In a region that is home to nearly half of the world's poor, missionaries Paul Richardson and his wife, Cynthia, have brought hope and a future, working to provide quality education, shelter and care for a community stricken with abandoned and orphaned children.
As Richardson and his family began to settle down in Compton, Calif., he and his wife received a calling from God and they were led to return to his hometown, a small village on the Island Irian Jaya, Indonesia.
They arrived in the Muslim-majority country to find a generation "as lost as you can imagine."
"HIV/AIDS is spreading there more rapidly than almost anywhere in the world, a lot of the streets and cities are ruled by violent gangs, there's a tremendous amount of drug abuse and alcoholism and there is illiteracy, a lack of skills," said Richardson, director of Mustard Seed Southeast Asia.
But what was most shocking upon returning to the land where his parents served as missionaries was the extent to which the society had fallen to within two generations.
"During the 1960s to 1970s there were as many as 1,400 missionaries who moved there. They did an amazing work and they accomplished a miraculous level of ministry to the extent that about 80 percent of the population, at least in name, claimed to follow Christ," he said.
"As an adult I have a chance to go back to that same island … and what I see there, to be completely truthful, has been very shocking to me."
Richardson could only conclude that Christian education was not a part of the strategy most of these missionaries used, instead focusing exclusively on church planting.
"In missions we are responsible to do far more than just start churches but we are to unleash a movement of discipleship in the young and instill this as a core value in the hearts and the minds of anyone who chooses to follow Jesus," he stressed.
Mustard Seed Southeast Asia is currently involved with approximately 3,000 children across the region, working with indigenous leaders, other local teachers and the government to equip and mentor them with hopes they will rise up as the future leaders of the world.
The ministry has attracted teachers from all the over country – including many Muslims who teach at schools discouraging freedom of expression, while pushing for conformity – to participate in training programs.
"We have increasing influence amongst many Islamic teachers and just helping to set them free as teachers and discover God's creativity in the classroom," Richardson explained.
"They can feel there is something different, there is something beautiful. [They] see how children are happy and full of joy and eagerness to come to school."
Richardson is the author of A Certain Risk: Living Your Faith at the Edge, a book he says "reveals to the reader in a very tangible way what it means to live by faith."
"One of the main themes that runs through the book from start to finish is an image of stepping forward to an edge, sort of like an edge of a cliff … and God is beckoning us and calling us to leap and jump into Him and trust Him to catch us and carry us to a higher place," he explained.
"But behind us is a place of familiarity and safety and comfort. It's a place of our routines and it's the place where we don't need God because we are able to survive based on our routines."
"My book is really describing what life is like on the other side of that leap of faith."
Founded after World War II, Mustard Seed International primarily focuses on education at their 30-plus mission sites throughout Southeast Asia. It also sponsors children's homes, medical clinics, youth programs and drills water wells in remote jungle villages to provide clean drinking water and prevent disease.