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172 souls saved during MissionLab experience

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–“God isn’t interested in just giving Christians a missions experience. He is interested in Christians being on mission with him,” said Marc Eichelberger, the director of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Providence Learning Center.

“Fully comprehended, this concept has the potential to radically alter and revitalize the church today.”

The Providence Learning Center offers opportunities for church and ministry leaders to interact with new ideas, refine proven principles and think through the tough realities of ministry in a changing world through hands-on mission experiences, staff retreats, conferences and other lifelong learning opportunities.

One such opportunity is MissionLab New Orleans, a custom-tailored program matching the needs and abilities of ministry groups with appropriate mission opportunities in the New Orleans area.

For eight weeks this past summer, MissionLab New Orleans provided 1,600 students and adult leaders from 70 local churches life-changing ministry experiences with the following results — 172 mission site participant salvations; 4 church group member salvations; 92 church group member rededications; 11 church group members called to missions; and 7 church group members called to vocational ministry. In addition, during seven weeks this fall, almost 200 senior adults were involved in ministry, missions and evangelism through the Senior Adult MissionLab program.

Eichelberger says MissionLab is more than just another missions experience, but the opportunity to be on mission with God-serving as a catalyst for life change, altering the way Christians view God’s perspective on the whole world today and calling for the participation of all Christians in reaching that world for Jesus Christ.

Now in its third year of ministry, MissionLab organizers recognize that New Orleans is more like a foreign mission field than a typical city in the United States. It is one of the nation’s most strategic mission laboratories.

While Eichelberger knows that New Orleans is an ideal place to do missions, he also acknowledges that for some it can be a frightening place to visit. “Many of our senior adult participants come to New Orleans with fear and trembling, but when they actually join God in his activity, they experience a radical change of perspective in their lives.”

For instance, when seniors arrived at the Brantley Baptist Center, a homeless shelter in downtown New Orleans, they wished instead to go back to the safe seminary campus and play dominoes, he said. Still, they gave themselves to service in ministry, and as a result had a life-changing experience.

Eichelberger, referencing Christian author John Ortberg, said, “If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat. For Peter, the fisherman turned disciple, inside the boat was very comfortable. For these senior adults, getting out of the van was like walking on water. But when people step out in faith, the amazing happens.”

At the homeless shelter several senior adult groups have helped refurbish its chapel, serve meals, and provide gifts for the needy as well as lead worship services.

Student participants at MissionLab recently gave the shelter director Tobey Pitman a check for $2,738.

Other groups have ministered in New Orleans’ French Quarter by spending time with homeless men, women, and teens while others have helped tutor children and lead Bible stories, games, music and crafts at another Baptist mission in the city. Still others have installed new flooring and shelves as well as other much needed repair work in another women’s shelter.

In exchange, the groups have gained more boldness in proclaiming Christ and have learned the importance of reaching out to those closer to home.

“When individuals are affected, it changes the entire dynamic of the church. Some pastors may write people off — particularly senior adults — and think that they’ll never change. But they can change. MissionLab has shown us that,” Eichelberger said.

“It’s all about getting out of our comfort zones — out of the church culture — and stepping onto the mission field,” he added.

To emphasize, he quoted the reaction from some senior adults from First Baptist Church, DeRidder, La., which has been echoed among other groups: “I’ve been sitting on the pew for 50 years — but never again!”

Their enthusiasm has generated excitement in their church at large, he explained, sharing how the entire church has benefited from seeing its oldest members’ hearts soften before the Lord and with each other.

The DeRidder church’s senior adult ministry has blossomed into a full-fledged ministry that has energized the church’s entire congregation and has served as an example to other senior adult ministries.

Senior adult minister, Joe Choate of First Baptist Church, Palmetto, Fla., also shared his group’s experience. “As we joined the clown and puppet ministry of DeRidder Baptist … God blessed the efforts of the worship team as we observed Him touch life after life. [There were] tears of joy and blessing as lives were surrendered to Christ. Fires for missions were ignited in the lives of our people and enthusiasm to do new things began to develop,” he said.

With ideas fresh on their minds and hearts, the church’s Joyful Heart Ministries met, discussed, and implemented their own clown ministry at a recent Fall Festival and looks forward with anticipation to introducing their puppet ministry in early 2003. Training already has begun for clown stunts, face painting, and costuming as well as the background information being gathered for the puppet ministry.

“If that’s not revitalization of the church, I don’t know what is,” Eichelberger rejoiced.

Like the senior adult experiences, youth and college students have had equally rewarding encounters, he continued.

“They want to do something that makes a difference,” he said. “They are ready to ‘jump out of the boat’ as soon as they get here. They don’t want to sit around and listen to lectures about missions. They want to do missions.”

While many young people admit the inner city was a frightening place to imagine, MissionLab is able to offer a safe environment for the kids by providing site coordinators and counselors who are specially trained for inner-city ministry, as well as extensive orientation with the young people. The only challenge for young people was ministering to a people group largely unreached by the traditional church.

“Before I got here, I was really worried about our group’s safety,” said Andrew Lively, a high school student from Augusta, Ga. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve never even once felt in danger. If God can remove my fear of danger in the projects of New Orleans, he can remove my fear at home.”

“Who knows what God might accomplish in and through your church — if you’re willing to be on mission with Him!” said Eichelberger.

For more information on opportunities to become involved in mission work in New Orleans, contact MissionLab New Orleans at 1-800-NOBTS-01, ext. 3260, or visit online at missionlab.com.

    About the Author

  • Shannon Baker

    Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.

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