HIGHLAND, Calif. (BP) — Beyond Beverly Hills’ designer-label storefronts and gated estates are apartments and condos filled with people from diverse walks of life.
“The image is all wealthy, but once you’ve been here for six months, you understand that it’s broader than that,” said Randy Nessly, pastor of First Baptist Church in Beverly Hills.
Nessly served nine years as a missionary mobilizer for the North American Mission Board before becoming pastor of 40-member First Baptist in the fall of 2011.
Besides being financially diverse, Beverly Hills contains much of the ethnic diversity of neighboring Los Angeles, which has the nation’s largest immigrant population.
That’s why Nessly attended IMB’s Embrace equipping conference at Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif.
He was among approximately 115 representatives from 30 Southern Baptist churches and related organizations in California, Arizona and Nevada who attended the March 24 conference to learn more about what’s involved in embracing a people group — selecting an unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG) and committing to establish an active church-planting strategy among them.
Some of the immigrants in Beverly Hills are from people groups whose counterparts in other countries are considered among the most unevangelized in the world.
If those immigrants become Christians and travel to those other countries to share the Gospel, they could make a significant impact in reaching their own people groups, said Ben Martin*, who serves among North African and Middle Eastern peoples overseas with the International Mission Board. He has been helping Nessly think through how local and international outreach to people groups can work together.
“You can put one arm around someone,” Martin said, “and that’s something. But if you use both arms, you are … truly embracing them.”
Felix Juan, a deacon of First Indian Baptist Church in Phoenix, said the church has prayed for UUPGs since the launch of the Embrace initiative during the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix.
Since last June, approximately 1,200 Southern Baptist churches or entities have responded in some way to the challenge to embrace a UUPG.
“I can see churches and the mission board working together,” Juan said. “We’re not by ourselves in this. It’s God’s people working together.
“I am seeing the overall picture. I used to see from the bottom up. Now I see the broad, big view.”
‘BUILDING TOWARD SOMETHING’
The big picture missions strategy of Embrace is what interested Eric White* at Green Hills Baptist Church in La Habra, Calif.
For example, he said, a church could lead a Vacation Bible School overseas, developing and training new Christians there to be the ones to lead the next VBS.
“I like the idea of building toward something,” White said, “so we wouldn’t be random or haphazard, but focused on reaching a people group with the Gospel and producing self-sufficient, indigenous churches.”
Leaders of the 500-member Green Hills congregation have received guidance and encouragement from Mark Harrison, missions pastor of Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. Old Town is a congregation of similar size that started the process of reaching a people group in Southeast Asia about two years ago.
“It’s been good for us to see that a church our size can do it, to see what it might look like several steps ahead,” White said.
Old Town is coordinating with Southern Baptist missionaries and believers from nearby or related people groups in Southeast Asia. The goal is to work together so these believers can participate in missions efforts to another people group, Harrison said.
“Each church and each people group is different,” Harrison said, “and you have to customize how you approach things according to what will work in your situation, in your church and for your people group, but there are some common factors and a unified strategy to it that makes it a natural for churches to learn together and partner with each other in some way.”
Mitch Hamilton, pastor of Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church in Aurora, Colo., encouraged Embrace churches to mentor another congregation.
“Reach out and be available to others,” Hamilton said. “Take someone with you the next time you go [to visit your people group], teach them how, show them what you know.”
Hamilton said he was convicted to broaden his missions outlook.
“We were going places where there were already Christians, where work was already going on,” Hamilton said. “Now, instead of going 1,000 different places one time, we’re going one place 1,000 times.”
SBC President Bryant Wright, who was instrumental in launching the Embrace emphasis, encouraged churches exploring Embrace to take a mission trip overseas to “dip their toe in the water.”
“It transforms your whole outlook about ministry,” said Wright, senior pastor of the Atlanta-area Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta. People often are more active in sharing their faith with their neighbors after they return from sharing overseas, he added.
Making that Great Commission connection is what Montia Setzler, senior pastor of Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church in Riverside, Calif., hopes will happen through Embrace. The church launched its effort to embrace a people group March 25.
“This helps complete our total missions strategy,” Setzler said. “We’ve done mission trips but South Asia is the uttermost part of the earth. We’re trying to train people that Acts 1:8 doesn’t have an ‘or’ in it; it’s an ‘and,’ and that means doing all of it simultaneously,” being witnesses in the biblical paradigm of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.
Two young people from the church are planning to serve as journeyman missionaries in South Asia.
“There would be no greater joy than serving with my church around the world,” said Thomas Allen*, who is preparing for journeyman service.
The next Embrace equipping conferences will be March 29 at First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., Oct. 25 at Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Fla., and Feb. 7 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Affinity-specific training sessions are listed at www.call2embrace.org.
*Names changed. Kate Gregory is an IMB writer/editor. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).