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Missionaries remain critical to reaching U.S. & Canada


EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the fourth in a five-part series marking the five-year point since the 1997 creation of the Southern Baptists’ North American Mission Board.

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–As the North American Mission Board has taken on bold new directions in spearheading Southern Baptists’ domestic missions efforts, career missionaries remain a critical part of the five-year-old board’s strategy for reaching the continent.

Domestic missionaries have always faced a different set of challenges from that of missionaries overseas. Where there is a breadth of lostness in other countries, in North America there is a historic influence of Christianity that is indisputable. But the depth of lostness often is just as great. So many have a nodding acquaintance with a cultural brand of Christianity that attempts to espouse a gospel that changes individual lives are often shrugged off.

Rising to that challenge, homeland missionaries focus their efforts on areas of the country and people groups that remain largely unaffected by the gospel — the nation’s urban centers, the Northeast and inner cities, for example. They are identified less by geography than by the absence of Southern Baptist churches.

The majority of NAMB missionaries are church planters, working directly to build communities of faith that result in people coming to know Christ. Others fill strategic ministry niches often beyond the ability of the local church to handle alone.

Among them:

— Collegiate minister Andy Haynes works with students in Providence, R.I., a critical mission field for impacting future world and national leaders with the gospel.

“This generation has no relationship to church and has very misconstrued ideas of God,” Haynes points out. “The reigning pluralism is very confusing.”

Despite the challenges, his efforts have been effective. A Bible study instituted just three years ago with a handful of students at Johnson and Wales University, a respected culinary school, has multiplied into several more, including a large one that is attended by 25 to 30 students. A Bible study at Brown University is also in the works.

— By contrast, Southern California missionary Don Overstreet focuses on down-and-outers — the homeless, drug users, the poor and ex-prisoners — and assimilates them into congregations called Set Free Christian Fellowships, designed exclusively for the outcasts of society. He sets up a band in a front yard on a weekend night, for example, and his informal outdoor music fest attracts a crowd.

Those who respond to the gospel are not expected to then show up at a typical church the next Sunday but are invited to a “ranch” in a trailer park community to spend the next 60 days. Offering rehab saturated with Bible study, the ranch provides stability and manifests the Set Free mission.

“First we want to introduce them to Christ, but we also help them make their lives whole,” Overstreet says. Fellowship schools also help rehabilitate lives, providing job training in computer, machine shop or silk screening. Also, pastor schools develop leaders for new church plants.

From the first fellowship started eight years ago southeast of downtown Los Angeles, 15 more have been planted in Southern California’s Inland Baptist Association. Others have been planted in San Diego, Seattle and Atlanta.

— Missionary Ken Welborn works with the United Nations community in New York, where he seeks to develop relationships with U.N. ambassadors and diplomats representing 189 countries in order to share Christ. To create interest, he uses special events, like one featuring Billy Graham as keynote speaker. Welborn follows up on requests for Bibles in their own language or “Jesus” videos, visiting ambassadors’ offices, attending their receptions and praying with diplomats.

— In Mobile, Ala., missionary Jeffrey Ford oversees outreach efforts to campgrounds and beaches, using special events, Bible clubs and worship services to reach snowbirders and vacationers. Campers who don’t ordinarily attend church at home may attend a campgrounds worship service, providing their first exposure to the gospel.

Working in cooperation with the state convention and association, Ford coordinated 27 groups of student volunteers last summer. And while resort ministry is often considered a seed-planting effort, he recorded 57 decisions for Christ during the season.

— Finally, Siam Rogers coordinates NAMB’s Internet evangelism efforts. He helps develop and maintain NAMB’s evangelistic websites and monitors the activity there, while also helping coordinate efforts of other volunteer Internet evangelists across the country. He also hopes to equip churches and individuals to use the Internet evangelistically.

Indeed, Rogers has discovered that users are searching for Jesus, often at the lonely hour of 3 a.m. And with websites like NAMB’s www.thegoodnews.org available, they can find God right where they are — wherever that may be. Recently he received a response from a Pakistani Muslim who confessed his decision to follow Christ. His next question: “What should I do now?”

All missionary personnel must meet certain qualifications to be approved for service, but for any Christian who desires to serve, there are avenues and places to jump in, no matter their background and past experience. For now, the demand for new missionaries overwhelms the supply.

Although key strategies implemented by NAMB — evangelism, church planting and mobilizing lay Christians — prioritize the efforts, Jesus Christ himself addressed the pivotal issue that will likely determine success or failure of the task at hand.

In his timeless charge to his disciples, Jesus said: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:37).
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Adapted with permission from On Mission magazine, www.onmission.com. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: COMMUNITY MISSIONARY and YOUTH IN VIEW.

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