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Seminary students learn about missions by firsthand experience

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Chad White didn’t know whether to be amazed, excited or afraid for his life. Balancing on the back of a speeding motorcycle piloted by Pastor Icdang, White clung for his life as the Filipino narrowly negotiated the dirt road to the mountain village. At the next curve, the inevitable happened.

“I never slide before,” apologized a smiling Icdang, picking himself, the bike and White up from the mud.

White and 11 other students from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., had come to the Philippines in January to take missions classes on the field and to gain exposure to international missions and strategies. For White, the trip exposed him to even more.

“I’ve never gone 50 miles per hour down a dirt road on the back of a motorcycle before,” said White, a master of divinity student from Clearfield, Pa.

But the bike ride was not the only first on the trip for White. At the village, White would also preach his first funeral.

“I never thought that my first funeral would be halfway across the world in a tribal village,” said White, who had several people respond to his presentation of the gospel.

Yet, experiences like these were exactly what trip leader George Martin had in mind for the excursion to the Mount Carmel Baptist Assembly — a base of many Baptist missions activities located south of Davao City on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.

“It was more of a learning experience for our students — an exposure to missions and various methodologies, approaches and strategies,” explained Martin, associate professor of Christian missions.

Martin initially planned to go to Mindanao alone in order to teach four Southern Seminary “Two Plus Two” program students who are currently on the mission field. The program is part of the master of divinity in international church planting through which students obtain the last 25 hours of the degree on the field.

However, when several students expressed interest in going with him, Martin opened the opportunity to the campus.

Twelve decided to travel with him at their own expense to take the classes.

“It was not so much an overtly ministry project — doing missions — as some of our projects are,” Martin said. “It had to do with classroom instruction.”

Learning was not limited to the lessons though. Besides the class time, the team had the unique opportunity to interact with the “Two Plus Two” students.

“It was a good experience,” said Peter Kaufman, a master of divinity student from Louisville, Ky. “You see someone who’s actually there, and then you think, ‘I can get there from where I am now.'”

The team also learned much from the simple and devout lives of the Filipino believers in Mindanao.

“The sense of hospitality and the fellowship of Christians is far beyond what I’ve experienced in the states,” said Gordon Hayworth, a master of divinity student from Terre Haute, Ind.

The Filipinos’ outreach strategies also impressed the students. The approach that affected the students most was the holistic ministry of the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center.

The RLC uses agriculture and human needs as an entrée for the gospel and for church planting. Employing a method known as Sloping Agriculture Land Technology, the RLC teaches techniques on how to reforest and farm with basically no income and no tools. Farmers then use this knowledge to open doors to plant both crops and churches in the upland areas of Mindanao.

“It’s the most effective type of evangelism,” Kaufman said, “building a relationship and showing Christ rather than just shouting down at somebody.”

Another highlight was learning “chronological storying” — an evangelism method which builds a foundation for the gospel by telling the stories of Scripture.

“The method’s something that works very well for a biblically illiterate society,” said Martin, who said students had the opportunity to spend three days with one of the premier “storying” evangelists in the world.

The trip also exposed students to Filipino-style church growth. One church they visited actually was decreasing in membership because everybody in the church had become involved in outreach Bible studies and planting new churches.

“The church is dying because everyone is leaving to go start new churches,” White said. “Is that amazing or what?”

And the team members not only learned, but they also made an impact in the community as well. Students preached in various churches and spent one Saturday going door-to-door inviting people to a Bible study.

“Since then, they [the Filipinos] have started up a Bible study in this village,” Martin said. “And they hope eventually to grow out of that a Baptist congregation.”

But the impact on the students will also reach into the future.

“I was tempted to just stay there,” Kaufman said. “I had such a good feeling that this is what I want to do.”

“It really gave me a vision and even more of a passion to realize that there are so many that need to know the gospel,” added White. “It fueled the fire within me — the desire to go and be a lifetime servant of God.

“I think definitely for both Leslie [his wife] and I the trip confirmed our call to missions. … Definitely all the evidence is pointing towards us serving God with our lives overseas.”

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  • Bryan Cribb