How God used sickness to call this couple to Bali

Caleb and Emily* are an answer to many years of prayer. They are the first missionaries sent to Bali by the Church Missionary Society, one of the leading evangelical mission agencies, whose leadership had been praying for gospel workers in Bali since the 90s.

Almost a year after the couple moved to the Indonesian island known primarily as a holiday resort, they are still pondering on how God got them there, but their commitment to seeing as many Balinese as possible come to know Jesus is rock solid.

“One of the things that a lot of people don’t realise is that the Balinese are an unreached people group. They’re between 0.16 and 0.18 per cent evangelisation,” says Caleb.

“It’s funny – we find that so many people come to Bali, but they often come with gospel blinkers on and they don’t remember that there’s gospel need, even in a beautiful place like Bali.”

Caleb and friend in Bali.

Bali was never on Caleb and Emily’s radar. Indonesia, yes, because Caleb is half-English, half-Indonesian, and Emily grew to love and appreciate the culture while learning the language at high school in Victoria.

“As I was broken down, it made me realise a lot of my deficiencies and shortcomings and somehow, in that space, God really spoke to me in fresh ways.”

After meeting while studying at Moore Theological College in Sydney, they joined a prayer group with three other couples who were committed to reaching local people as long-term missionaries in Indonesia. They made a short-term mission trip to a satellite city south of Jakarta with many university campuses and became excited about serving together there. While one of those couples now serves in a church in that city, Caleb and Emily’s plans were derailed by sickness.

“Halfway through college, I got really, really sick out of nowhere; I didn’t understand what it was,” says Caleb. “I went to about 13 specialists who could see that they were really serious symptoms, but none of them could understand what the underlying cause was. In the end, they just chalked it down to post-viral fatigue.”

In the midst of suffering a raft of painful, debilitating symptoms, and while he felt broken down and humbled, God turned everything around.

“Into that context, he put Bali in our hearts in an unexpected way … God just spoke to us. In the midst of that dark time of being really sick, God was very kind and humbling me,” says Caleb.

“In my background, there was a lot of intellectual pride that became theological pride. As I was broken down, it made me realise a lot of my deficiencies and shortcomings and somehow in that space, God really spoke to me in fresh ways. And there was a new intimacy with the Lord.”

“My biggest objection was, if there was a God and he knew me, he’d be very upset with me.”

At this point, it might be helpful to point out that Caleb grew up in Jakarta as a child of a mixed marriage but never learned to speak Indonesian at home or at his international school. His mum had come to faith in Jesus from a Muslim background – thanks to the witness of CMS missionaries – and had given Caleb a Bible when he went to study at university in London.

Balinese dancers at a ceremony.

“It was a really tough time for me and I was lonely, isolated and in a dark place,” Caleb recalls. “I felt hopeless and was fulfilling all sorts of desires in really bad ways – being a wild kid, taking lots of drugs with a bad crowd.

“I walked past a [university] chapel and thought, ‘I need to talk to God.’ It was a weird experience. I went in there, sat down in the front pew, was in tears and said, ‘God, I think you’re there, but I just need you to show me.’ God was very gracious. I walked home to my halls of residence and I picked up the blue Bible that my mum had given me but I had never bothered to read.

“The strangest thing, I just opened my Bible and it landed on Romans chapter 5 and my eyes just zoomed in on this one verse: ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ And I knew I was a Christian right there and then because my biggest objection was, if there was a God and he knew me, he’d be very upset with me. I always knew innately that there is a God and he’s a holy God. But I understood grace for the first time; that was the beginning of the journey, and I’m so very thankful.”

After working five years as a business and IT consultant in London, Caleb quit his job, did an internship at his church and discovered how much he enjoyed ministry. And through the witness of link missionaries conceived a clear vision of going back to Indonesia.

Emily, who came from a long line of relatives who were invested in mission, developed over many years a sense that Indonesia was where God wanted her to serve. When they decided on Bali, they were stoked to discover that Peter Rodgers (former international director of CMS Australia) and his wife Marcelle had been praying that there could be missionaries in Bali since their own service in Indonesia in the 1990s.

Balinese dancers at a ceremony,

With their first anniversary based in Bali coming up on 22 October, Caleb and Emily are still working hard at language and culture.

“We both had some language, but there are gaps, so we just want to get to a point where we can communicate really clearly,” explains Emily.

“And part of language learning has been culture learning. The Balinese Hindu worldview is just so completely different to the Christian worldview.”

“There are so many villages that have never heard the gospel here and that’s our beating heart.”

At the end of this year, Caleb and Emily will move from learning Indonesian to learning Balinese because they believe it’s important and worth the effort to get closer to the heart of the Balinese culture through their language.

Balinese musicians at a ceremony.

“Broadly speaking, we want to reach lost people, but we want to do it under Balinese leadership. So we’re not about having our own vision. We’re so thankful to God that there is a local church here. We really want to walk alongside them and come under their leadership and vision,” says Caleb.

“We’re at a phase where we want to learn from them. And then hopefully, in time, we want to channel all the ways that we have been trained and all the things that we have to offer, but we want to do that under their guidance and leadership, their cultural knowledge and awareness.

“There are so many villages that have never heard the gospel here and that’s our beating heart. Our heart is to work with local leadership to enter places where the gospel hasn’t been proclaimed and see where that takes us. We’d love to see churches planted across this island … The total population of the unreached in Indonesia is 187 million people – 187 million people will not hear the gospel unless we do something.”

*Names changed for security reasons.


Some prayer points to help

Pray for patience, perseverance and faithfulness as Caleb and Emily have faced many illnesses in their first year. “You miss the days when you were once effective and eloquent and able, and you feel the opposite of every single one of those words,” says Caleb.