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Locals extend Gospel’s reach in Asia

EDITORS’ NOTE: Recently the International Mission Board released its 2007 Annual Statistical Report, which provides information on how God continues to move around the world. This story is the third in a three-week series in November. These articles take a closer look behind the numbers at the lives changed by the work of Southern Baptist missionaries and their overseas Baptist partners.

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Some in southern Asia worry that becoming a Christian will mean being shut out of a culture where life and death are marked in a temple or mosque. Where will they have their wedding if they are no longer Hindu or Muslim? Who will mourn and bury them if they have lived as a Christian?

In some areas of southern Asia, to declare belief in Jesus is to be labeled a social outcast.

“If they became a Christian, [they believe that] they’d be completely on their own,” said Anita*, a journeyman missionary who recently finished a two-year term with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board in southern Asia. “It’s a big barrier to the Gospel.”

But through the help of local believers who worked alongside Anita, many have turned away from their temples and idol worship and found that they are not alone. Anita reported 1,856 decisions for Christ, 530 baptisms and the formation of 100 house churches and 226 house groups in an area of southern Asia.

Anita, who hails from Ohio, partnered with a local man, Nitin*, to train new Christians to share their faith and start churches. They trained four other local believers who worked alongside them.

“These partners, first and foremost, help connect us with the people,” Anita said. “They know where to find villages and families who are willing to hear from us or are willing to be trained.”

This is just one example of the several thousand local believers who work alongside IMB missionaries around the globe. In the IMB’s 2007 Annual Statistical Report, Baptist partners like Nitin reported working with 2,997 local missionaries on the field.

If the Gospel is to continue spreading, more IMB missionaries and Baptist partners will be needed.

Jerry Rankin, president of the IMB, said because Southern Baptists exceeded last year’s $150 million Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal, more missionaries were able to go and disciple new believers in places like southern Asia.

However, due to a decrease in the buying power of the dollar overseas, Southern Baptists will have to contribute $165 million to maintain these efforts in the coming year.

“It is not the sole responsibility of Western missionaries to win the world to Jesus Christ,” Rankin said. “The potential for fulfilling the Great Commission is in the multitude of local believers multiplying the witness of missionaries.

“[IMB missionaries] go not only to share the Gospel but to disciple and train national believers among more than 1,100 people groups,” he added. “They mobilize Baptists in countries around the world and help equip them to respond to go as missionaries to penetrate the frontiers of lostness.”

Local believers tend to have the advantage in connecting with people in their own culture. They know the language and culture, blending into their surroundings in areas where missionaries stand out.

Anita said Nitin was a godsend as he traveled with her to various cities and villages. In addition to his ministry duties, he helped with simple tasks such as translating orders at restaurants or navigating travel via trains and taxis.

Nitin also had a knack for connecting with groups of people during discipleship training courses.

“He knew how to take things maybe further or even added some things that could grip the people more,” Anita said. “He would translate everything I said, but I could tell he would add some anecdotal stories that just got the crowd to laugh. We just worked very well together.”

Following each training session, attendees were given an opportunity to share their faith in their neighborhood or village. Though many of them were reluctant at first, there were reports of multiple on-the-spot decisions for Christ.

“We’d send them two by two, so by the end … you’d have on average like 30 people newly saved that day,” Anita said. “It’s pretty amazing. People are just hungry out there.”

Though not everyone responded to the training, those Anita referred to as the “faithful ones” kept coming to learn more. Many of these believers discovered opportunities to share the Gospel when they least expected.

“All they had to do was kind of open their mouth,” Anita said. “God was already preparing the hearts of people.”
*Names changed for security reasons. Shawn Hendricks is a writer for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. For information on becoming involved in international missions, go to imb.org. To see other stories of what God is doing around the world, go to commissionstories.com.

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  • Shawn Hendricks