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WEEK OF PRAYER: Wherever you go, we go

[SLIDESHOW=41621,41622,41623,41624,41625]EDITOR’S NOTE: Nov. 29-Dec. 6 is this year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention. The Week of Prayer, with the theme “Because of Who He Is” from Psalm 96:3 (HCSB), undergirds the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The offering, in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches, supports international workers in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at imb.org, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year’s goal is $175 million.

Please see additional story below this one on IMB missionary Liesa Holeman and her ministry efforts at a children’s home in Oaxac, Mexico.

OAXACA, Mexico (BP) — Wherever you go, we go.

First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss., made this commitment to Jeff and Liesa Holeman long before they began serving as International Mission Board missionaries in 2008.

It started a decade earlier when Jeff became student minister at the church, located in the town of the University of Mississippi. He led the youth group to make return mission trips to Brazil.

Matter of time

In 2003, during a Sunday morning service at Oxford, Jeff felt called to overseas missions fulltime.

Jeff jokingly explained how he decided to declare “We’re going to be missionaries” to his wife Liesa on the same day she had been home caring for a sick child.

“It didn’t go well,” he smiled.

It wasn’t that Liesa didn’t feel a tug toward missions, but she thought that would be later in life after their children were grown. In the meantime, she thought she would continue to work as a criminal investigator for Mississippi’s state tax commission, and the couple would spend their children’s formative years doing student ministry together.

It turned out they would, just not how she had thought.

The Holemans stayed in Oxford for the next few years until they took their two children with them on the church’s mission trip to Brazil in 2006. The children responded so well that the family then went on a trip to Southeast Asia to help lead activities for the children of missionaries during a retreat. Talking with the missionary families gave Liesa the reassurance she needed about raising a family on the mission field, and the Holemans were appointed by IMB at the end of 2007.

First Baptist, Oxford, partnered with the Holemans where they first served in Peru. Then, in the three years since, the Holemans have begun serving as cluster strategy leaders in Oaxaca, Mexico — and First Baptist church has adopted the Tlacolula Valley Zapotec people group in that area.

“They didn’t just send us,” Jeff said, “they want to be a part.”

“We have a huge support group behind us … they don’t let go of us,” he said. “That’s a two-way street. We value our relationship with one another. Just because we’re out of sight, we’re not out of mind. We know this because of the way they love us.”

Earlier this year, a mission team from Oxford spent a week alongside Jeff and Liesa, teaching English-as-a-Second-Language and leading medical clinics. For some on the team, their children had been in Liesa’s preschool class at the Oxford church and in the youth group led by Jeff. For others, they had taught the Holemans’ children in Sunday School.

Oxford member Buster Hale had been part of Jeff’s first mission trip to Brazil. He’s served alongside him on mission trips to both Peru and Mexico.

“We’ve watched Jeff and Liesa grow,” he said. “We’ve been a part of raising them in the Lord.”

Jeff and Liesa met while attending Ole Miss and became a part of the Oxford church.

“That’s who first invested in me — my church,” Liesa said. “We want other churches to do the same … God called the church to do this. And we as missionaries have a responsibility to help our churches touch, feel and understand our stories … to help them understand the importance of going to the nations.

“When they sent us,” Liesa said, “they told us they would come alongside us. It’s amazing to see that they sent us, and now they are coming themselves. They invested in me. I want to take the time to invest in others.”

Jeff’s home church, First Baptist Church of Yazoo City, Miss., also had taught him the value of missions. Yazoo City member Gene A. Triggs had served as chairman for the Foreign Mission Board (now IMB) for four years. Layman Lawrence Owen Cooper had been president of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1973-74. And, the church was home to comedian Jerry Clower for 34 years.

Mission: make God known

The Holemans mentor dozens of students and young adults from across the U.S. serving in Oaxaca as summer, semester and two-year missionaries, many of whom return to the mission field for extended terms of service.

Sarah Toles from The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., worked with the Holemans for four months as a Hands On missionary in Oaxaca before returning to Birmingham to work as a nurse. This year, she went back to Oaxaca on a short-term mission trip to help medical professionals from First Baptist, Oxford, conduct medical clinics there.

“They’re like family,” she said of the Holemans. “They would invite us to their home. They would check in with us to make sure we were connecting not only there but with loved ones back home.”

A student minister at heart, Jeff realizes the impact short-term missions can make.

“God uses short-term missions to open our minds and hearts about what it means to be available to God and to question, ‘Why am I here?'” he said.

“We were created to make Him known. Our role is making His name known around the world. Obedience is asking, ‘Where do You want me to go to do that?'”

Nearly every unreached people group in Mexico is represented in the U.S., Jeff said. “My prayer is that U.S. churches become aware that cross-cultural missions isn’t just something they can do in other countries, it’s something they can do in their own cities, and it will equip these people groups to share the Gospel in their own countries.”

Similarly, the Holemans have helped Oaxaca Christians to intensify their missions efforts both in Oaxaca and abroad. Jeff guided Iglesia Biblica Evangelica Lluvias de Gracia in Oaxaca to plan a mission trip to Guatemala.

“‘I’ll get you connected,’ Jeff told us,” said Juanita Perez, a member of the Oaxaca church. “He’s just full of resources.

“Oaxaca’s been so blessed by missionaries,” said Juanita, noting the student teams and missionaries who have served there. “Now, it’s our turn to go.”

Find resources for churches at imb.org to learn more about and promote the Lottie Moon offering. While Southern Baptists are encouraged to give to the offering through their churches, a “Give Now” option is available for individual online gifts.


Loving the
least of these
By Kate Gregory

OAXACA, Mexico (BP) — Liesa Holeman has found an unlikely inroad into difficult-to-access indigenous communities in Mexico right where she lives in the city of Oaxaca.

During three years of volunteering at the Casa Hogar children’s home in Oaxaca, Mexico, Liesa has met dozens of families from indigenous villages that would have been too difficult for an outsider to access, says the Southern Baptist missionary.

Many of the families travel as many as 12 hours over steep, winding hills by bus to bring their children and sometimes adult family members to the children’s home for physical and emotional care. Some of the residents suffer from a physical or developmental disability.

Vicki, 43, is confined to a wheelchair. “Living in a village for people like her, it’s just hard and challenging,” Liesa said, because her village doesn’t have wheelchair access.

Each week, Liesa brings coloring sheets, juice boxes and storyboards to share with the children. Vicki helps some children color while others gather around Liesa. Stationed under a large tree, Liesa tells the children Bible stories and asks them to retell them.

Liesa appreciates the value of a good story. She noted that hearing about missions as a GA (Girls in Action) at First Baptist Church in Pearl, Miss., and Crossgates Baptist Church in Brandon, Miss., planted a seed for missions in her heart.

When a missionary from Thailand told stories from the mission field to GAs at the WMU of Mississippi’s Camp Garaywa, “stories about missionaries became a part of me,” Liesa said.

Liesa realizes the urgency of telling stories about Jesus. Though some children stay at the home long term, others return to their villages after a couple of months.

“The hardest part is when someone you’ve grown attached to isn’t there anymore,” Liesa said. “We have a small window of time to invest in them because some won’t stay, so you try to make the most of the opportunities. They can take God’s Word back to their villages — villages that don’t have churches.”

The children’s home is a common ministry site for volunteer groups. Partnering U.S. churches, including Liesa’s home church, First Baptist Church of Oxford, Miss., send groups to work with Liesa at the locally run children’s home.

Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions enable Liesa to purchase the ministry supplies she uses at the children’s home.

Pray for the Holemans as they strive to reach people groups in Mexico. There are still at least 10 unengaged, unreached people groups in Mexico, totaling more than 300,000 people who don’t have continual access to the Gospel. And, there are more than 30 unreached (less than 2 percent evangelical Christian) people groups in the country, representing nearly 1.5 million people.

Find resources for churches at imb.org to learn more about and promote the Lottie Moon offering. While Southern Baptists are encouraged to give to the offering through their churches, a “Give Now” option is available for individual online gifts.


    About the Author

  • Kate Gregory