A Multi-ethnic Congregation Sharing the Gospel Worldwide
by Norm Miller

Bible Church International (BCI) lives up to its name. The Randolph, New Jersey, congregation, started as a house church with thirty people in 1982, now draws nearly 350 regular attenders from China, Nigeria, Ireland, India, and the Philippines. But it's also involved with thirty church plants in Thailand, Cambodia, Dubai, and the Philippines, as well as North America.

Pastor Jerry Lepasana, himself a Filipino, says the multi-ethnic Southern Baptist congregation is a "glocal" church — a church with a global "Great Commission" vision fueled by a passion for local ministry.

Those ministries span the range of benevolence ministries, like regular visits to nearby retirement centers and a local soup kitchen, as well as more non-traditional outreach activities.

In November, for example, Bible Church International sponsored a concert of popular recording artists from the Philippines who are Christians. The concert drew more than seven hundred people — four hundred of whom were unchurched, Lepasana says. The church also has capitalized on the decades-old trend of Filipinos leaving their impoverished home villages to work in wealthier countries.

What they cannot leave behind is their desire for fellowship among other Filipinos.

"The immigrants are far away from their families, and these people are not Christian, yet," says associate pastor Ed Ramos, who heads up BCI's global missions and local ministries. "But through the ministry of the church they have found an extended family to relate to, and soon find also the family of Christ."

Many of those who leave the Philippines for the U.S. are nurses, and Bible Church International has led many of those nurses to Christ, Ramos says. When the church challenged them to reach out overseas, medical missions projects to the Philippines were a natural outlet.

Only twelve people joined the initial medical mission trip in 2003, and that included Pastors Lepasana and Ramos. But after hearing reports of what God did on that trip, sixty-five members volunteered in 2005 and ninety-seven participated in 2007. Ramos expects well over one hundred for the scheduled 2009 venture. As part of the medical ministry, patients hear Gospel presentations from the American volunteers and some become Christians. Churches are born as BCI coordinates follow-up and discipleship efforts with local Filipino Christians.

Church planting efforts have boomed since the church began the medical missions trips to the Philippines, Ramos says.

"The good reports really boosted our people's passion to do the mission," Ramos says. "When our people hear the results, they get excited to join the mission."

During one overseas medical project, the father of a young man on the church's praise team shared that God had called him to plant a church among Filipinos who had immigrated to Cambodia. Before Lepasana and Ramos could follow up with more serious conversations, they discovered he already had moved his family to Cambodia and started the work. Lepasana since has traveled to Cambodia to assess the ministry and hammer out an agreement with the pastor on doctrinal guidelines and financial accountability.

Bible Church International also sponsors a church planter in Thailand who is beginning an English as a Second Language ministry among college students. "Teaching English in foreign countries is a very effective way to reach people for Christ," Ramos explains.

Aware that many Filipinos have emigrated to Dubai recently, BCI began a two-year search for a church planter to serve there. Now a small congregation in Dubai numbers sixty and has conducted outdoor baptisms in front of scores of local residents.

Everything begins with local ministry, however, Ramos says.

"We want our people to first serve in the community and to be seen in the community, because every time we give out something to the residents, there's the church name, contact information, and website attached so those who receive the ministry can see where the gift and ministry come from," he says.

"Because we do these overseas missions and minister in our community, God is continuing to add members to our church — but especially when we started doing missions outside this country," Ramos adds. "This year, God added about sixty members."

Baptist Press



Arabic-Language Congregation Reaching the Lost for Christ
by Kelly Shrout

Inside a small trailer that sits on a plot of land in suburban Nashville, Tennessee, a friendly congregation reads Scripture, sings hymns, and partakes of the Lord's Supper. The only difference between this church and neighboring evangelical congregations is the fact the worship service is conducted exclusively in Arabic.

Members of The Evangelical Arabic Church in Antioch, Tennessee, come from nations like Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Jordan, and Lebanon. They are united not only in language but also in purpose — living out the Great Commission among non-believers in Middle Tennessee.

"I see that the Lord has given to Nashville the opportunity to witness to non-believers in their heart language through our congregation," says Allen Bennett, one of the pastors of The Evangelical Arabic Church. "The Arabic language is a means we use to invite nonbelievers to come to faith in Christ."

Church members minister to Arabic-speaking families, youth, and collegians at least three times a week through Sunday evening worship services, Wednesday evening prayer meetings, and Friday evening "Sunday school." Bennett says they adopted the unusual schedule because many members and prospects work in the hotel and restaurant industry and can't meet during the morning.

Bennett, who is a native of North Africa, said the 120-strong congregation is keenly aware of the mandate to live out the Great Commission.

"We understand that the Bible tells us to go to every nation and preach the Gospel,'" Bennett says. "We also know that the Bible says that 'whosoever' believes will be saved. Here in Middle Tennessee, we have many Arabic-language nationals who come from overseas who do not know the Lord. We want to win them to Christ."

Bennett grew up in a non-Christian background and was first exposed to Christ as an eighteen-year-old when a friend in North Africa invited him to a Christian meeting.

"I went to the meeting just for fun," Bennett recalls. "I wasn't interested at first, but while I was there I bought a book called 'The Gospel.' I ended up reading the New Testament."

Bennett was impressed with Matthew 5-6 and intrigued at how Christ displayed love to people. He gave his heart to Christ after reading Romans and Psalm 51:10, which says, God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

"I know God has led me to help this congregation and He is using this church to reach the lost," he adds.

The Evangelical Arabic Church originally started as a small group of five Arabic-language nationals who met in homes, then in 2001 moved to a room at First Baptist Church in Nashville.

Bennett volunteered to help with Bible reading and music in that initial group.

"From the very beginning we had a motto that revealed our heart for the ministry," he says. "'We come to this place to worship God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.'"

The handful of worshippers soon grew to more than one hundred, and in 2006 the congregation purchased five acres of land in Antioch, Tennessee, and began meeting in a small trailer. They currently have plans to build a permanent worship facility.

Though the congregation is growing, there are still many needs, including help with leadership and funds to build the worship facility.

"We need a minister to help us follow up on the contacts we make," Bennett says. "We also need someone to lead the programs and education ministry. We could use a visitation coordinator and someone to help with discipleship."

The growth reminds the congregation it is important to minister to Christians and non-Christians alike.

"It is our responsibility as believers to go toward those who don't know God," Bennett says. "I pray that God gives us the knowledge we need to continue this growth. Our congregation represents a great opportunity to look not to those of Christian background, but others who don't have any hope … those who have no understanding of salvation."

Rami Ibrahim, who is originally from Egypt and serves as one of the church's pulpit suppliers, said the Arabic church is a source of spiritual food for many who are non-English speakers.

"The Evangelical Arab Church offers spiritual food for a lot of people who are in desperate need of the Word of God," Ibrahim says.

Baptist Press



Japanese Church Members Living Out Their Faith, Changing Lives
by Sheila Allen

Mike Yokoy was pastoring a church in Japan when he sensed God calling him as a missionary to the United States. He made his way to Tigard, Oregon, where he assumed the pastorate of a fledgling congregation of fifteen people.

Today — twenty years later — Japanese International Baptist Church has reached beyond its ethnic origins and become truly international in scope, with church members reaching out to everyone they come in contact with, regardless of cultural background.

"It is a unique thing God is doing," says Kenji Yokoy, one of Mike's sons who serves as pastor of the church's English-speaking congregation. "We are getting people we would never have imagined reaching. People from prison, those who have been addicted, they stay because there is love here."

Many outsiders experience that love for the first time in Japanese International's "Life groups," which meet all over the city and are primarily grouped by affinities, such as people who have struggled with drug and alcohol abuse.

"I am a convicted felon," says church member Sid Crawford. "A man I worked with in Prison Fellowship … told me to find a church when I got out of jail and he helped me find a job with a Christian roofing company."

Church member Cliff Bailey met Crawford's girlfriend, Toya Meyer, while she was living in a transitional home for people with addictions. Bailey encouraged Meyer and Crawford to give Japanese International a chance.

"I came here one year ago and was baptized in March," Crawford says. "You cannot come to this church and not feel the love of Christ."

Crawford now assists with a weekly food ministry, serves as a greeter, hosts the weekly discipleship group for former addicts, and has become a general handyman around the church's facilities.

Japanese International is making a real difference in people's lives in other ways as well.

Each week, the church receives nearly expired food items from Trader Joe's, a high-end supermarket, and each Sunday afternoon twenty members sort and deliver a bag of groceries to forty homes in need of assistance. Members also can be found delivering food and clothing to homeless people living under bridges in the Portland metro area.

"We have found that many we reach out to there know Scripture better than those going out," Yokoy says.

Church members recently delivered four thousand pounds of clothing to the Portland Rescue Mission. A mission team was sent to help with hurricane relief in Louisiana and teams also go to Japan two or three times a year.

Japanese International takes the Great Commission literally — helping launch nearly a dozen Japanese churches in the Northwest and across the United States. They also would like to birth a congregation in Japan.

"There are more Japanese being saved in the United States than Japan, and we want to do what we can to change that," Yokoy says.

Their heart for lost souls has broadened the range of people the church is reaching. While Japanese is the primary language in one weekly service, a second congregation draws English-speaking second- and third-generation Japanese, as well as Caucasians, Chinese, and Koreans. The two congregations maintain their unity with joint worship services held each quarter. They also meet for weekly meals following Sunday services.

"Our congregation is becoming so diversified," Yokoy explains. "We are always trying to figure out where the Lord is leading, as we don't want to go forward on our own strength. While our church is transitioning into a medium-sized church, we have maintained godly people that were here from the beginning."

Reaching young Japanese Americans is a challenge that requires special insight into the cross-cultural challenges they face. The church prayed for two years for leaders to guide the youth group, and those prayers were answered when Candace and Aaron Koller joined the church.

The Kollers, who had recently returned to the United States after serving for three years as missionaries in Japan, understand the shy students they work with.

"We are bringing them out of their comfort zone," Aaron Koller says. "But God is transforming us more than them. It is not automatic for us to follow after Christ."

But life change begets life change as new believers reach out to others who don't yet know Christ.

Sid Crawford invited Pam Gamache, a resident in an apartment complex Crawford manages. Now she has accepted Christ and is preparing to be baptized.

"I realized I needed to stop fighting God," Gamache says. "I am a recovering addict, but now I have great friends here who I can talk to and will accept me.

"I've invited some Muslim friends to attend my baptism," she adds. "Now I am reaching out to others like they have done for me."

Baptist Press

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