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FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Once upon a time in Southern Baptist life we spoke of “foreign missions” and typically thought of going to some far-off place to reach people from different ethnic backgrounds. If you grew up in a strong mission-minded church like I did, you surely have fond memories of the visiting missionary speaking (usually praying in some foreign language to open the meeting) and then sharing the obligatory slide show. My, how things have changed. Of course, we still send missionaries through our International Mission Board, but in many ways, the world has come to us.

This was dramatically displayed to me in my last pastorate in a small town in Alabama. The church had a heart for missions and had traditionally given generously each year to our Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon offerings. We increased our mission awareness by purchasing a furloughing missionary house and providing hands-on mission experiences through volunteer trips. But then a young man from Vietnam moved to town. His chosen “American” name was Jason and he worked in a local nail salon with family members. He was a Buddhist, not a Baptist. One day a lady from our church invited him to worship with us, and probably to her surprise, he came. I’m quite sure it was the first time a Buddhist had ever been in our church. He was as clueless about Baptists as we were about Buddhists.

The happy ending to this story is that after several weeks attending worship, he and I sat down one Sunday afternoon and he asked Jesus to become his Savior and Lord! I baptized him several weeks later, and what a glorious celebration this was, both for him and for our congregation.

This good news story represents exactly one half of what God has called me to as the new executive director for cultural evangelism at the North American Mission Board. Our office is responsible for international and multiethnic evangelism and apologetics and interfaith evangelism. The work of each of these offices really met when Jason met Jesus. Additionally, our office coordinates the work of collegiate evangelism and the Evangelism Response Center, but our main task is to take the Gospel beyond the walls of the church and into our culture.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of Jasons out there. They are in your community, whether you are aware of it or not. Jesus said in Matthew 24:14: “And this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations.” The good news today is we don’t have to go nearly as far we once did to take the Gospel to the world. The world has come to us.
Gary Hollingsworth is executive director for cultural evangelism at the North American Mission Board.

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  • Gary Hollingsworth