By Bryan Hughes
Pastor Robert Kotmay works with Church of God Ministries missionaries Gary and Gwen Bistritan on the island of Yap. In a recent journey, Pastor Kotmay was to arrive on the outer island of Satawal, spend the afternoon and evening, get back on a small boat, and return to his home on Yap. Pastor Kotmay would travel a total of four weeks to spend just a few hours with two brothers from Satawal. The time was well worth the effort. What resulted from this brief meeting would change the lives of a people for eternity.
The islands of Yap and Satawal are part of a group of islands called the Federated States of Micronesia. Eight different islands in the Yap region are spread out over five hundred thousand square miles of ocean. Pastor Kotmany’s journey began a few months before when two brothers from Satawal traveled to the main island of Yap seeking medical treatment for someone who lived on Satawal. While visiting, their sister, a Christian, invited them to a Bible study. They went and soon gave their lives to Jesus. The brothers continued their study and began growing in their newfound faith.
When it was time to return home, they wanted to continue learning about God’s Word. With this goal, they began leading their own Bible study on Satawal. As attendance grew, the island chief became aware of the gathering and informed the brothers that they were not permitted to conduct such a meeting. The men responded. “If we are free to study the Bible on the main island, how come we are not permitted to study it here?”
The tribal elders gathered to discuss this quandary. The elders decided that if there was any trouble as a result of this new church, the brothers would be held responsible. As the brothers read the response from the council again, they realized what had happened. What they had been granted went beyond holding a Bible study. They had been given permission to start a church!
Overjoyed, they sent word back to Pastor Kotmay. The brothers requested more Bible study material and assistance in how to proceed. As Westerners, the Bistritans are not allowed to travel to any of the outer islands, so Pastor Kotmay traveled alone to meet with the men. He encouraged them and helped them develop a plan for the new church.
It has been less than a year since the church was launched, but God has already been moving. As the two brothers recently conducted a Christian funeral service on the island, they invited the family of the deceased to be a part of that evening’s Bible study. On an island with a population of slightly more than five hundred people, seventy-five came to the Bible study.
A new strategy for the outer-island ministry is now being initiated to serve the growing interest in Bible training and church leadership. Those who wish to expand their knowledge in these areas will be brought to the main island of Yap during the summer school break. The church and school on Yap will provide training and resource materials to be taken back to the outer islands for further teaching and for the spread of the gospel.
Additionally, a new coordinator for the outer-island ministry was recently chosen. James Hapdei is now on staff with the Yap Church of God. He will be making island journeys with his own boat to deliver waterproof Bibles and materials, as well as to provide training and encouragement to these new Christians. Organizations within the Church of God in the United States are coordinating efforts to provide him with an outboard motor and the waterproof Bibles.
Gary and Gwen Bistritan have been in awe of this amazing series of events. “For me this is very New Testament. While we have a plan for reaching out to the islands, this is all happening before the plan is even implemented.” Gary says. “God is moving ahead of us, and that is exciting.”