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Refugees, immigrants spark Reaching the Nations focus

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (BP) — Spreading the Gospel among the more than 42 million foreign born refugees, immigrants and international students in the U.S. is the focus of the Reaching the Nations in North America conference, an upcoming national event spearheaded by North Carolina Baptists.

Termed “diaspora missions,” ministry to those in the U.S. living outside their birth countries can help evangelize unreached, unengaged people groups, conference organizer Chuck Register told Baptist Press.

“The summit is designed to heighten the awareness of denominational leaders and local church practitioners to the millions of foreign-born residents God has guided to the U.S. and to focus our attention and efforts on engaging immigrants, refugees and international students with the Gospel for church planting,” said Register, executive leader for church planting and missions partnerships with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. “Many of these groups are classified as unreached people groups or unreached and unengaged people groups.”

The conference is set for Aug. 26–27 at Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tenn., with the Tennessee State Convention, the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board joining North Carolina Baptists as hosts.

Among top speakers are LifeWay Research executive director Ed Stetzer, who will join Wheaton College’s faculty in July, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank S. Page, World Relief Vice President of Advocacy and Policy Jenny Yang, and J.D. Payne, pastor for church multiplication at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.

Breakout sessions, worship and prayer are also on tap, with focused prayer targeting 30 strategical foreign born people groups here, Register said.

Diaspora missions advocates Terry Sharp, IMB’s state, association and urban mobilization strategy leader, and Bryan Galloway, senior research analyst for IMB’s global research department, have researched foreign born people groups in select U.S. cities. The two have documented their findings through a joint project with NAMB at peoplegroups.info, and have led educational and motivational diaspora missions conferences aimed at churches.

“Many of those same people groups that we’re trying to reach globally are now in North America,” Sharp said. “The people groups have now come to North America, whether that be the immigrants that are coming, or the refugees or the international students, we’re trying to help the churches to connect the dots.”

Diaspora missions interest is increasing among Southern Baptists, Sharp said, perhaps encouraged by a global crisis of 60 million refugees.

“I think our churches are very much a Great Commission Christian people,” he said. “They see opportunities to love people in Christ’s name. I think they’re stepping up and doing so. But it’s been a process for the past few years of just casting vision.”

While targeted peoples were formerly concentrated in larger cities, Sharp said, such people groups can now be found in cities of all sizes.

“While we want to do everything we can to get the Gospel to the ends of the earth, and we want to keep doing that, the ends of the earth is coming to us,” Sharp said. “I think we can help churches to connect those dots and be involved both globally and locally, because so many of the people groups that are coming here are part of the least reached or unreached people groups globally.”

The conference can help churches become engaged in diaspora missions perhaps even in their own cities, he said, and is designed for churches already at various levels of engagement.

In North Carolina alone, mapping efforts have found 158 different people groups North Carolina Baptists are working to reach, Register said.

“As we continue to refine our mapping we are assisting North Carolina Baptist churches with engaging the nations by providing assistance with strategy development, training and coaching,” Register said.

The summit will hopefully launch a nation-wide discussion and focus upon diaspora ministry among Southern Baptists and motivate attendees to launch such ministry efforts at their home churches, “convinced of the biblical mandate to reach the scattered nations living in the US,” Register said, “and equipped and committed to launch ministries to discover and engage the various people groups living within our communities.”

Among other speakers are Kim Carr, executive director, International Learning Center, Jacksonville, Fla.; Keelan Cook, pastor, Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C., and urban resource coordinator at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for Great Commission Studies; Alan Cross, executive director, Community Development Initiatives, Montgomery, Ala.; Mike Edens, professor of theology and Islamic studies, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a former missionary; Sammy Joo, lead pastor, Nations Engaged Together Church in Raleigh and collegiate consultant for North Carolina Baptists; Boto Joseph, missionary among South Asians for Global Gates church planting center and lead planter of Jackson Heights Community Church in New York; Zac Lyons, people group engagement catalyst, North Carolina Baptists; Beth Ann Williams, executive director, Women’s Missionary Union, and Lawrence Yoo, lead pastor, Waypoint Church, Durham, N.C.

Conference registration is $35 and available at ncbaptist.org under the Events tab.