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Zimbabwe trip seeks to foster racial reconciliation

ZIMBABWE (BP) — A group of Kentucky Baptists embarked on a mission trip to Zimbabwe with a twofold focus on biblical training for national pastors and lay leaders, while also exploring and modeling racial reconciliation.

Reflecting back on the experience, some of those on the racially-diverse mission team — made up of five Anglo-Americans and eight African-Americans — shared how the trip brought healing and strengthened relationships.

Practical racial reconciliation, noted Kentucky Baptist Convention missions strategist Doug Williams, was a key focus of the time spent together as a team. Getting to know each other, learning about each other’s ministries and lives was a large part of travel time and evening discussions.

Before the October 6-15 trip, each participant read “Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention” edited by Jarvis Williams and Kevin Jones.

Openness about how to further improve race relations in the SBC dominated group discussions. KBC’s Williams said he saw “how the Gospel breaks down all dividing walls,” and believers modeling how to live in community can begin to take shape.

Even Zimbabwe nationals, one team member noted, appeared to notice the uniqueness of the trip.

Joel Bowman Sr., pastor of Temple of Faith Baptist Church in Louisville, noted “a powerful moment in our mission trip to Zimbabwe was when a continental African said I was the first African American missionary he had ever seen.” It was Bowman’s second mission trip to Zimbabwe.

During the trip, the team collaborated with national pastors and a Southern Baptist missionary, and took theological training to areas from where it is often too difficult for most of the local leaders to travel to the national seminary.

Justin Compton, lead pastor of Redemption Hill Baptist Church in Fisherville, described the scene as “a land of theological famine.” Some who received training had never received any before.

“I was humbled and overwhelmed to see God open eyes and shape lives through the clear teaching of His Word,” he said.

Some of the sites had received training last year by a five-member KBC team. Overall, the teams taught six courses — three at each location — including New Testament, Systematic Theology 1, Ecclesiology, Expository Preaching, Soteriology, and Hermeneutics.

“They were very eager to get the Word of God right,” KBC’s Williams said of the national students. “That was very encouraging to our team members.”

The team spent the last day in a remote village, going door to door — hut to hut — sharing the Gospel with whoever would listen. Many made professions of faith.

Bowman hopes the trip will provide “a model that could be replicated across the country.”

“When people see black, brown and white believers serving as equals, there is a powerful Christian witness,” he said. “There is a tangible example of the transformative and uniting power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Bowman continued, “Racial reconciliation only truly takes place within the context of relationships.”

Curtis Woods, associate executive director of the KBC, noted that “the trip was an amazing opportunity for healing and hope for several pastors who felt that many within evangelicalism in general and the SBC in particular had given up on confronting the sin — racism — that so easily besets us.”

“The experience [led to] one of the most amazing conversations I have had on race, racism and friendship,” he said. “God’s grace was all over our team. We can only pray that God would increase our numbers next year for the sake of the Gospel and racial unity.”

The KBC hopes to replicate the trip twice in 2018.