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Reaching Boston internationals gateway to reaching the world

EDITORS’ NOTE: The Week of Prayer for North American Missions, part of the 2004 North American Missions Emphasis, is being observed in many churches March 7-14. Baptist Press during this period will present profiles on the featured missionaries. For more on the emphasis, visit www.AnnieArmstrong.com.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (BP)–Michael Dean’s Bible study for the day was about the Apostle Paul’s message to the people of Athens — how their “unknown god” had been revealed as the God of Scripture. The topic was especially appropriate for the group of Asian graduate students’ wives gathered around the table at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Even though I still don’t believe God exists, I think many things in the Bible are useful,” said one Chinese woman, who like all of those attending already had a graduate degree. “It has been 20 or 30 years [of being taught God is a myth], so it’s a little hard for us to believe in God’s existence. It takes a longer time for us to become Christian. But during this process I think we are very glad to learn something about God.”

The mixed response of belief and unbelief -– or not believing “yet,” as he describes it — is not uncommon for Dean, who develops and coordinates ministry to internationals living in the Boston area on a short-term basis. While he had not anticipated getting into the fundamentals of Christian belief so deeply during that particular Bible study, he welcomed the opportunity.

“The Bible is not just useful and helpful, it’s necessary for learning who God is,” Dean shares with the group. “… Just like you make a decision to get married and follow [your husband] to Boston, you become a Christian when you make a decision and accept the fact that you know who God is -– that He’s Jesus, who lived here and died here and rose again long ago. He’s not just a philosopher like Confucius or Buddha. He’s God.”

Dean and his wife, Michelle, are among nearly 5,200 missionaries in the United States and Canada supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. They are featured during the March 7-14 Week of Prayer and the North American Mission Study, which this year focus on “The World at Our Doorstep.”

Dean serves on the staff of the Greater Boston Baptist Association. In many respects his work is as an international missionary, planting seeds of the Gospel in students, business professionals and their families before they return to share what they’ve experienced in their home countries.

As the home of some of the world’s most prestigious universities and an international business center, there is no shortage of opportunity. The city is commonly known as “the Athens of America” -– making the parallels with Paul’s experience on Mars Hill even more appropriate.

“When you touch Boston, you can really touch the world,” Dean said. “There are ways to make strategic relationships here that cannot be made in any other place. So if you reach someone here and they become a Christian, they can go back and not only change their village, their neighborhood or their million-person city. They can ultimately change the world.”

He likes to call modern-day Boston a second Pentecost, where the people of many nations are gathered with an opportunity to be touched by God. “These internationals are going to return to every nation, oftentimes to nations where we cannot have official missionaries,” he said.

Dean’s interest in working with internationals began while in college. He would do “little bitty things” for international students like help them go to a bank, help with conversational English or help them with their studies. And he found he not only felt good about helping them, but he made some special friends in the process.

“It meant a lot to me because I was appreciated,” he said. “And that first experience had a great impact on my life.”

Michael and Michelle previously worked with the North American Mission Board in campus ministry as US/C-2 missionaries, and Michael also served as a Mission Service Corps missionary. But then the Greater Boston Baptist Association determined that international ministries -– both on campus and off — needed to become a priority. Working under the ministry name of Boston International Ministries, his job as an appointed missionary was to establish ministries sponsored by the association, help churches establish their own ministries as God led, and develop a base of both local and outside volunteers willing to work with those ministries on a long-term basis.

Much of the direction for his work came through a simple search for affordable housing in Boston. The Deans became resident managers for International Fellowship House, a ministry in Boston’s historic financial district that became an ideal platform for both ministering directly to internationals and networking with other Christians involved in similar work. They lived in a two-room apartment while they saved money to be able to afford a home.

For four years they worked with graduate students and young professionals staying at the ministry house. On Sunday nights they would lead discussion times about Christianity and were able to see several individuals come to faith in Christ. There were students, but there were also young Russian businessmen studying American business principles and other international professionals.

“Our children have grown up with internationals,” said Michelle, noting that they have worked with internationals throughout their 12-year marriage. “They called these international men their uncles, and they really considered them part of their family.”

Even now, living in suburban Boston, international visitors are still a regular presence in their home.

“We feel like that’s an important part of learning about the American culture,” Michelle said. “And it helps us get to know them better, and them to get to know us better…. For us, it’s not working. It’s just what we love to do.”

The one-on-one nature of Michael’s ministry has decreased somewhat, however, as his efforts have shifted toward equipping others to serve in the continually expanding ministry.

Several Mission Service Corps missionaries work with Boston International Ministries on a regular basis. And the volunteer force for Boston International Ministries included more than 100 people over the past year -– including local volunteers and mission groups from across the country.

“We’re always needing more long-term volunteers, people willing to stay six months or a year to do English-language ministries or working with consulates,” he said.

But even as the ministries expand, Michael remains awed by the scope of the challenge at hand. He compares it to facing Niagara Falls, knowing that each drop of water represents an international for whom Christ died.

“I feel overwhelmed many times, because I feel like I’m running around with a cup trying to catch little drops,” he said. “This strategic drop over here, this world leader over there. It gives me a sadness sometimes because there are so many others that are gushing by that we don’t have the opportunity to reach. But it’s not about what we can do or what a handful of us can do. It’s about what we -– as all believers -– can do.”
For more on Boston International Ministries, visit www.bostonbaptist.org. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: A WORD FOR THE WORLD, CAMPUS CONVERSATION, IMPARTING A VISION and READY TO SPEAK.

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  • James Dotson