Danger, Trials, and Triumphs of a Missionary Family

Interview: Danger, Trials, and Triumphs of a Missionary Family

Rhonda RobinsonBy Rhonda Robinson20 Minutes

Rhonda Robinson interviews missionary wife and author Carolyn Searls about her debut book, The Crash of the Dragonfly:Unbelievable Trials Lead to Unimaginable Blessings.

Rhonda Robinson: When did you know that you were called to go into the mission field?

Carolyn Searls: It was March 31st, 1974. We were attending a missions conference in our home church and we had housed a missionary in our home for the week. That evening he was preaching. And through that entire week of the conference, the Lord had been giving us little nudges here and there about what missionary life would be like. And I thought, Oh, I could never live the way these missionaries live. Plus, I’m not spiritual enough to be a missionary. But Sunday night when this missionary spoke, the Lord definitely called my husband and myself at the same time and impressed strongly on our hearts that he wanted us to surrender to missionary work. So we did.

RR: Where were you in your Christian walk at that time? Meaning, were you a mature Christian? You heard his call, but had you already prepared for that call to missionary service?

Carolyn: No, not in the least. We hadn’t even considered missionary work. We were 24 years old. We were adults when we were saved. We learned that the Lord will take you through many different paths to prepare you for the work he wants you to accomplish.

He doesn’t call you and then just set you on the field. But he lovingly and patiently works in your heart. So you come to a place where you can really trust him with everything, because that’s what it takes really to go to a foreign field and work with people in a culture you’re unfamiliar with, you have to know how to trust him in the unknowns.

RR: What did you expect your missionary training would be?

Carolyn: I had no idea. I knew that my husband had to get his aviation license because we felt strongly led into that aviation ministry in missions. So, we started out in college training for the technical aspect of our ministry. We didn’t realize that the Lord would definitely be leading us to the jungles, to tribal people. Well we ended up on a very remote Island called Palawano in the Philippines.

And at that time, it was very underdeveloped and very backwards. There was a lot of satanic influence. Satan had a lot of control over people’s lives through fear.  And I remember the week before we left for training, I asked myself, how do you train to reach tribes with the gospel?

I found out. You are taken through a series of learning how things that teach you how to do without. And are you okay with living with less? Can you survive without running water and, you know, rationing your water?Can you shoot a rifle? Can you kill a chicken and prep it for the table for consumption?

Just some real basic training that way. And then with the Word we were given papers to write like doctrinal papers. Did we have a knowledge of the scriptures that we could use to draw others to Christ? So that was the training, very practical and very needed.

RR: Was there ever a time when you thought your life threatened?

Carolyn: Oh yes. Before we even went to the field, I had a real fear of Rick dying on the mission field because the first book I read about missions was the book about Jim Elliot being martyred. His wife, Elizabeth wrote that, and it just pierced my soul clear through. And I thought, Oh, I don’t know if I could handle that if I lost Rick on the mission field.

So the Lord had to take us through a series of months where my husband could not get out of bed. He was so ill, there was never a medical reason for his illness. Cleveland clinic diagnosed it as a lack of enzymes that the pancreas would produce. I had to come to grips with the fact that the Lord is my husband as Isaiah 54 reminds me, and that the Lord would take care of me and that I needed to wrap my life in Christ more. Because he was the one that could see me through this life.

My husband is my right arm, my strong power, my support, my cheerleader. He’s, you know, what husbands are. But yet, I had to learn couldn’t rest the dependence of my life, upon him. That had to be guarded by Christ. When I could put my faith in Christ for my life and for our children’s lives, then I could go to the field. Then I could face whatever happened there, I was able to handle by the grace of God. Because I’d seen back in the States before we ever went overseas, that the Lord is the one who protects us. And that safety is of him.

When we were on the field, we were held up at gunpoint by Muslim rebels. My husband was badly overdosed on malaria medication that should have killed him. We have three children, and our middle son ended up with falciparum malaria. Our older son had a stroke and our daughter ended up with pre signs of tuberculosis.

You wouldn’t even know that a thing happened to any of us because today the children are all fine. They’re married with children and they’re all happy in their churches. And Rick is still alive and well. The Lord is faithful, what can I say? You can trust Him.

RR: What would be the most miraculous salvation that you were privileged to see?

Carolyn: They were all miraculous. They really were in their own right. I guess the one that’s talked about the most, and I mentioned it in my book, The Crash of the Dragonfly, I talk about Grecko.

Grecko was a witch doctor. He had given his life to Satan. Because he thought it would give him more power for healing. So whenever he was witnessed to, with the gospel, he didn’t think God would save him because he had already given himself to Satan. He had heard about God and he had heard about Satan and he worshiped Satan because, in his thinking, God was so far away in space out there somewhere that he wouldn’t really care what went on in this world and in this life.

So they worshiped Satan because he was here on earth and he was a mover and shaker. He could bless their crops or cause their crops to fail. He could give them good health or he could give them bad health. So they were always doing rituals and seance healing ceremonies to try to appease the spirits.

After he was witnessed to, and given a copy of a Bible, he read it. Through reading that Bible, and the testimony of pastor Joe Melockco, our coworker, (who became the senior pastor of our mission work) he trusted Christ as his savior. He didn’t know that there was a savior.

So when he found out that God had provided a savior, he decided he wanted to give his life to Jesus Christ and take him as his personal savior. And ever since he has done that, his life hasn’t been easy. He’s been really persecuted from his family and his brothers and sister.

But he said, I can’t deny my Lord. You know, I know the Lord. And no matter what happens to this body, it doesn’t matter because I’ll be with the Lord. And then he looks at them and says, where will you be? And of course they don’t know. His life has been threatened many times. And this last time he expected to be killed.

And he told a young man that’s preaching in the church, that we helped start out, in his remote tribal village. He said, I don’t care what happens to my life. If I am killed, I want you to promise me that you will continue to preach the gospel to my people. But he’s still alive today too.

So threats, empty threats. You know, our lives are kept in God’s hand until it’s our time to go home to glory.

RR: Your book is titled The Crash of the Dragonfly: Unbelievable Trials Lead to Unimaginable Blessings. So please tell us how you arrived at the title and subtitle?

Carolyn: My husband used to fly his Piper Super Cub into mountainous villages. They lined the whole middle of the Island of Palawan. He would fly supplies and medicine into them. He would take the tribal people to the doctor in town. If they decided to go to a doctor. Because a lot of them believed in using the witch doctor.

But in those mountain villages, the airstrips were just carved out of the mountains. And even our airstrip in the lowlands was just grass. But it was maintained very well, because you have to have a very smooth surface to fly on. Well, in the mountains, this one particular airstrip was more dangerous than others. Rick had to land the airplane at just the right angle because he had to land on a hill, the side of a mountain and taxi up to the top of that mountain to a flat land to stop the plane there.

There was a Philippine missionary that was living there, trying to help this tribe come to an understanding of how to be saved. The missionary was able to speak English and explained to Rick that the people don’t know what to call the airplane. So they call it “tutubi.” And tutubi, is the Palowano word for dragonfly. When the plane would come in, Rick could see the tribal people running to the airstrip and shouting “tutubi is coming tutubi is coming.”

The tribal people kept the airstrip maintained so the plane could land safely. That morning there was a rut in the ground that Rick missed on landing, but he did not miss it on takeoff. His wheels got stuck in the rut and he went off the side of the cliff into a canyon and crashed.The tribal people were just scared to death. But he walked away from a plane crash that should have killed him.

It was through that plane crash that God gave birth to our church. We called it Brookes Pointe Bible church. And now we have 13 other churches and we have an evangelistic team that goes hiking in the mountains where nobody’s ever been with the gospel. We went up to one tribe there last year, they said they didn’t even know there was a heaven or hell. They had never heard of Jesus, and they’d never heard anything about it.

So now we’re getting ready to plant a church in that tribe for them. We have a Bible school now, too, that trains people in how to reach these tribes. We also have a radio ministry and it’s reaching in five different towns up and down the Island. Fortunately God had blessed two of Malacao children with the ability to know mass communications. And so, through this pandemic, when our church was shut down over there, they had everything in place to do the video of the service every week, every morning, every evening. And so over a thousand hits have been made into the services to listen to it by air. We’ve actually been able to reach more people through the pandemic than we would’ve reached, perhaps without it.

Then we also have our own mission board where we send people that God calls out from our local church into the mountains. And we’ve been down in Balabac, which it’s a hundred percent Muslim and is surrounded by crocodiles. The little round Island. Not even industry will go in there. Nobody will start a business there. There’s nothing there, but people just waiting to die. And our team trusted the Lord to cross the river of crocodiles and go to the Island, hop on a motorcycle, and go to these villages and give the gospel. One of the men that they talked with said, “thank you for giving us hope.”

Because they don’t have any.

Our youth camp is extremely active and productive with people being young, people being saved. And some of the leaders of our church today have been saved in those camps. We started a Bible translation too.

RR: There’s a lot of exciting things that has come from you and your husband answering that call to missionary life, so I can see how it would be really hard to rank them. Tell us about the Bible translation.

Carolyn: We found out through preaching the Bible, that we used back in the eighties, there was a lot of changes. That the Bible was changed in the different translation of it to suit the culture of the Philippines. Rather than just translating it from the Greek text and making it stay and the Hebrew text too, and making it purely just what it says.

If there was something that was contradictory to their culture, they just changed the wording of the verse. Therefore, we needed a Bible we could rely on to give to the people. Because it’s like, did they believe the Bible? Or did they believe what the pastor’s telling them? I mean, that’s not the choices you want them to have to make.

So long story short, we got in touch with Bibles International. Our home church in Zanesville, Ohio helped us contact them. And they did a survey and agreed to do a Bible translation for us. Currently we’re just finishing up with the second revision of it. And we are told there’ll be a dedication service of the new revision in the Philippines next year. So we’re excited for that too.

All we have to do is cling to him. And wow. The results for one person that would just trust Him and let Him have their life. There’s no limit to what He wants to accomplish through their lives. And the thing is He gets glory, but you get a lot of happy joy.

RR: And quite the adventure.

Carolyn: It’s an adventure. It’s like you’re sitting back almost and watching God work and do all these marvelous things that are impossible. You have no idea how big His plans are, but as you just take one step, you don’t have to run the race, just take one step with Him each day, by faith, and see what He has. It’s amazing.

Order your copy of  The Crash of the Dragonfly: Unbelievable Trials Lead to Unimaginable Blessings by Carolyn Searls