By Mark Ellis –
Donna Brown spent 35 years in Southeast Asia, mostly on an obscure island in Indonesia, hiking miles and fording rivers to reach “forgotten villages,” as she facilitated a Spirit-filled outreach of the Gospel.
Born in Texas, raised in the suburbs of New Orleans, she refers to herself as “a bit of a Cajun cowgirl.” Her calling unfolded in surprisingly natural, yet supernatural ways.
She was 11 years old when a visiting missionary, Dr. Tim, shared at the Methodist church she attended with her parents, showing slides about his life in Africa.
As they left the church, Donna turned to her mother and said, “I wish we were Catholic.”
“Why?” her mother asked.
“Because they have things that women can do for the Lord.”
“Well, Donna, if you want to do something for the Lord, whether you’re young or old, or whether you’re male or female, it doesn’t matter. God will make a way for you to do something,” she replied.
As a junior in high school, Donna realized she had a knowledge of God, but wondered if there was something more. A friend invited her to a revival meeting in the Baptist Church. After she responded to an altar call, God became very real to her, but her future still seemed undefined. “I was sensing the call of God, but didn’t know what to do with it,” she recounts.
At LSU, a boyfriend invited her to an Assembly of God church on Easter morning. “In that service, there was a lady that gave a message in tongues and the pastor gave an interpretation,” she remembers. “I had no clue what was happening or what was going on.”
That poor lady, there’s something wrong with her and everybody’s just being polite, Donna thought. Why don’t they help her to sit down?
That night, Donna went back for the evening service, without her boyfriend. She was drawn by the exuberant worship and overflow of love that seemed to radiate from the worship team.
After the service, as she drove home in her VW, she prayed: “Lord, I just thank you for bringing me to a church where the people really love you…”
Then something unexpected happened. “I started speaking in a language I didn’t know; I put my hand over my mouth. I wasn’t seeking it. I was just filled.”
When Donna arrived home, she sat down with her Bible, madly flipping through the pages to find anything about speaking in tongues. She prayed, “Lord, I don’t know about this, but I know that your Word is true. And if this is from you, then okay. If it’s not, I don’t want anything to do with it.”
At that moment, she had another powerful encounter with God. “The Spirit of the Lord just came on me and I was I was out on the floor, in my living room by myself. Half an hour later I opened my eyes. We have a clock on the wall. It was half an hour later and I was singing in the Spirit in a language I didn’t even know.”
Donna stood up and started dancing around the room, singing joyfully to the Lord.
“That experience changed my life. I always wanted to share Jesus with people, but I had no boldness before that at all. I grew up with a lot of fear in my life, having a father with a short temper. The tension around my father was enough to bring fear into my life.”
She discovered that where the Spirit of the Lord is made manifest, there is also freedom from fear.
A short time later, Donna’s calling began to emerge. “One day, I was just praying, and I just felt the presence of the Lord. I closed my eyes and said, “Lord, what is it?
Then God impressed on her heart, Go into all the world and preach the gospel.
But I’m in the Deep South; girls don’t do that, she thought. Preaching? How could I even do that? All the world? What does that mean?
Donna looked up the word preach in her Strong’s concordance. She found one of the definitions means “to share the good news.” She thought, I can do that. By this time, Donna was leading a church outreach team every Thursday and went to witness on Bourbon Street in New Orleans one Thursday a month.
In her first short-term mission trip with the church, they flew to Columbia. During the day her team witnessed house to house and had services in the evening. She led one wealthy businesswoman to the Lord. The woman became a pastor and planted a church that grew to several thousand people. Years later, when the woman retired from the church, she wanted to travel to America to meet “the little girl that led her to the Lord.”
“I was in Indonesia at the time and was not able to do that. But it was a huge blessing for me to hear.” When Donna retired from the mission field in Indonesia, a young woman came from Columbia to take her place – a young woman impacted by the ministry of the same woman Donna led to the Lord.
Next, the Lord directed her to quit her job and enroll at Christ for the Nation’s, a Bible college geared toward missions. In obedience, she quit her job and gave away all her possessions, except for her car, so she would not be encumbered with material things, ready to respond to God’s calling.
After Donna graduated from Christ for the Nations Institute, she finished her degree in education and earned a master’s degree in Bible.
When she first heard about the need for missionaries in Indonesia, she didn’t know where Indonesia was on the map. On an exploratory trip, she visited every missionary affiliated with AOG there. “The last place I went to is Ambon, Indonesia. A missionary couple was there but they were leaving the field.”
In the car on the way to their house, Donna had another powerful encounter with the living God.
“The Holy Spirit came into that car as they drove from the airport where she had just landed. His presence was just so strong, I was trembling.” Donna turned to the missionary couple in the car and said, “I think this is where the Lord wants me.”
“Donna, we haven’t even gotten to the house yet, you haven’t seen anything, and you don’t know anything!” the missionary’s wife exclaimed.
“No, this is not about that,” she replied. Once more, she recognized the unmistakable weightiness of the presence of God, and it took her breath away, providing the assurance she needed for her next steps.
During Donna’s 35 years in Southeast Asia ministry, she says the Lord used her more than anything else to pray with people to be filled with the Holy Spirit — literally thousands of people. “I was inspired by a Scripture in Joshua 2, when Joshua was called to lift up the hands of those who have already been given the land, until they’re able to possess the land.”
“I saw my calling as a facilitator, which I still do to this day. It’s a little bit like Barnabas was to Paul, walking alongside with someone until they’re able to go out on their own.”
Indonesia consists of over 17,000 islands. On one occasion to reach a remote village, Donna traveled by boat, then hiked over five hours through the rain on slippery trails, then had to swim across a surging river.
“They asked me if I could swim, and I said, “Yes.” So they told me just swim straight across and men down at the bottom, they’re gonna come out as far as they can and they’re gonna catch you when you come down.”
Sure enough, the men caught her, just before the rapids would have pulled her down river. Several women standing on the bank were in tears as they watched the sixty-something missionary emerge.
Two of Donna’s previous students, a husband and wife, had recently planted themselves in this village, which had not had a missionary presence since the 1940s. A meager supply of electricity to the village allowed each hut to have one light bulb, powered a few hours each day.
Some of Donna’s favorite moments in the mission field involved outreach to children. “Every year, this group of churches would bring kids off the streets in Java, and bring them to a retreat center. And they asked me to come and speak to these kids about the Holy Spirit. One night we had 85 Kids filled with the Holy Spirit,” she recalls.
Donna Brown is a professor and the chief academic officer at HIS University in Southern California. For more information about the school, go here