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Church perseveres to embrace people group

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[SLIDESHOW=38853,38855,38854,38856] SOUTHEAST ASIA (BP) — They sat on the floor of a home in a “T” people fishing village with their eyes fixed on the pastor from North Carolina. The men and women appeared to listen intently as he shared from Genesis how God created the earth.

The group of three or four grew to nearly 20 as villagers made their way into the house.

“Have you ever thought about where this beautiful place came from?” Mark Harrison, missions pastor at Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., asked. “This all came from the Word of the Living God. No one created the Living God.”

Harrison finished the story and then asked how many had never heard the story before he came. Nearly every hand in the room went up.

Harrison leads Old Town teams to Southeast Asia’s “T people” (the name the church has given to the group) several times a year, ever since the congregation became involved with the International Mission Board’s Embrace initiative four years ago. Through that effort, the church has committed to engage the unreached, unengaged people group with the Gospel.

He learned about this particular village through Southeast Asian believers Khin* and Thet.* The men left their hometown to be closer to where the majority of T people live and where they focus their ministry. Although they are from a different people group, they feel called to serve among an unreached people group, specifically the T people.

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Most T people have never heard the Gospel; less than 1 percent of them are believers in Jesus Christ.

Old Town members are beginning to see T people turn from Buddhism to believe in Jesus. When Harrison and church members come to Southeast Asia, they share the Gospel, encourage believers and search for areas where the people group live.

The problem lies in getting to these people. It isn’t easy. Few outsiders make it to the remote villages nestled in the region’s steep, wet mountains.

Just to tell this one Bible story about creation, Harrison and several local believers rode 45 minutes in a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi, with little protection from rain and wind. Along one road, the group walked while the taxi slowly maneuvered through the mud. Then, they rode motorcycles another 30 minutes straight up a mountain to the fishing village.

The journey can be difficult for even local residents trying to reach the remote villages. Khin and Thet often walk three hours one-way during rainy season, when their motorcycle can’t make it up the mountain through the mud, to share the Gospel.

“I prayed to be a minister for the Gospel,” Khin said. “In my heart was a calling to be a missionary. I prayed to be somewhere no one had been before.”

When Old Town began the journey to embrace the T people, they prayed God would send people to help them.

“Many people back home are praying for you,” Harrison told them, offering encouragement. “They pray for you every day.”

Old Town prays for believers such as Khin and Thet, who live far from family and friends, but stay because they want T people to believe in Jesus.

“The people don’t know Jesus — that is the most difficult part,” Khin said. “They don’t know other religions; they only know Buddhism.”

That’s why Khin and local believers want to learn from Harrison how to naturally start conversations about creation and the Living God.

In an outdoor market elbow-to-elbow with people, Harrison stopped to talk with a woman sitting in the midst of rows of fish for sale. He asked if she knew where the fish came from. When she says “no,” he shares the Gospel beginning with creation.

In a village home a local believer asked Harrison how to share the Gospel with other Buddhist-background T people. After an afternoon of conversation, this was exactly what the pastor wanted to hear — local believers stepping up and Old Town helping them to advance the Great Commission among their people.

Harrison has seen how opposition has kept Southeast Asian believers from reaching out to the T people.

Shein* recently moved from his hometown to serve among the T people and experienced opposition.

“People tried to talk me out of it, but my mom encouraged me,” he said. “It is my heart’s desire that these people may be saved.”

Thura,* who recently came to faith and is leading others to Christ, shared the Gospel despite opposition from his father, who is the village leader and sees the Gospel as a waste of time.

“I know believing the Gospel is precious. When I share, there is peace in my heart,” Thura said.

For more information, contact Harrison at [email protected]

*Names changed.