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SBC DIGEST: SEBTS students in South Asia; Tornado doesn’t stop camp trip

Southeastern students follow Great Commission in South Asia

By Chad Burchett/SEBTS

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) – As an institution committed to equipping Great Commission students with hands-on training, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) sent a team to serve persecuted churches and impoverished peoples in South Asia during summer 2022.

“The highlight of this mission trip to South Asia was watching Southeastern students engage and encourage local pastors and church leaders who are facing great hardships,” said Jeff Struecker, trip leader and assistant professor of Christian leadership at SEBTS.  

“I saw a deep appreciation in the eyes of these persecuted pastors, who were grateful that Southeastern students would travel across the globe to minister alongside them,” Struecker said. “This trip helped to give the team a vivid picture of how the Holy Spirit is advancing the Gospel globally. I was so proud of the way these students overcame hardships by the power of the Holy Spirit with a passion to fulfil the Great Commission.” 

The trip was designed to give students an appreciation for the persecuted church and enable students to support and serve alongside pastors and ministry leaders who are suffering for their faith. The team ministered in a leper colony and in some of the world’s poorest slums, shared the Gospel in rural schools and orphanages, and taught the Bible through translators in several churches. 

Recalling a formative moment for her during the trip, team member Madelyn Harkins remembered the religious persecution that even targeted the orphanages in their ministry region. “While in South Asia, we visited several orphanages,” she recounted. “When we got there, we learned that the government had taken most of the children, and those without papers were put in jail simply because they did not want the children learning about the Gospel. In their minds, the Gospel disturbs their way of life. Learning about the trials these children were facing broke my heart.” 

While ministering to the children, team member Matt Gandy was gripped by their strong faith and enduring joy. Gandy recalled listening to the children singing, “This Little Light of Mine.”

“I am sure I have heard this song a million times,” she said. “However, I have never heard the song performed by kids standing next to a sign that reads, ‘Martyrs and faithful saints of our orphanage.’ Listed next to the stage were the names of those who have been attacked for their faith, but the little girls kept on singing, ‘This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.’” 

Several students on the trip acknowledged how these experiences confirmed their resolve to fulfill the Great Commission wherever God sends them.

“God has called me to go and preach the Gospel, and I feel especially bothered by areas with little to no access to the Bible,” said Gandy, who is currently enrolled in the five-year BA to MDiv with Pastoral Ministry program at SEBTS. “This was a confirming trip to me in many ways. We have but one candle to burn, why would we burn it out in a place filled with light?”  

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Lifeway’s FUGE Camps blesses church after devastating tornado

By Marissa Postell/Lifeway

BREMEN, Ky. (BP) – When members of the FUGE Camps team at Lifeway Christian Resources heard about the tornado that devastated Bethlehem Baptist Church, they jumped in to help Wade Wilkins take students to his 30th year of FUGE Camps.

Wilkins has served as the music and youth director at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Bremen for 33 years. When a tornado destroyed the church’s sanctuary, fellowship building and parsonage on Dec. 10, 2021, Wilkins wasn’t sure if he would be able to take students to camp this summer.

Wade Wilkins (far right) attended his 30th year of FUGE Camps this summer. Wilkins has served as the music and youth director at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Bremen, Ky., for 33 years. When a tornado destroyed their church building on Dec. 10, 2021, Lifeway’s FUGE Camps team jumped in to make sure Wilkins and his students could attend camp. Photo by Brice Burris

In a congregation of about 125 people, five families lost their homes and everything they had in the tornado. Wilkins had planned for this summer to be the first summer back to camp after COVID-19 and his 30th year attending FUGE Camps. He had taken his students to FUGE Camps at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., every year except for 2008 when Union’s campus was devastated by a tornado.

Now, a tornado had ransacked his own town and church and homes of families in his church. In the past, the church had covered half the cost for their students to attend camp, and that no longer seemed feasible – not to mention the fact that they had lost their church van in the tornado.

“We’re in a small community, and the community has really pulled well together,” Wilkins said.

For the past seven months, Bethlehem Baptist Church has been meeting in Bremen Elementary School for Sunday morning worship and in the fellowship building of a sister church on Wednesday evenings.

“I’m not going to say it hasn’t been tough,” Wilkins said. “But we’ve been blessed, and things are going well for us.”

When a Lifeway team member called Wilkins in December to check on the church after the tornado, he was initially reluctant to share their story. But when Wilkins decided to call back and share the church’s story from the tornado, FUGE Camps event specialist, Claudia Hallquist, prayed with him over the phone.

A few hours later, Hallquist called him back. She had shared the church’s story with her manager. And Lifeway wanted Bethlehem Baptist Church to come to camp this summer as guests of Lifeway.

“I was overflowed with joy,” Wilkins said. “I told our church about it, and everybody was so thrilled that Lifeway extended that arm to us.”

So this summer, Wilkins packed up nine students in a van borrowed from a sister church and went to FUGE Camps at Union University.

“It’s almost like going to a revival and being revived. It’s a refreshing time even though it’s a tiring time,” Wilkins said. “And it’s an opportunity to be with some kids who aren’t really involved in the ministry at the church.”

Although Wilkins and Bethlehem Baptist Church have experienced a lot of uncertainty over the past several months, for a week at FUGE Camps, students got to take a step away and enjoy a time of bonding with one another and their leaders and focusing their attentions on Christ.

“They’re zeroed in on Christ and not the cares of the world. They’re not seeing all the news and things of that nature. And I think that’s what has had an impact on the kids,” Wilkins said. “It’s something they can stay focused on for that particular week. And it’s always tough going back [home].”

In a season where attending FUGE Camps seemed impossible, Wilkins’ students experienced the blessings of FUGE Camps that have kept Wilkins coming back for 30 years.

“I don’t have the words adequate enough to say how appreciative we are for what [Lifeway] has done for us,” Wilkins said. “But somebody told me, ‘Don’t take a blessing away from somebody.’”

This year, Wilkins gave Lifeway the gift of being a blessing to Bethlehem Baptist Church.

And if you’re wondering where you’ll find Wilkins next summer, he has Union University FUGE Camps on the calendar once again.

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