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Missionaries should train nationals, stay in background, worker says

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–A missionary’s task is more than just ministering on foreign soil; it is about training nationals to evangelize and minister in their country, says the missionary-in-residence at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
“An expatriate missionary never ought to pastor a national church,” says Steve Woods, who graduated from Southwestern with a master of music degree in 1977 and now serves with the International Mission Board in Argentina. “We should be doing catalytic work — training, encouraging, assisting and giving guidance. That is the missionary role.”
Woods, in looking to the Word of God, took note of the Apostle Paul’s ministry. “Paul never pastored a church,” the missionary notes. But, “he was very successful, and part of that has to do with his understanding of his missionary role.”
“We need to train national leaders and laymen to go and do. We need to be in the background while they’re on the playing field.”
For the past eight months, Woods has been serving as strategy coordinator for the unreached Criollio people of northern Argentina where he is instrumental in training locals to minister. His wife, Pam, ministers via disciple training and using storying to evangelize.
As the Woodses minister to the Criollo people in northern Argentina, their goal is to see all the Criollo people become disciples of Jesus Christ and to see “a New Testament church in every Criollo community and the northern Argentine Criollo discipling the nations.”
“Building relationships [with native Argentines] will give us more of an open door to showing how loving God is,” Pam Woods explains in discussing the strategies they have sought to begin building the relationships.
Years ago, Steve Woods recounts, missions was never an option for him. “I always thought it would be neat to be a missionary, but it was just not on my agenda,” he says.
After returning from a short-term mission trip to Taiwan, he began to feel a “tugging on his heart” for foreign missions but was reluctant to ask God what it meant.
As the tugging became stronger, so did his desire to follow God’s will. Less than an hour after he asked God if foreign missions was in his future, Woods got God’s answer.
While preparing a Sunday school lesson, he came across Romans 10:14: “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
“God used that Scripture and he nailed me right in the heart and said, ‘Here’s your answer, the answer is, Yes, I want you to serve outside of the United States,'” Woods recalls.
After accepting the call with a lot of excitement and some fear, Woods and his wife prayed about where God would have them serve. He felt their ministry would be in Asia since his call came shortly after the Taiwan trip.
But God had other plans. The Woodses contacted the IMB and stated their desire to serve in Asia, but the field requests they received were from Latin America. After Steve and Pam agreed to pray separately about where God would have them serve, it became apparent God was calling them to Argentina.
After much prayer and searching for God’s leadership, the Woodses moved to the province of Cordoba in Argentina to be music missionaries in 1988.
For Steve, seeing God at work makes his mission work worthwhile. While serving in Cordoba, he was asked to preach in a church and, as he got up to sing, he saw two girls sitting in the back pew of the church. One of the girls began sobbing.
“That really got my attention,” he recounts. “I finished the song and preached the message that I felt like the Lord had given and I gave an invitation. Neither one of them indicated any kind of decision so I talked with them after the service.”
Woods invited them to come back the next Sunday. After preparing a very evangelistic sermon, he gave another invitation expecting the girls to respond. When they did not, he encouraged them to find a Baptist church near their home where they could learn more about Jesus.
“I said goodbye to them, and I never expected to see them again.”
Several months later, Woods and his family were invited to sing in another church in Cordoba. As he looked around the auditorium for a friend of his, he spotted the two girls.
“I ran over to them and said, ‘How are you?’ and they said, ‘We are fine with Jesus in our hearts.'” One of the girls, now a missionary herself, considers Woods one of her fathers in faith.
As missionaries in residence, the Woodses feel a burden for promoting mission involvement among Southwestern students. “If we don’t do missions, we don’t do what Jesus very clearly commands us to do,” Steve says.
“I see it as an obedience thing,” he continues. “We have a very clear job that we are supposed to be doing, and if we’re not doing it, then we are not obeying.”

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  • Robyn Little