Today’s From the States features items from:
Northwest Baptist Witness (Washington)
Baptist New Mexican
Western Recorder (Kentucky)
Northwest Baptists strengthen
connections in Myanmar
By Randy Adams
MYANMAR (Northwest Baptist Witness) — The Northwest Baptist Convention, a network of about 480 churches in Oregon, Washington and north Idaho includes about 140 congregations that worship in languages other than English, including the Chin Burmese language. Through one of these churches, I received an invitation to teach. I knew nearly nothing about Chin Baptists in Myanmar, but to preach in the nation where the first American missionary, Adoniram Judson, served over 200 years ago made this invitation particularly intriguing. It turns out that the evangelization of the Chin people is one of the great mission stories of the past century, and it’s a story few know.
My wife Paula and I flew to Yangon, Myanmar, an overwhelmingly Buddhist city. About 90 percent of Burmese people profess Theravata Buddhism as their religion, and Yangon has Buddhist pagodas everywhere, the largest of which is the famed Shwedagon Pagoda. Soaring 325 feet in height, it is covered in tons of gold and millions of dollars in gems are set atop the pagoda. The relic that such wealth honors is eight strands of hair from Gautama Buddha.
From Yangon we flew to the ancient city of Mandalay, another Buddhist city in which scores of pagodas are visible from almost any point in the city. From there we drove 14 hours to Hakha, the capital of the Chin state, over a rough, tortuous road. During the first several hours Buddhist pagodas were the dominant feature. Then, at the border of the Chin state, we witnessed an amazing transformation in the religious architecture. There was a cross on a hill, then a church at the high point of a small community.
When we reached Hakha, we entered a territory in which churches were the dominant feature, especially Baptist churches. The Chin people are overwhelmingly Christian, with more than 90 percent claiming Christian professions.
How did the Chin people, who were animists and wholly illiterate, come to faith in Jesus Christ in such great numbers? I don’t know the full story, but it started when American Baptist missionaries, A.E. and Laura Carson, arrived in Hakha in 1899. It took over six years before the first Chin person received Jesus Christ. He was baptized Jan. 1, 1906.
Mr. Carson died the following year, but Mrs. Carson continued her ministry until 1920 when ill health forced her to leave. A few other missionaries came, with the last one being expelled from the country in 1964. The Chin state was then closed to all outsiders for over 50 years. Because of persecution they were allowed to come to the United States as refugees, which explains the large number of Chin people in our country. Only recently has the national government of Myanmar allowed outsiders into the Chin state. My wife and I were among the first to travel there.
The Chin Baptist Convention that invited us was formed in 2012 and has 64 churches. They have broken away from the larger group of Chin churches over theological liberalism and they want connections with Southern Baptists. To my amazement they were quite familiar with the Baptist Faith and Message. They have researched Southern Baptist doctrinal beliefs and know of our missions commitment. They feel kinship with us and want to know us better.
I was impressed by their own commitment to reaching the other people groups in Myanmar. Although they are poor, Chin believers have sent seven missionaries to the unreached in their own country. They started a theological college that provides three years of training. Their commitment to educating teachers and pastors is strong. They want American pastors and professors to come and supplement their teaching with one or two-week intensive classes.
In all my years of ministry, our experience with our Chin Baptist brothers and sisters was among the best and most humbling experiences we’ve ever had. Never have I met a more generous, gracious people. It was overwhelming.
One man summed up the Chin people quite well. He said, “In the Chin state we have no natural resources. We have no factories or manufacturing. We have no seaport and we have no airport. We have only one thing — the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what we have … and that is the best thing.”
The Chin people are still largely isolated in the mountainous, western part of Myanmar. It’s difficult to get there, accessible only by the harsh roads. During three days of our 5-day stay, the city was without electricity, though generators were plentiful so we didn’t go without much. So troubled were our hosts about us not having hot water that each morning someone delivered water in canisters which had been heated over a wood fire. Indeed, they did their best. In every way, they did their best. And their best was plenty.
Paula and I plan a return visit next year. We want to help them get books for their theological college. We want to advocate for them in whatever ways might strengthen their work in reaching the people of Myanmar. And we want to see our friends again.
On one occasion when their leadership was apologizing for what they could not do, I said to them, “We often look at ourselves and see what we are not. But when I look at you I see a people of courage, perseverance, generosity and deep faith.” Those weren’t just words. They describe aptly an isolated and persecuted people, who have so effectively shared Christ across the villages in the Chin hills, that they are more Christian than almost any people, anywhere, in the entire world. It’s a missions miracle, indeed.
This article appeared in the Northwest Baptist Witness (gonbw.org). Randy Adams is the executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention.
Hispanic evangelism training
yields 30 new believers in N.M.
By Kevin Parker
LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Baptist New Mexican) — On March 14-16, participants representing nine of New Mexico’s Hispanic churches gathered for a Spanish Four Fields Training at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Las Cruces. The training was spread across three days. Each day featured similar training sessions in the morning and evening, offering flexibility to accommodate individual’s schedules.
Three four-hour sessions combined classroom training and on-the-street practice. According to Ricardo Rivera, the Baptist Convention of New Mexico’s Hispanic ministry strategist, about 1 1/2 hours of each session were spent visiting homes. The training equipped churches with practical and reproducible strategies to reach lost people in their communities. In fact, according to training materials, churches can even use the strategies to plant new churches among unreached individuals.
BCNM staff organized the training, which was funded by the Cooperative Program, a nationwide financial strategy by which Southern Baptist churches help one another accomplish the Great Commission in their communities, their state, and around the world.
The Spanish Four Fields Training adapted material developed by Nathan and Kari Shank in 2007. According to the Shanks, their plan, Four Fields of Kingdom Growth: Starting and Releasing Healthy Churches, offers Christians and churches a practical, biblical and reproducible strategy to launch healthy churches and multiply Kingdom leaders. Some established churches also use the materials to revitalize their evangelistic activities.
The plan divides Kingdom growth into four church-planting-related phases: the empty field, the seeded field, the growing field and the harvest field. The fields represent places Christians work to reach lost people. Each field has a particular strategy associated with it. The empty field needs an entry strategy. The seeded field needs a Gospel plan. The growing field needs a strategy for short-term and long-term discipleship. Finally, the harvest field needs a plan for church formation.
The Spanish Four Fields Training in Las Cruces condensed the Shanks’ material to its most practical elements. Participants learned a prayer-based entry strategy and a Gospel presentation based upon the story of the Samaritan woman Jesus met at a well. They also learned about follow-up for visiting homes after people make spiritual decisions. At each step, participants dispersed into pre-planned neighborhood areas to practice their new skills in real-life settings.
Using the training provided by the sessions, participants visited more than 200 homes and were able to speak with residents at 118 of them. Of those 118, individuals at 96 homes accepted an offer from the team to pray for family needs. At 72 homes, when team members asked if they could come back another time to share a Bible story, the residents said, “Yes.” But some homes were not receptive. At 24 homes, residents accepted the team’s offer of prayer, but said “no” to the teams’ offer to return. Twenty-two homes simply declined prayer completely.
Beyond prayer, team members participating in the training shared the Gospel in 13 homes. During the three days of training and home visits, team members saw 18 people choose to follow Jesus. On April 13, almost one month after the training, Saul Gonzales, the pastor of the church that hosted the training, reported that during the previous two weeks, his church family had 12 people respond to the Gospel and choose to follow Jesus.
In addition to the spiritual decisions residents made during and after the training, participants also experienced the training’s impact. Richard Aguilar, of Primera Iglesia Bautista, Las Cruces, already felt confident visiting homes, but shared with the Baptist New Mexican that the training gave him a “higher confidence.” He specifically recalled how, during home visits, “Some people were ready and willing to listen.” He said he hopes that the training will enhance the ministry of his church. He described coming away from the three-day event with a “good strategy that begins with establishing a relationship with people.”
Gonzales said he participated because of conversations with Rivera and because of a sense that his church needed to grow. He said, “We have done this before several times, and realize that it is a very effective way to share the Gospel.” Though his confidence before the training was already strong, he admitted, “I was worried about the reaction of the people of the community.” But, his feelings changed when residents his team visited responded positively to their offers of prayer. He noted that they seemed more positive about the prayer than about a salvation presentation.
Luis Rios, a member of Gonzales’ church, also attended the training at Rivera’s invitation. Before the training he said he felt awkward visiting homes. He described his confidence as low. But, afterward he claimed that his confidence had increased and his attitude improved. After the visits, he recalled how “people are hungry to hear the Good News.” He hopes the training will help his church “gain more people for the Lord.”
Isabel Fajardo, from Mesilla Valley Baptist Church, participated out of a need she felt for community evangelism. She was “apprehensive about going door to door.” The training strengthened her confidence. She said the approaches the teams learned were “simple and easy to use.” She said, “A couple of key ideas I took [away] were how to begin a conversation by asking to pray with [someone] and by asking if we can return to tell them a story about Jesus.” The openness she encountered in homes, when offering prayer for needs, impressed her. If the churches put the training to work, “I believe we will see great results,” she said.
Concepcion Colorado, a member of Betesda Comunidad Cristiana attended because her pastor asked her. She also claimed an interest in evangelizing people. While Colorado already felt confident sharing the Gospel, she said learning a new method interested her. After a Buddhist shared her beliefs and then listened to the team’s presentation, and after other visits, she said, “I was surprised that people are more receptive to the Gospel than what people think.” The number of people who wanted a follow up visit caught her attention, too. Thinking about her church, she said, the training will “encourage us to knock on doors and share the Gospel.”
In planning the event, Rivera hoped it would help churches see the need for evangelism and help them discover how easy evangelism can be. As he shared the results with other BCNM staff during a staff meeting, smiles appeared on faces all around the room. “Despite the many things we cannot do, Ricardo has shown us something we can do,” Joseph Bunce, the convention’s executive director said to the staff about Rivera and the staff’s work of helping churches thrive. It seemed that the training sessions’ impact affected the convention’s staff just like it affected the event’s participants.
This article appeared in the Baptist New Mexican (bcnm.com/bnm), newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. Kevin Parker is editor of the Baptist New Mexican.
Unexpected results from personal
evangelism training in Ky.
By Todd Gray
MAYFIELD, Ky. (Western Recorder) — Why would a pastor set aside three Sunday morning worship services to equip members in personal evangelism? Furthermore, why would the same pastor expect Sunday morning attenders to take part in personal evangelism role-play during Sunday morning worship time?
A pastor would only do these things because he is fully convinced of the power and importance of personal evangelism training for the people of God.
Justin Carrico is the planting pastor of Catalyst Church, which currently meets at the Graves County High School in Mayfield. Catalyst started out of the pastor’s concern for the 27,780 residents of Graves County who, according to Glenmary Research, do not attend any church, anywhere on Sunday morning.
He said, “That means that 75 percent of the people we live beside, work beside, and play beside do not attend church. We believe they have either been burned by a church in the past or have not had much contact with Christians who are vocal about the Gospel and how it affects their everyday lives. God gave us a vision to change that. We pray to awaken a movement where the church is equipped to make disciples and serve this community.”
For Catalyst Church, the desire to make disciples who will be vocal about their faith required them to devote four Sunday mornings to personal evangelism equipping time.
Carrico led the church of about 100 people to use the “3 Circles Personal Evangelism” tool being promoted statewide by Kentucky Baptist Convention.
As to why he chose to use “3 Circles,” Carrico said, “I personally knew the creator of the method, Jimmy Scroggins, and had sat under his teaching in seminary. But the main factor was that it was a visual way to present the Gospel. We live in a visual/image driven culture. We felt like this method helps to engage the listener and allows for an incredible invitation to respond at the end as all ‘3 Circle’s are there in front of the listener, visibly demonstrating all that has just been shared.”
Pastor Carrico and the members of Catalyst Church experienced outcomes of the training that were both expected and unexpected. “Overall, it was well received,” Carrico said.
The pastor demonstrated the 3 Circle presentation from the stage and then gradually eased the congregation into personal role-play. “We had a good number of people who felt equipped and prepared to share the Gospel through this training,” he said.
The unexpected outcomes were also mentioned. Pastor Carrico said, “The most important and exciting thing that has happened through this training is that we had salvations happen while we were practicing sharing with each other. We had a wife that was practicing with her husband and he ended up realizing his need for Jesus. We also had a dad share it with his stepson one Sunday morning, and the 15-year-old son repented and believed right then.”
Catalyst Church and Pastor Justin’s experience serve as a great reminder of the importance of personal evangelism training. When God’s people are equipped to share Christ then the Gospel will be shared and people will be saved. If you are interested in learning how you can be equipped and resourced to train your church in personal evangelism contact the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s Evangelism, Church Planting and Campus Ministry team at [email protected] or call (502) 489-3418.
This article appeared in the Western Recorder (westernrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Todd Gray is the evangelism and church planting team leader for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
EDITOR’S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board’s call to embrace the world’s unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board’s call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.