MOUNTAINBURG, Ark. (BP) — He has been interrogated by police, caught in a war zone in Asia and beaten by an angry mob of Muslims in Africa. He is not an adventure film character.
He is Eric Ramsey, current president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists and president of Tom Cox World Ministries in Mountainburg, Ark. What he writes as an Arkansas Baptist News columnist is grounded in real-world experience.
As the son of a Baptist minister, Ramsey moved a lot growing up but spent most of his formative years in and around Tulsa, Okla. His father was a pastor and church planter. His father’s work was an early influence on Ramsey’s love of people and culture, but it also caused him to vow against ever entering fulltime ministry.
Belief in God was never the problem, Ramsey said. It was “the ministry.” He did not like the impact it had on his family, especially the stress it put on his mother. He knew he was called to serve God but could not imagine putting his future wife through the trials he had seen his mother face.
“I remember the day when I was 16 years old,” Ramsey recalled, “and I told God, ‘God, I love You, but if You love me, You will never ask me to be in fulltime ministry.’ I loved telling people about Jesus; I just did not see myself doing that as a vocation.”
As a self-proclaimed “teenage Jesus freak,” Ramsey played in a Christian rock band and was very interested in electronics. It was not until he went to college at 17 that he fell in love with learning about different cultures and decided to pursue a career that would allow him to travel and experience them firsthand.
Ramsey decided to study communications and political science to prepare for what had become his dream — to be a foreign correspondent for a new TV channel called Cable News Network, or CNN.
“I was taking anthropology and modern political regimes classes … trying to understand different systems of thinking … and policy development and political structure and what defined a people group and ‘Why are people the way they are and what makes them tick?'”
But God’s plan did not include CNN. Eventually, Ramsey recognized God indeed was calling him to vocational ministry — just not as a pastor or church planter. After college, Ramsey earned a master’s degree in communications with a dual emphasis in theology and missiology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas. He then spent eight years with the North American Mission Board helping church planters better understand how to plant churches within specific people groups and cultural segments by using research and marketing tools.
After eight years at NAMB, Ramsey left to become president of Tom Cox World Ministries, a ministry founded by his father-in-law that, in Ramsey’s words, specializes in “contextual evangelism, church planting and indigenous leadership development.”
TCWM often works closely with the International Mission Board, providing demographics and information to help mobilize missionaries to reach remote areas of the world where people have never heard the name of Jesus.
Over the years, Ramsey has traveled extensively throughout Asia, Africa, Europe and North and South America. Most of the time, he is gathering geographic and cultural information to give missions organizations a better understanding of secluded peoples. Many of the countries where he and his teams travel are unfriendly or even hostile toward Christianity, or Westerners in general, and yet at times, he and his teams have had the opportunity to share their faith both publicly and privately.
TCWM mission teams are made up of former military special forces personnel, extreme outdoorsmen, anthropologists and missiologists, and the conditions they encounter can be physically and emotionally taxing.
Many of the villages they visit are located deep in jungles and other remote areas in countries known for corrupt governments, active and volatile war zones and unforgiving terrain.
A few years ago, after speaking to a gathering of nearly 15,000 people in an East African nation, Ramsey was beaten by a mob of Muslims while he and his team were attempting to board their van to leave. The group of locals had become enraged when multiple Muslim leaders from the area accepted Christ following Ramsey’s message.
During a trip to Southeast Asia, Ramsey and his team got lost while searching for a village deep in the jungle and wandered into a war zone. Miraculously, they escaped unnoticed and made it to a nearby village where people were very open to the team’s witness. The team’s Buddhist guide was so impressed by the miracle of their escape that he began asking Ramsey questions about God, opening the door for a full presentation of the Gospel.
Ramsey and TCWM team members have been arrested and interrogated by police and members of government agencies. Once in Asia, they were arrested by officials after accidentally uncovering a hidden munitions facility. On many occasions, members of Ramsey’s teams have been able to have spiritual conversations with the very people who have interrogated them.
In Scripture, God does not guarantee believers safety, but Ramsey said He has consistently given TCWM research teams grace in the midst of countless difficulties and trials. Through their work in equipping churches and researching people groups, TCWM saw about 15,000 professions of faith and 163 church starts in 2013.
Now long past his reticence toward ministry, Ramsey said, “I get a lot of joy out of utilizing all of those tools out of my tool box -– exercising my passions, exercising my education, exercising years of experience both in market research and ethnographic research, community analysis, cross-cultural communications and my passion for missions and preaching the Gospel.
“For me, everything has come together in one huge package. I feel like God has given the whole world as a playground, and I am having a ball.”
Caleb Yarbrough is a staff writer for the Arkansas Baptist News (arkansasbaptist.org), newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist Convention, where this story first appeared. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).