ROCHESTER, Minn. (BP)–Muslims aren’t the easiest people to reach with the gospel, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to pass them by, says George Ray, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Rochester, Minn.
“We do a lot of door-to-door visiting, and as we visit with Muslims, for the most part we have not found a way to help them be open to hearing the gospel,” Ray said. “It seems to be a very closed religious system, very difficult to break into.”
Yet difficult is not impossible. Two men a couple of years ago came several times for both Bible study and worship before leaving the area. Two other men at present are attending worship.
Muslims are not the only people Emmanuel Baptist Church focuses on. This church in the city known internationally for Mayo Clinic has a 40-year history of reaching out locally, regionally and globally.
The congregation, where nearly 200 people attend worship each Sunday, at present sponsors eight mission congregations, English as a Second Language classes that have at least 40 people enrolled and a highly developed visitation program based on LifeWay Christian Resources’ GROW program.
For years the Rochester congregation has given 14 percent of undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program CP Missions for Southern Baptist missions outreach globally and nationally; another 7 percent is given to Pioneer Baptist Association; and 1.5 percent is designated for its local mission congregations.
“We’re able to participate in so many different things that Southern Baptists do and support so many missionaries through our cooperative efforts,” church member Sarah Williamson said. “If we didn’t have the Cooperative Program and tried to do missions on our own, we certainly couldn’t do very much.”
Williamson has been involved with Emmanuel’s ESL program since it was started in 1968, serving as the director for about 20 years.
“I feel like it’s what the Lord wants me to do,” she said. “We have a lot of internationals here in Rochester. ESL is something we can do to help them and have a witness to them.”
Hundreds of people — mostly wives of professionals working at Mayo Clinic or IBM — from 48 nations have participated in Emmanuel’s ESL classes, which are not overtly Christian in curriculum. However, appropriate segments of the widely used “Jesus” film are shown at Christmas and Easter, followed by “comprehension” discussion. When available, the students also receive gospel literature in their native language.
“We see people out of our ESL classes making professions of faith, but most of the time that does not result in baptism,” the pastor said. “Most of the time they receive Christ as Savior, we help them to grow as a Christian, and then after a year or two they go back to their countries. We feel like we’re sending out missionaries.
“We’re also wanting them to feel a warmth, welcome and friendship not only to our church but to America,” Ray continued. “We want them to go back to their homeland and be friends to America.”
Emmanuel allocates $400 a year for ESL out of its total $244,419 budget.
“I think a church needs to assess its community,” Pastor Ray said. “If the need is apparent, ESL is an excellent, inexpensive and very productive way of both teaching English and sharing the gospel with individuals.”
The church also shares the gospel through its extensive music/drama program. The seven age-graded choirs and ensembles include even one for preschoolers.
Sunday school for every age includes eight classes for adults, in addition to midweek men’s and women’s home Bible studies. Discipleship classes Wednesday nights through the school year run the gamut from family life to witnessing to money management.
“Throughout Emmanuel’s history, we have been a church centered around caring and family,” Ray said. “Although our vision is focused on our own local community, it also reaches out to southern Minnesota, where we have started more than 10 missions works.”
Of the eight mission congregations now being sponsored, three meet for worship at the Emmanuel facility — Rochester Hmong, Rochester Hispanic and Rochester Southeast Asian.
Rochester Hmong is one of the strongest Southern Baptist Hmong congregations in the nation. About 70 attend Sunday afternoon worship; about 50 attend Thursday night Sunday school. The pastor, Nhia Yee Her, is president of the national SBC Hmong Fellowship.
Emmanuel Rochester’s other mission works in Minnesota include Fairbault Asian Christian, Winona Hmong, St. Charles Laotian, Bethel Baptist Church in the tri-cities area of Kasson, Mantorville and Dodge Center, and the newest, Abundant Life Church in Rochester, designed to reach the community in the growing southeast part of the city that has a population of about 70,000 people.
It all comes back to people, the pastor said.
“We’ve been very concerned about going out and sharing the gospel,” Ray said. “Most of it has been through the networking of the congregation. They say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a great thing going at our church,’ and it grows from there.
“I guess it’s just the personal touch,” he continued. “It’s very difficult to break into someone’s religious mindset. We haven’t even tried to do that. We’ve just tried to present Christ.”
The congregation has tripled in the last eight years and is reflective of its community, rather than just being a transplanted Southern group, the pastor said. The outreach methodology remains the same, whether the person being reached is native Lutheran or native Muslim.
“What we try to do with Muslims, particularly, is to go to them with an attitude of respect but also to say we have those words which we feel to be the truth of God,” Ray said. “We ask them for an opportunity to explore these words with them. We give them time to take copies of the Scripture, look at it, study it and see if they have questions.
“Our church has always had a global perspective in the fact that they have emphasized the kingdom work in addition to the local ministry,” the pastor noted. “The congregation recognizes the need of starting from where we are, but not stopping there.
“This is the beginning place, the launching place, but we also have a joy in being involved in the work that goes so far beyond us,” he said, noting his reference to CP Missions.
“It is quite simply the best plan,” the pastor said. “I think the Lord gave it to us to do missions in a way that would be supportive and strengthening to the mission work we do both locally and globally. It’s a joy to the congregation to realize that when we give on Sunday here in Rochester, we’re supporting not only the local work, but we’re also reaching around the world, supporting a worldwide ministry through our cooperation.
“We’re helping to fund thousands of missionaries around the world,” Ray said. “This emphasis on multiplication through cooperation is very exciting to our congregation.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: TLC VIA ESL, TEEN FUN and KIDS ON STAGE.