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Seminarians witness in town ‘starving for the gospel’

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–For months, a group of students and faculty from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary had planned a summer mission trip to Coca, Ecuador. Their schedule and evangelism plans had been mapped out and the only remaining detail left was to board the airplane. However, a few weeks prior to their departure, their itinerary was changed.
Instead of setting out for what they hoped would be an exciting week in the major city of Coca, the group of eight students and one professor found themselves in a rain forest at the headwaters of the Amazon River on a sizzling late-May morning, heading toward Sacha, a town about 45 minutes away from Coca. To top off their initial disappointment, three days prior to the group’s arrival in the small town of 5,000 people, political unrest had erupted, with pre-election turmoil spilling into the streets.
The New Orleans Seminary group encountered smoldering piles of tires and stories of the mayor’s brother-in-law being doused with gasoline and nearly set on fire before national police were able to rescue him from a certain lynching.
“Sacha seemed to be a desert in the midst of paradise,” said Saundra Bolden, a master of divinity student from Long Beach, Miss., of the spiritual condition of the people in the town.
“There seemed to be a spiritual drought mingled with an unquenchable thirst for divine deliverance,” Bolden said, “and the seemingly small contingent of committed Christians, an undiscovered oasis.”
Bolden and the others found the people of Sacha desiring to know more about Jesus, yet hope for sharing the love of Christ was dwindling each day due to the lack of spiritual vitality found among many of the members of the small Baptist church in the town.
Discouraged and few in number, members of Primera Iglesia Evangelica Buatista (Sacha’s First Baptist Church) were not making much of an impact for Christ in the community. The spiritual condition of the church and town was apparent when very few church members and townspeople attended the first two revival services held in the church. In fact, those attending the services were eager to head home immediately following both services.
“The pastor was disheartened, maybe even had given up,” said Joe Molchanoff, a master of divinity student from Pensacola, Fla. “The town was starving for the gospel, but the Baptist church had fallen asleep.”
Missionaries with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board had been praying for the church for more than a year and now the students realized why God had changed their itinerary.
Door-to-door witnessing efforts, street evangelism and the sharing of the gospel in one of the local high schools were proving to be successful, but a change was needed for the planned evening services.
A copy of the “Jesus” film was found and plans were made to show it in Sacha’s central park the next evening. During the day the film was to be shown, the team canvassed the city, praying and passing out flyers about the film. The team bought material from a local fabric shop and made an impromptu movie screen, set up a projector and waited for the sun to set.
Slowly the park began to fill up with men, women and children. As darkness descended upon Sacha, eventually more than 400 people filled the park. The film began and team members moved to find places among the crowd to watch and pray.
For more than two hours no one moved. The people stood motionless and watched the story of Jesus’ life, a story most had never heard. The film ended. Still, no one moved, and no one hurried home as had been the case in the other services.
An invitation was given and, throughout the crowd, seminary students could hear people reciting “the sinner’s prayer,” evidence of the message of Christ reaching the hearts of the townspeople.
In a small Catholic town full of political turmoil, people were beginning to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ, said Michael Sharp, NOBTS assistant professor of music theory and piano and faculty sponsor for the trip to Ecuador.
Not only were unsaved hearts being stirred, but the pastor and his small congregation were being convicted about their responsibilities and the need to share Christ in the town, Sharp said.
With renewed enthusiasm, students, church members and missionaries Scott and Carolyn Jordan and Ross and Laveta Thompson continued their evangelism efforts throughout the city.
The group used music, puppets, personal testimonies, gospel tracts and street preaching to present the gospel to the unsaved in Sacha and continued to encourage fellow believers they encountered while there, Sharp said.
For Molchanoff, the highlight of his trip was the day he encountered a woman, her two daughters and her grandchildren sitting on the steps in front of their house. After sharing the gospel, the woman and her daughters accepted Christ.
“At first they were shocked we were not asking them to be a member of a Baptist church but to accept Christ,” Molchanoff said.
The woman told Molchanoff, “We knew the truth was there, but we have been waiting for someone to come and tell us the truth.”
Upon leaving, the women promised to share the gospel with the children once they were old enough to understand.
Seeing firsthand accounts of friends and neighbors being saved, as well as hearing other reports from seminary students, members of the First Baptist Church of Sacha were inspired and during the final youth service in the church, 30 church members rededicated their lives to the Lord and indicated they wanted to be more involved in personal witnessing in the city.
During the same service, two alcoholic men, with whom members of the group had shared their testimonies during the afternoon, responded to the invitation to accept Christ. One of the men came forward during the invitation crying and saying aloud, “I need Jesus! I need Jesus!”
By week’s end, 69 people had made personal decisions to accept Christ.
At the close of services on the last night, church members were eager to stay and fellowship and were not anxious to leave as they had been earlier in the week.
With broken hearts and tears in their eyes, church members told the New Orleans Seminary group they will never let another opportunity go by without sharing Jesus Christ.

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  • Steve Achord