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‘There are some chapels in Wales that are still very much alive’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Douglas and Jonelle Yates’ backyard at their Welsh residence had become a wall of wool.

A bevy of bleating sheep had broken out of their pen and had taken refuge behind the Yateses’ house.

While Douglas attempted his best impression of a Welsh shepherd, he prayed the owners would show up soon. Yes, the couple had learned a lot of the skills at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary needed to serve as missionaries to Wales. Herding was not one of them.

“I had to herd them into a corner and wait for their owner to arrive and put them back into their field,” said Douglas, a 2000 master of divinity graduate from the Louisville, Ky., seminary.

But, according to the Yateses, the fluffy farm animals that loitered in their lot are not the only lost sheep in Wales.

Located on the west coast of Great Britain, Wales has a rich Christian history. But, just as their English cousins, the Welsh people have fallen from their first love.

“Only 3 percent of the population of Wales truly consider themselves followers of Christ, with only 60 percent of those considering themselves to be conservative and evangelical in their theology,” Douglas said.

It is this dearth of gospel witness that initially drew Douglas and Jonelle to the historic and picturesque nation.

“Seeing the spiritual condition of the body of Christ here has confirmed our call to missions,” Douglas said. “Knowing that most of the Welsh need to hear the gospel gives us the desire to stay here and proclaim Christ to the lost.”

The Yateses, who have been in the country for six months, currently serve with the CeLT Team (Celtic Language Team) of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board’s BIIP (British Island Indigenous People) Cluster. The team’s role is to proclaim the gospel principally to those people who speak a Celtic language — Welsh, Brezhoneg (in France), Cornish, Manx, Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic.

In particular, the Yateses have a heart for those in that nationalistic and independent country who speak Welsh. Of course, this ministry requires that the Yateses learn the language — a complex and completely foreign tongue despite the country’s proximity to England.

“Our past six months have been wonderful but difficult at the same time,” Douglas said. “We have both enjoyed our language training. The Welsh language is hard to get a handle on sometimes, but it is also very rhythmic and musical.”

Having completed their three months of language training, Douglas and Jonelle will soon move to South Wales. There they will continue working on learning the language, and in June, Douglas will start training for his position on the team.

For the CeLT Team, Douglas will serve as the prayer coordinator and volunteer coordinator. He will send out regular prayer updates via letters, e-mails and pamphlets. He also will facilitate short-term mission trips from the States.

“We have a total of 482 young people and sponsors coming this summer to join our team in proclaiming the gospel to Wales,” Douglas said.

Most of these students will come as part of LifeWay’s “M-Fuge Wales.” M-Fuge (Mission Fuge) is a mission ministry created and sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Yateses, both with a great sense of urgency for the nation, can’t wait to get started in their new roles.

The country has seen a staggering religious downgrade in the last 100 years, Douglas explained. Revivals in 1904 and 1905 had returned Christianity to the forefront of many communities. However, over the course of the next 50 years, liberal theology began to drain the gospel from the chapels. (The Welsh refer to “church” as “chapel” because the Anglican church is called the “church” there.)

“The gospel message was no longer the central focus of the body of Christ,” Douglas said. “The social gospel became the message of the day, and still is to many dying chapels.

“At this point the chapels had left their first love. … The result of this loss of the gospel today is a next-to-nonexistent true Christian presence, reminiscent to what one reads from Revelation 2.”

Currently, pluralism reigns in a country that, though the inhabitants still claim the Christian name, is filled with lost sheep. The statistics are “grim,” Douglas said.

“The Welsh need to see the relevancy of the gospel once again by hearing the message of Christ,” he said. “Every young person hears of Jesus in an academic setting in religious education classes in grammar school, but they rarely hear anyone talk about Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, the Son of God who died on the cross to save the souls of sinners.”

Yet, Douglas and Jonelle remain hopeful that Wales can be reached.

“However grim it may seem, there are some chapels in Wales that are still very much alive and yearning to be lights in this dark world. It is with these chapels that we are working,” Douglas said.

The Yateses said their training at Southern has proved invaluable to their ministry so far.

“Practically speaking, my years in learning Hebrew and Greek have helped me assimilate the Welsh language and understand how the language works,” said Douglas, who studied in the biblical and theological studies track for his master of divinity degree.

“Hopefully, as we move to South Wales, I will be able to use what I learned at Southern to help me as I begin to take opportunities to preach in some of the local chapels, disciple others and teach others how they can effectively evangelize.”

In fact, they have already had the opportunity to do some of this ministry.

“Most of our time here so far has been spent in language training,” Douglas said. “However, in this we have found opportunities to share the gospel. … Probably the best part of being here is we have the opportunity to meet so many people and to build relationships with them. It is through building relationships with the lost that we gain opportunities to share the gospel and to glorify God by proclaiming his grace through Jesus Christ.”

The Yateses’ mission team has recently increased by one. Jonelle gave birth to their first baby, Brennig Andrew, on May 6.

“Our baby is the first to be born in Wales from our entire [IMB missions] cluster,” Douglas explained. “With our child being born here in Wales … he will be eligible to play for Wales’ rugby team. Enough said.”

The child will enter into a ripe mission field — one filled with lost sheep whom the Yateses will try to shepherd.

“We want to see God move again in this land that once had a rich heritage in the gospel,” Douglas said. “We want to see young and old worshiping God together, proclaiming his goodness and faithfulness and glorifying him with their lives.”

Anyone interested in serving as a prayer partner with Douglas and Jonelle may e-mail them at [email protected]. Also, the Yateses have a website for the CeLT Team at www.peopleteams.org. They hope to begin posting prayer requests soon on the site to inform people on how they can pray for the six Celtic people groups.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: DOUGLAS AND JONELLE YATES.

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  • Bryan Cribb