“People told me I was crazy to come here!” She answered God’s call and found herself in jail in a foreign country
Karen Tan // January 7, 2021, 6:11 pm
She was more than 12,000 km away from her home in the United States and was charged for a crime that she did not commit. Yet God's grace would show itself for the next 30 years in her pioneering work. Photo by Laurentiu Morariu on Unsplash.
Elisabeth Cochrane was only 22 when she was thrown into jail in a third-world Asian country*.
She was more than 12,000 km away from her home in the United States and was charged for a crime that she did not commit.
“It was a very small jail cell, we slept on the floor.”
She was put behind bars together with her team members – eight other foreigners and five locals. The team from a global mission movement was accused of proselytising and killing a cow.
The penalty was a three-year term in prison.
On both charges, the team pleaded not guilty but the police were adamant.
The villagers they were visiting were already Christians and the team was only there to teach. As for butchering an animal, they did not even have the expertise to do so.
Elisabeth, better known as Lis to friends, remembers with vivid details: “It was a very small jail cell, we slept on the floor and were almost touching each other. Almost every day we had to walk in handcuffs to the courts.”
From call to grace
Lis’ journey to the Indian subcontinent in 1982 was an answer to God’s call.
“I had a word from the Lord from Esther 1.1:“This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush.”
“Many times you’re not understood because you’re starting something new, so people were wondering, ‘Why are you doing this?'”
“That verse mentioned the Indian subcontinent. It was a word for me to go. I also had other confirmations.”
To this day, Lis keeps her first pioneering stint that happened almost 40 years ago close to her heart.
“When I started in that country, many people told me that it was crazy.
“Many times you’re not understood because you’re starting something new, so people were wondering, ‘Why are you doing this?’ And sometimes you can’t convince them.
“If you feel it is of God and have received a confirmation, with that comfort, you just need to move forward and keep going.
“And I also tell God that if it’s not from Him, to shut all the doors.
“But when God calls you, He gives you grace.”
Lock-up that opened doors
As a young adult coming to Asia for the first time, Lis had not expected to have a brush with the law.
“For three days he walked around the city praying, ‘Lord, who should I speak to, who should I tell?’”
“When we were thrown into jail, we told one of the locals in the village to go to the capital city to get help.
“But we gave him the wrong piece of paper, so for three days he walked around the city praying, ‘Lord, who should I speak to, who should I tell?’
“He was about to give up when somebody who had been from the village 10 years ago recognised him.
“He told the woman the whole story. She in turn told a missionary from our organisation who happened to be meeting the American ambassador the next day, and the missionary told the diplomat about us!”
Help arrived at the nick of time, just when the team members were being pressured to sign papers which would have gotten them locked away for three years.
Little did they realise then that the lock-up would help open doors.
“Because of our court case, our governments got involved, which helped put pressure on the local authorities. The laws were then changed and, for many years after, there was relative freedom for foreigners like myself.”
Not a moment to miss home
After the initial brush with the law, Lis plunged straight into work.
“When I came, I didn’t have a moment to miss home.
“I couldn’t call home because it was very hard to make any phone call. We didn’t have Internet then. It encouraged me to make friends with the local people and to adjust to the culture here faster,” she said.
“I think these days, because of the Internet, it’s probably harder to adapt locally because you’ll always be connected back home, and in a way it’s harder to make a break with home.”
“Perseverance is very good to have as a pioneer in the field. You also need to be a Jack-of-all-trades.”
Lis spent an initial five years stabilising the work in the country and establishing training schools for the locals.
“My focus was on training and raising up the locals. We needed to empower them by training, giving opportunities and encouraging them because they have the local connections,” she said.
When the work was stable, she moved on to pioneer other works in the subcontinent together with her husband, a fellow American missionary she got to know on the subcontinent.
God’s grace would continue to unfold in all Lis’ subsequent ministries.
She pioneered training schools for the locals with a team. Today the international missions organisation she is a part of has 400 local missionaries with projects in 13 locations in the country.
This year, they will have 31 local discipleship training schools that will reach 120,000 locals.
This growth has come from more than three decades of perseverance.
“Perseverance is very good to have as a pioneer in the field,” Lis said with a smile. “You also need to be a Jack-of-all-trades because you might not have the worship leader or you might not have an accountant. You have to be willing to do all the different jobs.
“I have many brothers, sisters, and spiritual children here. This culture is very loving and honouring.”
“And of course it wasn’t just me. It’s important to have a team. So you can pray together, to focus not on the problems, but on God’s vision of what He wants to accomplish, because there will always be problems.”
She has lived more than half her life in Asia, leaving the comforts of home to reach a people group she did not know.
This is where she now calls home, a place and people she has grown to love and appreciate.
“I have many brothers, sisters, and spiritual children here. This culture is very loving and honouring. That’s an added blessing,” she said.
Despite her many years in Asia, she is still committed to bringing the Gospel to those who have yet to hear of God’s love.
“The church is called to go into the world to preach the Gospel. (Matthew 28:16-20) Yet I have been to many places where people still have no idea that there is a loving God who died for them.
“When you keep obeying God, He can make growth happen. It has been very fulfilling to see that my one life has affected so many others.”
*The name of the country has been withheld for security reasons.