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Ph.D. grad ponders possibilities for reaping international harvest

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Many American evangelicals harbor a major misconception about the Great Commission. They believe going to the “world” solely means serving on an international mission field.

Wrong, says Rob Plummer, a doctor of philosophy candidate at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. International missions are not just international anymore. They are local, too. And for the past few years at Southern Seminary, Plummer has worked through local ministries to reach the legions of lost who have immigrated to Louisville, Ky.

“God commands us to go to the ends of the earth,” Plummer said. “And in some sense, many American Christians have been disobedient in helping to fulfill this request. So God in his grace has brought the ends of the earth here.”

Part of the international harvest has come to cities like Louisville, Plummer said.

“People from almost any country in the world live here,” said Plummer, a Brentwood, Tenn., native who is scheduled to graduate May 18. “I’m challenged in my own life to really love and care for internationals. … I delight in it.”

A recent experience reinforced these missions principles for Plummer. He had encountered a Sudanese man while doing door-to-door evangelism in downtown Louisville. Naturally, Plummer had no gospel materials in the man’s native tongue. Plummer did some research on www.multilanguage.com and obtained a Bible and a “Jesus” video in Sudanese Arabic.

The next week he returned to the house. Upon entering with the video, Plummer noticed with dismay that the family had no VCR. He still presented his gifts.

The man’s smile sparkled with unmistakable surprise.

“When [we gave him] the Jesus video, his eyes just lit up,” Plummer said. “He said, ‘You will not believe this, but we’ve been saving money for months … and today, we have enough money, and we’re going out to buy a new TV and VCR.'”

God’s providential working didn’t end there. That same week, Plummer met a man visiting Southern’s campus who was planning to start a Sudanese Arabic speaking church. The man was delighted to hear about a fellow countryman who was curious about the gospel. Amazingly Plummer, who had never met a Sudanese person in his life, had met two in a week.

The instance just shows that many opportunities to minister to internationals exist if one will only look, Plummer said. In fact, he and his wife, Chandi, have been looking and finding internationals for several years now in Louisville.

They are particularly burdened for Louisville’s Chinese population. Since 1997, they have served in the youth ministry at a Chinese church that meets in the basement of Third Avenue Baptist Church in downtown Louisville.

“With all of the internationals here in Louisville, it seemed appropriate that we shouldn’t wait to get involved in international ministry,” Plummer said.

The church, which is pastored by Southern Ph.D. graduate Timothy Wu, is located near the University of Louisville — a school with a large international population.

“These are people from the farthest corners of the globe who’ve come to America to study various things — computer science, physics, various medical fields,” Plummer said.

In the past year, church attendance has more than doubled to 100. The church baptized six on Easter Sunday.

“People are coming to faith in Christ,” Plummer said. “God’s given us opportunities to be witnesses to unbelievers there and to sharpen and encourage believers through sound biblical study.”

Churches that reach internationals locally are crucial for reaching the entire world, Plummer said.

“They are most likely going to go back to their own countries and take the gospel with them,” he said.

And if Christians don’t seek out ministry opportunities with internationals, others will fill the gap.

“If the genuine Christians are not reaching out to internationals, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the other cult groups will,” Plummer said.

His ministry also has included helping international students on Southern’s campus. For several years, he served as the seminary’s international student coordinator.

“Our school in many ways has a really rich representation of internationals,” Plummer said. “I really have enjoyed getting to know them and learning from them.”

In fact, he has found Southern to have more international diversity than his undergraduate alma mater, Duke University.

“In actuality, I knew very few people of different backgrounds there [at Duke],” Plummer said. “So it’s funny to come to what the world would perceive as a narrow or un-diversified place — Southern Seminary … and then to find more than 30 different international groups here.”

Plummer’s desire to minister to internationals is one he’s had since youth.

“I think that God has given me a natural love and an affinity with international people,” Plummer said. “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always loved people from other countries and cultures.”

His passion was cultivated when he did missionary work in China in 1993-94 before coming to seminary.

“It was a wonderful, exciting time of ministry,” said Plummer, who taught English there. “We saw a number of people come to faith in the Lord and even lead other people to faith in the Lord.”

Rob and Chandi plan to continue their ministry to internationals upon graduation. Some might say Plummer should use his Ph.D. by teaching in the United States. But Plummer believes God’s gifts to him are needed more in international seminaries.

“There are so many places in the U.S. where 30 people will apply for one job position,” he said. “But there are these places overseas that have had job requests for two or three years, and no one has filled them. There are classrooms full of dozens of students saying, ‘Someone come. Please teach us. We want to learn the Bible.’ The need is there. The opportunity is there. It’s just that people aren’t willing to go. …

“I look forward to being out in the world, mixing with the lost internationals at a more frequent level.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: ROB PLUMMER.

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  • Bryan Cribb