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‘Video chat’ links church with missionaries

LEESBURG, Va. (BP)–Necessity is the mother of invention. Just ask Van Welton.

As senior minister at Crossroads Baptist Church in Leesburg, Va., Welton is challenged by limited resources when looking for creative ways to promote the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.

Welton remembers the excitement he felt several years ago when the North Carolina church where he was serving as youth minister spoke with a missionary on the phone, and he wanted his small Virginia congregation to experience that same delight.

“I called the [International Mission Board] and said I needed missionaries that could talk to us about Lottie Moon,” Welton said. That phone call set into motion the IMB’s process of connecting the church with a missionary overseas. Crossroads has been phoning missionaries since December 2006, but this year they tried something new.

On Dec. 7 the congregation spoke with Chris and Angie Lynch, first-term International Service Corps missionaries who work with students in London. But instead of talking on the telephone, the church set up a live “video chat” via Internet connection with the missionaries, who had a computer camera.

“We asked [the Lynches] three questions,” Welton recounted. “Tell us about your ministry and family. How can we pray for you? And what does the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering mean to you?”

The video chat technology is a considerable improvement over prior phone conversations with missionaries, Welton said. Previously the church rigged a sound system by taping a microphone to the telephone. However, by talking live with the missionaries via Internet video, his congregation could picture the mission field through the missionaries’ eyes.

“Connecting the people on the pews to the missionaries on the field [is] invaluable, not only for their knowledge as Southern Baptists but in their giving as Southern Baptists,” Welton said.

Lottie Moon offerings at Crossroads increased more than 500 percent -— from $600 to $3,200 -— after the first phone call to missionaries in 2006.

“[The members] willingly gave when they learned and connected firsthand with missionaries on the field,” Welton said.

The pastor’s inventive ideas to challenge his congregation in this season of giving haven’t stopped with phone calls or video chats. During his December sermons he is dressing up as different Bible characters and relating each person’s story to the birth of Christ.

In the first sermon Welton, as Zacharias, told of his disbelief that he was going to have a son (John the Baptist) so late in life. Welton unfolded the story of how Zacharias’ wife Elizabeth and her cousin Mary — the mother of Jesus Christ — were both expecting sons at the same time.

Walton was so convincing that one church member jokingly told his wife Jill that the pastor had missed his calling to be an actor.

Welton hopes the sermon series — which also includes stories about John the Baptist, Joseph and Herod — helps his congregation see Bible characters in a new light, just as talking with missionaries shed new light on supporting overseas missions.
Reported by Baptist Press’ Richmond, Va., bureau. Learn more about the International Mission Board’s “Connect with missionaries” program at www.imb.org/main/lead or call 1-877-462-4721.

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