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Missionaries see God at work in ‘melting pot’ of Suriname


PARAMARIBO, Suriname (BP)–Beside a jungle river in Suriname, a village chief stared at a tiny, wooden cross he held in his hands.
“You mean somebody can die and be raised from the dead?” the elderly chief asked, interrupting a gospel presentation by missionary Courtney Street.
“Yes, that’s what we’re saying about this great Jesus. That’s exactly what he did,” said Street, a Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionary in Suriname, a former Dutch colony in northern South America.
Street continued telling the gospel story to the crowd, members of an unreached tribe called the Saramaccans. When he finished, he asked if anyone wanted to accept Christ as Savior. The chief began fiddling with the wooden cross, a gift from Southern Baptist volunteers who were working with Street and an evangelical church-planting team targeting the Saramaccans.
“You could tell he was seriously considering this decision,” said Street, who then was a new missionary still in language study. “Finally, he raised his hand and said, ‘Yes.'”
That day nearly 80 Saramaccans accepted Christ in that village, a stronghold of voodoo. Their conversions illustrate a growing response to the gospel among the Saramaccans, descendants of African slaves who escaped from Dutch plantations in Suriname in the 17th and 18th centuries.
But the Saramaccans aren’t the only people in Suriname who need Christ.
That’s especially evident in Paramaribo, the capital city where Street and his wife, Arleen, live with their four children. There you see Hindu temples, Islamic mosques and Jewish synagogues. You also see Suriname’s diverse population: More than half of the people are Asians, many of them descendants of indentured servants. Another 40 percent are Africans, whose ancestors were slaves; the rest are Amerindians and Europeans.
The Streets find many opportunities to share the gospel among this amazing ethnic mix.
“What excites me the most is that wherever we go, people are willing to listen when we talk to them about the gospel,” said Street, a native of Jamaica who immigrated to the United States as a young adult. “But what bothers me the most is the fact that people figure if they aren’t Hindus or Muslims, then they’re Christians.”
That’s true of many of the country’s African Creoles, descendants of West African slaves who settled mainly in Paramaribo after slavery was abolished in 1863. Unlike the Saramaccans, many Creoles come from families nominally affiliated with Roman Catholic or Moravian churches. The Streets recently joined a church planting team trying to help the Creoles find a personal relationship with Christ and seeking to start evangelical churches among Creoles. The couple also are involving Suriname Baptists in the efforts.
“We’re catalysts,” said Arleen Street, from Upper Marlboro, Md. “One of our jobs is to say to believers who are already here, ‘Run, brother. Run, sister. You can do it.'”
The Streets want to play that same role in mobilizing Southern Baptists — especially African Americans — for missions. “There’s so much more to the Christian life than just sitting in church on Sunday,” she said. “Missions is where the action is.”
The Streets began to realize that themselves while living in a Washington suburb in the early 1990s. They had a comfortable life. They were active at Mount Calvary Baptist Church, an African American Southern Baptist congregation in Lanham, Md. But something was missing.
“The Bible says, ‘… to him whom much is given, much will be required,’ and the Lord showed us he wanted us to do more toward advancing his kingdom than what we’d been doing,” Arleen Street said.
One night God spoke to them through the evening news. As the Streets watched a report on political unrest in Haiti, images of destitute Haitians flashed across the television screen. “We asked each other, ‘Would you be willing to go to a place like that to serve?'” she recalled. Suddenly it was like when God said [to the prophet Isaiah], ‘Who will go?'”
“Send us” was the couple’s response.
Since the Streets became missionaries in 1997, they’ve prayed that other African American believers also would answer God’s call to global missions. “We know the Father has invited others to join him” on mission, Arleen said.
To learn more about overseas opportunities through the IMB, e-mail initial.contacts@imb.org or call toll-free 1-888-422-6461.

    About the Author

  • Mary E. Speidel