News Articles

Midwestern Seminary ponders outreach to faith’s persecutors

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Administrators of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently returned from North Africa and the Middle East, set before students the vision to reach persecutors of the Christian faith during a special chapel service.
Donning Arabic and Islamic garb for their reflections were Mark Coppenger, Midwestern’s president, Gary Ledbetter, vice president for student development, Jim Cogdill, vice president for academic affairs, and Ron Rogers, associate professor of missions.
Cogdill contrasted the attitude of believers they met during their August tour of the region with those in American congregations. “I’ve pastored most of my adult life, and after this trip I’ll never be the same,” he said in the Sept. 10 chapel. “I’ve been in churches where people complained about the air-conditioning or the pews, or that somebody was in their seat, or the organ or the piano was on the wrong side. We met with believers in a mud-brick hut who risked their lives every time they met together as a church.”
Coppenger noted the growing tensions between Muslims and Christians in North Africa. He emphasized Midwestern’s desire not just to lend aid to persecuted Christians in the area, but also to reach their Muslim persecutors.
“Relatively many are attending to the needs of the persecuted Christians there,” said Coppenger, noting numerous relief efforts. “We’re talking about going to the persecutors. They are probably the most hated people in the world, and most feared, and we think those are the people that the Lord is leading us to reach out to, because Jesus Christ died for them.”
To do this, Midwestern is seeking to partner with Southern Baptist representatives already in the area. Their goal is to see churches established among 10 people groups in the area, including the Beja, Nubian, Fur and Baggara. Although plans are still being developed, efforts may begin as early as January with seminary volunteers working among Fur people living in eastern Chad. And, building on successful participation in the RAGBRAI bicycle tour across Iowa, plans for a similar trek across portions of North Africa and the Middle East also are being considered.
“Now let me tell you something,” Coppenger told students. “About one hour into this, you’ll have all the tourist fun you want. It is not a tourist thing. And it is not as though you are going to be dealing with delightful people. It is the love of Christ, the love of God, the glory of God, the Great Commission that keeps you going. This is serious business.
“If you don’t think that our God is powerful enough to bring millions and millions, perhaps a billion Muslims to a life-changing confrontation with the gospel,” Coppenger challenged students, “you do not understand our God.”
Along with seminary staff, several students described summer missions efforts in which they had participated. Keith Jones outlined the need in the seminary’s sister state of Iowa, where he again represented the seminary in RAGBRAI this past July. Scott Flippin spoke of God’s work in equatorial Brazil, where he and other students shared the gospel during a two-week softball camp. Dave Seffens told of planting churches in Highland, Ill., with a summer PRAXIS team and of working in South Africa where he assisted Southern Baptist career missionary Larry Dramann, a Midwestern graduate.
Seminarians were challenged to enlist in upcoming opportunities with Midwest Missions, a student-led volunteer program that places students with other Southern Baptist personnel across the United States over spring break. Flippin said that plans for church planting around Indianapolis and in Chicago are already coming together and that other opportunities are being considered.
“We are trying to hook up with some people who are in the business of what God has called them to do and are making a difference in the kingdom,” Flippin said of the program’s new focus. “We’re looking for learning opportunities where we can go out and see people that are having an effect and see how they are doing it. It’s not that we’ll copy their methods, because those methods may not work somewhere else. But we need to see their philosophy of ministry, and see how God may open your eyes.”
At the close of the chapel, Rogers noted the possibility of student participation in several international missions opportunities including further work in North Africa and the Middle East, as well as in central and southern Asia, Haiti, Scotland, South Africa and Thailand. Coppenger emphasized that such determined efforts to share the gospel are not foreign to Southern Baptists.
“Fortunately, we don’t have to beg you to provide a missions example in a denomination that doesn’t care about it,” Coppenger said. “What we’re really saying to you is, ‘Get with it.’ If you are going to be leaders, plug in. Be players in this.
“Now, who are we? We’re the smallest, the youngest, probably the least-endowed of our seminaries,” said Coppenger, emphasizing the odds which the seminary faces in its missions efforts. “Well, we’ll just figure that our God is great enough, and he might want to glorify himself through nobodies like us to make a big difference.”

    About the Author

  • Clinton Wolf