SOUTHEAST ASIA (BP) — When Autumn James* arrived at the house church late one evening, she was expecting a somber gathering. But local believers surprised her as they sang loudly and with boldness in a country where many Christians are persecuted for their faith.
“I had in my mind we needed to be quiet, to turn the lights off,” James said. “But they sing the loudest of anyone I’ve ever met. … They still praised God. I was impressed … living their lives so boldly.
“It changed my perspective on worship.”
James spent two weeks in Southeast Asia in the summer with a five-member team of North Carolina students researching an unreached, unengaged people group in Southeast Asia. The students identify the population as the “T people,” so named by Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Many of the T people make their living on fishing boats, where they work seven days a week with only four hours off each day, if the boat owner allows time off at all. Some workers are treated as slaves and sold from one boat to the next without ever being allowed to leave.
Despite such mistreatment, there are T people who have put their trust in Jesus Christ and remain steadfast in their faith, James and the team found.
The students focused their research on the T people in an effort to work alongside Old Town Baptist Church, which embraced the people group about four years ago and have focused their time in one Southeast Asian country. Students traveled to cities in a neighboring country, working to find other areas where the T people live.
The trip to Southeast Asia marked the culmination of a three-year training for the students sponsored by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Through the training, known as the Next Generation Missional Journey, the students engaged in hands-on missions locally, nationally and internationally.
Their research will help Old Town and other churches advance the Gospel among the T people, but the students gained much more than research data.
James, a church-planting intern in New York City, said the T people may appear to some as just a group of nameless faces, but they represent a people group “who have never heard the Gospel.”
James said she left Southeast Asia resolved to return to New York and notice the people and faces around her who are different — especially any T people who may be living in New York.
Sara Martin,* a junior at North Carolina State University, said she thought she had God’s plan for her life all figured out. She came into the missions journey ready to serve God as a teacher.
One night during her first year at college, a student retreat speaker spoke about unreached people groups. Martin said the Holy Spirit’s presence overwhelmed her such that she left the meeting room, prayed and knew God was calling her to international missions.
“I know the Lord will take me where I need to go as long as I’m working for His purpose,” she said.
Martin also learned about the need to equip new believers to share their faith among their people.
“I didn’t really understand discipleship; it was a foreign concept,” she said. “Now, I see the value in investing in others and how they can then be molded. It’s not ‘go and leave.’ It’s so much more.”
Claire Campbell,* a freshman at Gaston Community College, said she has participated in several international mission trips — but none like Southeast Asia.
She said the trip helped her realize that while the Gospel message doesn’t change, the approach must.
“You can’t approach everyone the same,” Campbell said. “You can’t effectively approach a Hispanic community the same way you would a T people Buddhist community.”
Campbell also learned from believers in Southeast Asia — who often pay a price for their faith — what it means to truly treasure Jesus and how to be more confident in sharing her faith.
“Too many times in the States I would worry about ‘getting it right’ — doing everything in the right order,” she said. “In Southeast Asia I saw that sharing my testimony is about sharing my heart. I learned to be genuine. I had to put my faith in Him and not myself.”
Kevin Williams,* a junior at Gardner-Webb University, said he learned that while action is important, a verbal Gospel witness is a must, especially for unreached people groups.
“Missions is no longer, ‘Let’s go and do something nice and hope it lasts.’ Missions is connecting God and people,” he said. “If we really believe He is the only way, we have to take Jesus to those who have never heard.”