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Researching the Japanese in Argentina

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Researching Japanese immigrants in Argentina was among the ministries conducted on mission trips this summer by teams from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The mission ventures also involved sharing the Gospel on university campuses in a country largely closed to Christianity, as five teams of students and faculty traveled to three continents.

David Sills, director of Southern’s Great Commission Center and associate professor of missions and cultural anthropology, noted, “Students and professors who have been on the field, have seen the needs of the world and have a picture of how the Lord is working in other nations are able to bring that perspective back to the classroom and their ministries.” The center aims to “involve every student and every professor in intercultural missions, both overseas as well as among immigrants in the U.S.A.,” Sills said.

Sills led a team of nine Southern students to conduct research on how to reach Japanese people living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After a week of class instruction on how to conduct ethnographic research, the group conducted surveys among the city’s Japanese population.

“We interviewed Japanese Christians, Buddhist business owners, Shinto immigrants and tried to find out how assimilated they have become into the culture of Buenos Aires,” Sills recounted. “We wanted to know what religion they practice, whether they speak Spanish or Japanese in the home, who makes decisions among them and whether the second and third generations still see themselves as Japanese or Latin Americans.

“All of these things impact the way the IMB [International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention] will communicate the Gospel and where the personnel resources will be focused.”

The July 1-14 trip helped the students realize that academic research on unreached people groups plays a vital practical role in reaching the world for Christ, Sills said.

“More than one of them remarked that it would be impossible to be an effective missionary without studying the culture first,” he said of the students. “I can say that in class, and they may write it down and believe me, but it takes on greater significance when they see it firsthand.”

Wendy Jones, a master of divinity student from Abbesville, S.C., was one of the students who became convinced of the value cultural research holds for missions.

“One of the IMB missionaries we worked with mentioned that if he had the kind of information we collected when he began his work, it would have been invaluable for his ministry strategy,” Jones said. “As we think of the future missionaries for the Japanese-Argentine, our prayer is that the material we put together will aid in the development of an effective strategy for reaching them for Christ.”

The team in East Asia shared the Gospel on seven college campuses through activities such as basketball, English classes and engaging people on the streets. The group of nine Southern students shared the message of Christ with at least 100 people individually and saw at least three people trust Christ as Lord and Savior. They were able to spend a large amount of time discipling each of the new believers and helped them get connected to a local church.

“… [T]he entire three weeks we were there, we spent time with different people three or four times a day sharing the Gospel in each different encounter,” said Will Brooks, leader of the June 3-23 trip and a master of divinity student from Columbia, S.C. He described the students’ witness on the campuses as “a very biblical, very Christ-centered, Word-centered sharing of the Gospel.”

Jessica Vaughn, a Boyce College student from Tuscaloosa, Ala., was present when one Asian woman committed her life to Christ and was able to begin discipling her through several additional meetings.

“Since we were there for three weeks, we were able to meet with her and her friend, who also believed, for about four more times teaching them how to study Scripture on their own, just beginning to disciple them,” Vaughn said.

Sills said the seminary mission trips represented a valuable opportunity for Southern students to work with IMB missionaries and see how Southern Baptists partner to spread the Gospel to every area of the globe.

“I appreciate the opportunity that we have to cooperate in the work of our Southern Baptist missionaries all around the world by encouraging them with ministry and prayer support from Southern Seminary while also raising awareness of the opportunities for our students to serve internationally when they complete their education,” Sills said.