EDITOR’S NOTE: Southern Baptists are one of the most diverse denominations in America, with more than 9,330 ethnic congregations — almost one in five Southern Baptist congregations. Many ethnic churches — from New Jersey to Oklahoma to Oregon — are excellent examples of what it means to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ with a heart for lost people of any background. Baptist Press offers these five ethnic congregations as snapshots of Southern Baptist diversity and role models of congregational health.
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RANDOLPH, N.J. (BP)–Bible Church International lives up to its name. The Randolph, N.J., congregation, started as a house church with 30 people in 1982, now draws nearly 350 regular attenders from China, Nigeria, Ireland, India and the Philippines. But it’s also involved with 30 church plants in Thailand, Cambodia, Dubai and the Philippines, as well as North America.
Pastor Jerry Lepasana, himself a Filipino, says the multi-ethnic Southern Baptist congregation is a “glocal” church — a global “Great Commission” vision fueled by a passion for local ministry.
Those ministries span the range of benevolence ministries, like regular visits to nearby retirement centers and a local soup kitchen, as well as more non-traditional outreach activities.
In November, for example, Bible Church International sponsored a concert of popular recording artists from the Philippines who are Christians. The concert drew more than 700 people — 400 of whom were unchurched, Lepasana says. The church also has capitalized on the decades-old trend of Filipinos leaving their impoverished home villages to work in wealthier countries.
What they cannot leave behind is their desire for fellowship among other Filipinos.
“The immigrants are far away from their families, and these people are not Christian, yet,” says associate pastor Ed Ramos, who heads up BCI’s global missions and local ministries. “But through the ministry of the church they have found an extended family to relate to, and soon find also the family of Christ.”
Many of those who leave the Philippines for the United States are nurses and Bible Church International has led many of those nurses to Christ, Ramos says. When the church challenged them to reach out overseas, medical missions projects to the Philippines were a natural outlet.
Only 12 people joined the initial medical mission trip in 2003, and that included Pastors Lepasana and Ramos. But after hearing reports of what God did on that trip, 65 members volunteered in 2005 and 97 participated in 2007. Ramos expects well over 100 for the scheduled 2009 venture. As part of the medical ministry, patients hear Gospel presentations from the American volunteers and some become Christians. Churches are born as BCI coordinates follow-up and discipleship efforts with local Filipino Christians.
Church planting efforts have boomed since the church began the medical missions trips to the Philippines, Ramos says.
“The good reports really boosted our people’s passion to do the mission,” Ramos says. “When our people hear the results, they get excited to join the mission.”
During one overseas medical project, the father of a young man on the church’s praise team shared that God had called him to plant a church among Filipinos who had immigrated to Cambodia. Before Lepasana and Ramos could follow up with more serious conversations, they discovered he already had moved his family to Cambodia and started the work. Lepasana since has traveled to Cambodia to assess the ministry and hammer out an agreement with the pastor on doctrinal guidelines and financial accountability.
Bible Church International also sponsors a church planter in Thailand who is beginning an English as a Second Language ministry among college students. “Teaching English in foreign countries is a very effective way to reach people for Christ,” Ramos explains.
Aware that many Filipinos have emigrated to Dubai recently, BCI began a two-year search for a church planter to serve there. Now a small congregation in Dubai numbers 60 and has conducted outdoor baptisms in front of scores of local residents.
Everything begins with local ministry, however, Ramos says.
“We want our people to first serve in the community and to be seen in the community, because every time we give our something to the residents, there’s the church name, contact information and website attached so those who receive the ministry can see where the gift and ministry come from,” he says.
“Because we do these overseas missions and minister in our community, God is continuing to add members to our church — but especially when we started doing missions outside this country,” Ramos adds. “This year, God added about 60 members.”
Norm Miller is a freelance writer in Richmond, Va.