan is that his saving purpose for the nations will triumph through the suffering of his people, especially his frontline forces who break through the darkness of Satan's blinding hold on an unreached people."
"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God." (Phil. 1:27–28)
"The more you mow us down, the more we grow. The blood of Christians is seed." Tertullian, a North African Christian, penned that famous taunt around the year 200. All-powerful Rome was waging a bloody campaign against Christians — a defenseless, vulnerable minority, law-abiding in all things save the worship of the emperor. It was the most uneven contest imaginable — like lambs among wolves. Yet, Tertullian pointed out that it wasn't working. Despite Rome's best efforts to stamp out this infant movement, Christians continued to multiply. With a nice touch of derision, he added, "We have filled all the places that belong to you — cities, islands, forts, towns, exchanges; the military camps themselves, tribes, town councils, the palace, the senate, the marketplace; we have left you nothing but your temples."
Steady, pervasive growth and intense persecution characterized the church in North Africa during Christianity's early centuries — and it's a good description of the church in North Africa today. Rome couldn't stop the gospel's advance then, and radical Islam can't now. That's not to say things are easy. It's a nearly 100 percent Muslim region that stretches from Libya to Morocco, and one of its chief exports in recent years has been fighters for the armies of ISIS, most coming from Tunisia and Morocco. In short, the spiritual darkness and physical danger faced by Christians here is real, but Jesus is calling and positioning messengers throughout the region to "go, stand and speak ... all the words of this life" (Acts 5:20 KJV).
I want to introduce you to several such messengers in North Africa: Sayid, Aaron, and Jillian. Their courage — or better to say, the way they face fear and overcome it — has been a strong example to me. Their obedience is Christlike, for it has cost them much. Death threats, painful betrayals, jail bars, and the daily demands of disciple-making have all been part of that obedience. But in their obedience to keep going, standing, and speaking, my friends have seen new life springing up from hard ground.
Aaron told me one of the passages that has given him hope to endure despite setbacks and his own weakness is the parable of the farmer scattering seed. It's a window into how Christ is building his church in North Africa. Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come" (Mark 4:26–29). The "seed" is the Word of God, the life-giving message of the gospel. Even though the farmer can't make the seed grow, he still has a vital part to play in planting abundantly.
The parable ends swiftly. In the weeks leading up to the harvest, time slows, like the mocking monotony of a ticking clock. The farmer pushes on in hope, but weighed down by work and waiting, and days so ordinary you could miss the opportunity in them. But then life stirs from the ground, and when it's full and fruitful, then the harvest is gathered.
Atlas Mountains, Somewhere South of Fez, Morocco
January 10, 2014
A coal fire glows orange and hot in the smoky corner of this little village house somewhere in the Atlas Mountains. Supper is done; tea has been poured. I'm sitting on a sheepskin, bundled against the chill air, along with two Berber families, who are listening and questioning intently as my friends share good news with them in Arabic. And since I can't contribute to the conversation, I'll just drink in the tea and the warmth and scribble a few lines.
Set out from Casablanca early for the drive to this mountain village, the ancestral home of a Moroccan brother named Sayid. He and our friends, Aaron and Jillian, are letting me travel with them in this corner of North Africa along the western edges of the Sahara. Aaron and Jillian have served Christ in this region for nearly a decade. I love this couple's simple trust in their God's sovereign care and control in all things, even when — especially when — things are out of their control. In their straightforward obedience to go and make disciples in hostile territory, they don't overanalyze or overestimate what can't be done. Rather, they focus on what can be done — and do it.
It's clear that Aaron and Jillian have a complete partnership, sharing in all the highs and lows of ministry here. Beneath Jillian's petite 5'2" stature is a woman of grit and grace. In ten years of marriage, she and Aaron have lived in twelve houses on three continents. But she's not just following her husband on this journey — she is following Christ. The Lord has used Jillian to lead many daughters of Mohammed to the Savior.
Sayid was the first fruit of Aaron's disciple-making ministry in North Africa — a beautiful beginning, for Sayid is himself a disciple-maker now. Sayid speaks Arabic as well as his Berber dialect but no English. And my Arabic is confined to what halting baby talk I can conjure out of my little Lonely Planet phrasebook. But Sayid was delighted that I had learned qahua, the Arabic word for "coffee." When we stopped for a bite to eat, Sayid was eager to introduce me to Moroccan coffee called nous-nous, Arabic for "half-half." It is a perfect parfait — rich espresso topped with frothed cream and served in a shot glass.
Our road took us into the foothills of the Atlas range, and we broke up the long, cramped drive at Volubilis — the ruins of what was once an important Roman city on the edge of the empire. While exploring, I came across mosaics that were nearly two thousand years old. The images of lions and leopards are reminders that one of Volubilis's chief exports was wild animals for the gladiator games in the arenas of Carthage and Rome. It seems that because of its remoteness, Volubilis became something of a city of refuge for persecuted Christians in the late Roman period — and remained a center of Christianity until the early 700s, when Islamic armies put this city under the sword.
It was good to share the time together and to climb the ruins and imagine the Roman legions that once marched here. But daylight soon slipped away, and I had to make a reluctant retreat because we still had a lot of road ahead of us.
Reached Sayid's village after nightfall. His family welcomed us to their home, a typical Moroccan village house with thick mud-walled rooms flanking a courtyard open to the stars. Aaron and Jillian have visited Sayid's family often, but the fact that this time the women allowed Jillian to help in the kitchen was something of a breakthrough in their letting her enter their lives; so Jillian happily pitched in with Amina and Aziza as they prepared couscous. This meal is practically a sacrament here among the Berbers. We feasted together on the couscous, along with bread as big as a drumhead, called hobs beldi, and washed it down with continuous cups of mint tea.
Afterwards, we gathered around a little coal stove, the only heat source outside of the kitchen's earth oven. For the past hour, Sayid has been witnessing to his sister, sister-in-law, brother, and nephews. Aaron also shares of Christ in Arabic, and Sayid takes the message further in their Berber dialect, for Sayid and his family are Berber of the a-Mazighri, a family of North African tribes that stretch from here to Libya. Sayid is the only Christian in his family, the only Christian in his hometown. Together they spoke with compassion and urgency of Christ alone — until the last of the fire, the last of the day.
January 11, 2014
I woke this morning in Sayid's village with the help of a pesky rooster. The air was cold, and in the distance morning light fingered through a gray sky and touched the distant mountains. In the early light, I found Sayid out sitting near the well drinking in the Word. This is his source. This is what fuels his endurance, his preaching, his counsel, his heart. Sayid has been in the faith for six years. Before that, he was a brick mason with a fifth-grade education. But during these six years, Sayid has walked with the Lord and filled his days and his heart with God's Word. I thought of the passage in Jeremiah, "Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name" (Jer. 15:16).
Before setting out for Casablanca, we had a visit from the local police chief. His name was Hussein, but I prefer to call him Barney Fife. It seems that since Sayid was arrested three years ago for the "crime" of sharing the gospel, the police try to keep track of him whenever they can. It was just a routine hassle. Barney was just doing his job — and to have a real, live ex-con in town along with several of his foreign accomplices likely spiced up an otherwise boring beat. Barney called in our names and passport numbers to the police headquarters in Fez; so while he finished up the report, we took a walk.
For Sayid this place holds many emotions. This is the mountainside where he was born, and from the mosque in the center of the village to every house and footpath in between, this is home. Here he first tasted new life in Christ. Here he first felt the sharp slap of rejection, but also here he first embraced the fellowship of suffering with the One who also came to his own, and his own received him not.
What's clear is when Christ lit the candle of Sayid's life, he couldn't conceal it. "A city set on a hill cannot be hid." The day Sayid was baptized, he sent a group message to over one hundred people — everyone in his phone contact list! It said simply, "Walit Masihi" (I have become a Christian). In this country, this was like asking to be killed, but Sayid did not have a death wish — he has a living hope. In fact, his old life was the real death sentence. Now in Christ he has never been more alive — Sayid has a life that no man can ever take away!
My brothers have taught me so much about fear and faith and risk. Aaron told me that when Sayid was put in jail three years ago, Aaron was in the grip of fear over it. He said that for him the only way to break fear's chokehold was to pray and then go out immediately and tell someone about Jesus — and so that's what Aaron did. In the name of Jesus, demons are cast out — and in the name of Jesus, fear is cast out too.
After the police report was completed, we said our goodbyes to Sayid's family and set out for Casablanca. Made good time on the unusually fine roads here and reached Casablanca by early afternoon. Gathered for worship with the house church that Sayid pastors. Before the fellowship around the Word, though, we had fellowship around the table. It was an amazing meal called pastille. It's a perfect pie of honey, almonds, caramelized onions, and pulled chicken, infused with a baker's dozen spices from saffron to cinnamon, all in a flaky, crunchy crust. We made short work of this Moroccan manna!
After our meal, one of the brothers shared his testimony. Kamal's first exposure to the gospel was through Christian satellite TV. The one thing that stood out to him was hearing Christians praying for all people — whereas a Muslim's standard prayer was for Allah to kill all non-Muslims. He saw a way of love and grace that led straight to Christ. He said the word salvation appears nowhere in the Koran, whereas the Bible is all about salvation. So Kamal believed on Jesus, the Messiah, and prayed to him in the only place he knew to pray — the mosque! He had never met another Christian, until one day at the café where he was a waiter he greeted a man with the salutation "peace and grace." The standard Arabic greeting is usually only salam (peace), but Kamal said "peace and grace." This man, whose name was Mohammed and who also was a believer, said, "Are you a Christian?" Kamal said he was and that he prayed to Christ in the mosque. Mohammed said, "No. You don't need to go to the mosque to pray. You can pray anywhere, anytime because Christ is in you. And you don't need to clean yourself by the ceremonial washing because Christ has forever washed you by his blood." Later these two new-found brothers baptized each other in the ocean near Casablanca.
Kamal's brother-in-law, Hasan, also shared his story. When the September 11 attacks occurred in the United States and thousands of innocent people were murdered in the name of Islam, he rejected Islam in his heart. Later, when Kamal shared Christ with him, Hasan immediately believed the gospel!
It was beautiful to see not just solitary believers but families — husbands, wives, children — worshiping Christ together. I felt like I saw twenty centuries slip away and was seeing a page from the book of Acts lived out.
After the testimonies and Sayid's message, they sang with much joy — and I was finally able to join in. I couldn't sing in Arabic, but I can clap in Arabic! As the psalmist said, "Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!" (Ps. 47:1). And so we did. Singing songs of redeeming, steadfast love. Light has dawned! The Son has risen!
January 12, 2014
Up early for the drive to the bus station to send off two Peruvian missionaries. Aaron calls Cesar and Joel the "Gospel Pilgrims." About a year ago Aaron sent out an appeal to his friends in Peru for two men to come help him and Sayid respond to the thousands of requests for Bibles that they receive each year. Aaron said, "Send me two men who have a reputation for evangelism." Cesar, a youth pastor, and Joel, an assistant pastor, responded. With the blessing of their churches, they were sent to people who have never once heard the gospel, seen a Bible, or met a Christian. Aaron and Sayid have poured much prayer and preparation to get Cesar and Joel to this day. These two Peruvians are reminders to me that missions is no longer from "the West to the rest." As Christ is bringing men and women to himself from every nation, so he is also sending them out to every nation!
Joel and Cesar are headed south, deep into the Atlas range to personally respond to requests for New Testaments and to share the gospel along the way to whoever will listen. Sitting in on their briefings the other day as they spread out a map on the floor and went over the routes and logistics, I thought of something Ernie Pyle wrote in a wartime dispatch: "A map is as common a piece of equipment among front-line officers as a steel helmet." Maps and missions have gone together, I imagine, since Paul and Barnabas spread out a leather one. It's the geography of kingdom advance, where vision, prayer, and shoe leather come together.
Cesar and Joel have six months of Arabic language study, a backpack of New Testaments, and a joyful confidence in Christ their captain. Like soldiers advancing, Cesar and Joel have no idea where they will spend the night. All they know is that Jesus is in them and with them and for them — and that's enough. So in Spanish, English, and Arabic, we prayed over them, recalling David's praise in Psalm 140:7: "O Lord, my Lord, the strength of my salvation, you have covered my head in the day of battle." God, go before my brothers. Strengthen their hearts for the unknown days, the uncertain nights.
Aaron seemed deep in thought after our goodbyes. He told me that in times like this there's a constant battle in his heart "between the words of fear and the words of God."
Went back to Aaron and Jillian's home afterwards. This is a morning to rest and repack, getting ready for the long road to Marrakesh and beyond. Jillian made up a fine French press, and we had coffee and a chance to talk about her own journey of faith and fear and surpassing grace.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Company of Heroes"
Copyright © 2019 Tim Keesee.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Tim Challies 11
1 Facing Fear: Sayid, Aaron, and Jillian (North Africa) 23
2 The Glory of the Cross: Samuel Zwemer (Bahrain and Jerusalem) 43
3 The Character for Bravery: Mei Li (China) 57
4 Mercy. Multiplied.: Michael Alemu (Ethiopia) 75
5 A Hero in the Battle of Life: Carl Keesee (Danville, Virginia) 91
6 Rise and Fight Again: Ivan and Oksana (Central Asia) 99
7 Shepherds: Danny Brooks (Salt Lake City, Utah) 111
8 Torn Curtain: Roger Weil (London and Leningrad) 129
9 White Rose: Dollie Jones Keesee (Danville, Virginia) 137
10 Cell 44: Georgi Vins (Soviet Union) 143
11 Martyrdom of Faithful: Gayle and Cheryl (Afghanistan) 157
12 Incurable Optimism: Dave and Gloria (Arabian Peninsula) 173
13 "He Showed Them His Hands": Jakob (Syria and Armenia) 191
14 Things as They Are: Amy Carmichael and William Carey (India) 205
15 The Broken Sword: Jon Wesley and Sarah (Indonesia) 221
16 Asian Is on the Move: Micah and Katie (Oxford, England) 237
17 End of the Road: JD Crowley (Cambodia, Laos) 251
What People are Saying About This
“I have so enjoyed reading Tim Keesee’s books. He is truly a ‘frontlines’ brother in Christ who tells it like it is on the battlefield / mission field.”
Joni Eareckson Tada, Founder, Joni and Friends
“Tim Keesee is both a master storyteller and faithful theologian. Each page is a poetic narrative of faith, hardship, and Jesus building his world through weak and ordinary people. A Company of Heroes pulses with the resolute energy of God’s saving love. Keesee writes, ‘In the name of Jesus, demons are cast outand in the name of Jesus, fear is cast out.’ That God himself saves you from the fear of man just might be the most misunderstood reality of the modern church. The love of Christ and the perseverance of the saints together will subdue forces of evil and change the course of history. This book represents a poetic collaboration of Keesee and a modern-day great cloud of witnesses, and each chapter displays the highest achievement of missionary valor. All Christians should read this book.”
Rosaria Butterfield, Former Professor of English, Syracuse University; author, The Gospel Comes with a House Key
“Tim Keesee’s journals bring to light stories of mercy, endurance, and audacity. The heroes in this book are the hands and feet of Jesushands scarred and stained by service and feet that go to hard places with the gospel message that shatters darkness and sets captives free.”
Jim DeMint, former United States senator; Chairman, Conservative Partnership Institute
“One of the greatest joys of being a pastor is hearing people tell me their stories of God’s grace in their lives. A Company of Heroes is a book of stories of the amazing grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of faithful servants of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their stories help us to know we’re not alone, and they help us to remember that our lives and our stories are not worthless or meaningless if we are living for God’s glory and not our own.”
Burk Parsons, Senior Pastor, St. Andrew’s Chapel, Sanford, Florida; Editor, Tabletalk
“Peopling that great heavenly choir is among the missionary’s greatest motivations. Tim Keesee compels us to sit at the feet of this great cloud of witnesses by presenting a kaleidoscope of missionary lives. From mosques to Mormonsfrom first world to thirdhe urges us to lock shields with the great soldiers and choristers of the past and present. In A Company of Heroes, Keesee writes brilliantly as a reporter and lover of gospel advance.”
Paul Schlehlein, missionary church planter, South Africa; author, John G. Paton: Missionary to the Cannibals of the South Seas