Derek Spain stands in the driving snow, bracing against the harsh wind and the 15 degree temperature. Strangers ask directions, and he gives a greeting, turns, and points them in the right direction.
After four hours he feels fatigued and is glad when he gets a chance to go inside to rest for a while. It's draining work to be outside in such cold temperatures, but he understands the symbolism of what he's been doing all afternoon. On one level he's serving as a volunteer for the ESPN Great Outdoor games, giving directions from the backside of a parking lot. But his real calling is to point the truly lost in the right direction of a relationship with Christ.
Spain is not a native to cold weather, having been raised in Dacula, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. And he has not always lived in New York. It was divine intervention which drew him and his wife, Kim, from a comfortable youth ministry position at Hebron Baptist Church to serve as resort missionaries for the Baptist Convention of New York.
The Spains are among nearly 5,200 missionaries in the United States and Canada supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. They are featured during the March 6-13 Week of Prayer and North American Mission Study, which this year focuses on the theme, "Answer His Call."
Spain had always been active in sports and was active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes on his high school campus when he was growing up. So, it was natural for him to seek a position as an intern on a church staff as he fleshed out his calling. After serving on a couple of church staffs in college, Hebron called him as director of high school ministries following graduation from Georgia's Shorter College.
He eventually moved into the position of pastor of student ministries and, while a student through the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's extension classes in Atlanta, he received a call to come to Lake Placid. It was a call that forced Spain to reconsider his original calling to the pastorate.
"The Lord had to do a lot of things to get us ready for this move. But we learned that if God is calling you to go outside your comfort zone, you've got to be prepared to do it," he remembers thinking.
After much prayer and soul searching, Derek and Kim decided to follow God to New York. And that is why he was standing outside in freezing weather, helping strangers find their directions in a snowstorm.
"Lake Placid is an international sports town that excels in winter sports. It hosted the 1932 and the 1980 Winter Olympics, and averages nearly 2 million visitors each year. They have bobsled, luge, figure skating, and ski jumping events all the time. Olympic athletes, who regularly train at Lake Placid, worship with us at Lake Placid Baptist Church. We also lead a Bible study at the Olympic Training Center every Tuesday night," he explains.
The church takes its ministry one step further through creative evangelism, providing home-cooked meals for athletes in training so they can get away from their rigid schedule for a couple of hours.
"This is a great opportunity for them to enjoy a great meal and observe a Christian family," Spain adds.
The church was struggling with about forty members when he arrived in November 2001, but now averages 140 in attendance. It is currently in a building program to add a 5,700-square-foot addition that will house a half-court gym, Bible study rooms, and restrooms/showers to host mission teams.
Spain's ministry, North Country Ministries (NCM), spreads the gospel three ways – through servant evangelism, creative evangelism, and personal evangelism. Spain coordinates the approaches, frequently using volunteers from states such as Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi.
Servant evangelism is the most visible outreach of the ministry as it provides volunteers for a variety of events.
"Our volunteers are humble, caring, and that's different from the norm. We don't ask for things, for freebies. Some of the other volunteers offer to work in exchange for a free ski pass or some form of compensation. We don't do that and don't accept them. We want the community to know that we are doing it for what we can give, not what we can get," he explains.
With that approach, Spain is frequently asked why he is providing volunteers if they want nothing in return. He uses it as a witnessing opportunity, saying it is because they love God and they love people. And often they add that they understand Jesus came to serve others and to make a difference in the world, and they want to do the same thing.
"Servant evangelism has provided us with a real platform to share our faith. They don't mind that we do it because we have such a gentle approach. The downside is that because it's such a non-traditional approach we may never see the end result, but that's okay because we are planting the seeds that one day may lead to the harvest. And that's all that God asks of us. We will plant so others can reap."
Spain even uses his Southern accent to get a conversation going. That sometimes leads to a witnessing encounter.
"Having those encounters with folks when you realize God has put us here for those divine encounters is the greatest joy you can imagine. We see folks who are not even thinking about Christ when they come to an event, but then maybe God will bring them to us where we can share a word about Him."
Spain doesn't work alone in his ministry. While a full-time mother to their sons, Kim frequently joins the volunteers to help them be more effective in their outreach.
"Kim does a wonderful job working to build relationships in the community, because relationships are the foundation of all that we do. You have to build trust, and Kim helps pave the way for a gospel presentation by being a friend to people," he says.
Another companion in his ministry, he says, is the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.
"The offering reminds me that Southern Baptists are participating in God's work in creative settings throughout North America. And I appreciate the trust they place in me as a steward of those gifts. Because of their generosity, Kim and I can share the gospel in ways they could never imagine."
The Big Picture
Resort missions is more than just reaching tourists with the gospel, and it's more than just living in paradise every day. Resort missionaries must be very creative, innovative, and willing to work long hours. Rarely are their nights and weekends to themselves, since that is when many events occur.
Many people jokingly say such missionaries are "suffering for Jesus," but in reality, resort missionaries are never on vacation where they live. They struggle with the same high cost of living as those they are trying to reach. The ministry is as much to those who work behind the scenes at low wages as to the tourists who crowd the streets.
And in many locations there is no "down time" as resorts begin to market their properties as year-round vacation destinations.
NAMB has thirty resort missionaries and there are more than 100 who are actively involved at various levels through the local association. Such individuals extend the work through volunteers who are recruited from their communities.
For additional information, go online at www.namb.net/evangelism/specialministries.
How 2005 AAEO Gifts Will Be Used
Last year (2004) receipts to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions totaled more than $53 million. This year's goal of $55 million will continue to help 5,200 missionaries, many of them jointly sponsored through partnerships with NAMB and state conventions.
These missionaries start churches in rural and urban settings and reflect the ethnic and cultural composition of their communities. The missionaries also share the gospel by focusing on evangelism and ministering to people's physical and spiritual needs in a variety of settings.
Here is an overview of how this year's receipts will be spent.
75% ($41,250,000) Missionary Support
• Health benefits
• Missionary orientation
• Ongoing missionary training expenses
15% ($8,250,000) Church Planting Support
• Rental of facilities
• Promotional expenses
10% ($5,500,000) Evangelism Support
• Scripture distribution
• Sports evangelism
• Special evangelism events
• Media campaigns