"In late dark of night they dragged me from my house and took me to jail where they stripped me naked and three men beat me several times, until I was unconscious, and left me in puddles of blood. They had fiercely wrapped big sticks with cloth so the beatings would not break anymore skin.
"Just before daylight I was dumped near my house and told, 'Stop your Christian church meetings so we will not have to do this to you again and again!'"
Bobby Welch leaned forward with one elbow on their corner table to be certain he heard this persecuted brother correctly … speaking had gotten very quiet as he listened to the testimony. It was Welch's third such conversation in this country — one of those unnamed countries of the world where Christian missionaries and witnessing are illegal.
Later in the week he was able to position himself to help put an end to the all-too-common persecutions in this part of our world. Such is part of the ministry Bobby Welch is having.
This account is not the only one of its kind; through his Global Evangelical Relations (GER) efforts, Welch has established a large and growing array of connections, relationships, and interactions. Evangelicals worldwide may be aware of the Southern Baptist Convention and its ministries to reach the lost for Christ, but Bobby Welch, visit by visit, is helping put a face on those efforts.
Recently, GER brought the two largest Baptist groups of one country together for the first time in over twenty years for discussion about reaching lost souls.
Welch has often observed that completing the Great Commission requires cultivating great connections. As strategist for GER, he works at a breakneck pace to meet in person with pastors and other leaders serving in obscure places, encouraging them and helping them connect with others in similar situations.
"This is some of the hardest, most demanding work I've ever done in the ministry and some of the most rewarding," Welch said. "One might get the idea that this is a cushy, global tour of five-star accommodations, but nothing could be further from the fact.
"It is a grinding and demanding pace that exacts a high price in time and energy. Often I am sleeping and eating and working and getting sick in conditions that few would want to be involved in," Welch added. "But this is when the work takes on the missionary likeness to me, and I'm happy to be in that position. I never complain about it.
"But the upside is that this sort of driving and demanding schedule is often what is necessary to get the job done and it wins the relationships with many people overseas," Welch said. "When they see you're willing and they know the price you have to pay to get to be where they are and meet with them, that really does verify and galvanize the truth of your heart and your spirit and the Southern Baptist Convention.
"They see people who are willing to extend themselves and inconvenience themselves just because we love them and we're for them and we're all in this together," Welch said. "That is a very positive thing. This is all a privilege for me, for the sake of lost souls."
As Welch travels overseas, his visits take the form of speaking engagements to large crowds and smaller meetings with individuals, such as when he discussed religious freedom with a delegation from the Vietnamese government in Hanoi earlier this year.
Vietnam has been cited as one of the most egregious offenders of religious liberty and even made the list of "countries of particular concern" compiled by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom for "particularly severe" violations of religious liberty. Yet Welch was permitted to travel in Vietnam twice in less than three months in late 2009 and early 2010. After being there the first time, he was invited back by the government. Since, he has been extended another invitation from the government and plans a third trip as soon as it can be scheduled.
While Welch is first and foremost an ambassador for Christ and the Southern Baptist Convention around the globe, God is also using him to stir congregations by encouraging local, like-minded churches and their pastors to plan and conduct encouragement conferences for their people. In those conferences, Welch doesn't minister just to those who share his denominational affiliation.
"I would say in almost every setting at least 30 to 40 percent of the people are not Baptist — at least a third, usually," Welch said. "In fact, we had one meeting where there were 900 to 1,000 pastors present at the conference and none of them were Baptist."
He is particularly encouraged when a pastor approaches him at the end of a meeting, having realized the need for partnerships in the Great Commission task.
"They'll say, 'We'd gotten out there by ourselves and thought nobody cared, even in our own country, but now we've been reminded exactly why the Bible tells us that we're to be together in one spirit, one heart, and one mind striving toward faith in the Gospel,'" Welch recounted.
As the GER effort creates what Welch calls "a global roundtable for international leaders," he helps "connect others with others, not always just with us."
"We're not in this just for what Southern Baptists can get out of it, but we believe if we do well by everybody else in the Spirit of Christ for the sake of the Great Commission we will in turn be blessed," Welch said. "We're happy to say that's being proven true."
When Welch agreed to take on the role more than three years ago, he didn't realize the need was so great.
"I never dreamed we would go this far this fast with this much accomplished," Welch said. "Those two things — the real need that existed and then the real acceleration that the Lord has favored us with in these areas — have been surprising to me."
A pastor who leads a Christian fellowship in India wrote an e-mail to Welch after meeting with him on an occasion which the pastor described in broken English as "my greatest joys, privilege, and honor for me and one of remarkable day in my life time."
"Thank you so much for your love, care, and concerns to us and your precious message on days and opportunity that the door you opened for us to communicate and friendship with you," the Indian pastor wrote. "No one know us and nobody care for us but you came down and great door open up and reaching your arms to us especially in the ministry of the Lord. We need your prayer and your support in days to come for extension and glory for the Lord." These same statements and sentiments are coming from every continent! They are hungry and eager for "connections."
Sometimes Welch visits areas International Mission Board (IMB) personnel are striving to reach, and other times he builds on long-established bonds in places where IMB workers have labored faithfully.
"GER is strengthening positive relationships with overseas Baptist partners and encouraging them in areas of evangelism, stewardship, and sound doctrine," said IMB spokesperson Wendy Norvelle.
Norvelle noted the International Mission Board continues to work with national Baptist conventions around the world, but IMB personnel focus on the unreached in frontier areas where even churches do not exist. Welch, through GER, fills "a valuable gap" in nurturing fellowship with such Baptist bodies, Norvelle said.
Tess Rivers, an IMB writer, accompanied Welch on visits to South Korea and Vietnam, and she observed that church leaders received him well in both countries.
"Philosophically, I think it is always a good idea for leaders at any level to spend time talking with one another," Rivers said. "It is much easier to iron out differences, seek common ground, and develop partnerships in the context of relationships."
The outlook for the Global Evangelical Relations effort is remarkably positive, Welch said.
"We already have meetings scheduled three, four, and five years from now, including large conferences that are in crucial places that we've been asked to do with the nationals there," Welch said. "We think this has just been the launching pad. Pastors and leaders are hungry for connections with other pastors in their area as well as the challenge and encouragement we bring to reach more for Christ in their area of the world. Letters from pastors in Egypt, Sierra Leone, Sweden, Lebanon, Hungary, and on and on arrive, pleading for us to come and encourage and connect with them.
"I believe this thing has overwhelming potential for continuing to blossom, and as it does, we're going to see more goodwill, more trustworthiness, and more credibility for Southern Baptist Convention causes overseas. We will see that turn in to more Great Commission victories, and we will do it easier, faster, and more effectively. Often times, that's more cost effective too."