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Week of Prayer for International Missions Stories


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Our Journey to the Bedia

by Stuart Bell

Our Journey To the Bedia

Clifton Melek (name changed), worker with IMB, raises his hands in thanksgiving for the six Bedia baptized in an Indian lake. Melek helps First Baptist Church Centerton, Arkansas, make contact with their "adopted" people group. Photo courtesy of First Baptist Church Centerton, Arkansas.

"Here he is!" IMB representative Clifton Melek* exclaimed, patting Sahaji* on the back. "Here is the first baptized believer since you began praying for the Bedia five years ago."

Tears flowed down the faces of our missions team from First Baptist Church in Centerton, Arkansas. This young twenty-something Indian man from an unengaged, unreached people group represented so much to us. God prevailed and the Spirit broke through the Bedia's resistance to the Gospel in South Asia.

The road to get here has been long. When we began, I had no idea what adopting or embracing an unengaged, unreached people group would entail, but I knew our church would never be the same.

The Beginning Years (2006-2007)

Picking a geographic area of the world to engage was easy for us. A family from our congregation served in South Asia. Selecting a people group, though, was much harder. How do you choose when so many need to hear?

An IMB representative recommended the Bedia, so I immediately began researching this people group. I learned that the Bedia people, who number more than 100,000, kept small farms. I knew our Arkansas church would relate to this, but from there, the similarities ended. The Bedia practice a form of religion that mixes Hinduism with ancestor and demon worship. I learned there were no known baptized believers, no church, no Bible in their language, and no one trying to lead them to Christ.

We prayed as a church for the Bedia. I felt God at work. He knit our hearts to these people before we ever met them!

In 2007, I went to India on a vision trip and met with an Indian pastor who also wanted to reach the Bedia. I'll never forget our first night sharing the Gospel in a Bedia village.

When I returned to our church, I recounted the joy of sharing Christ and explained the difficulties we faced. On March 4, 2007, 250 people committed to pray daily for the Bedia until the first baptism and first church was planted.

The Lean Years (2008-2011)

Correspondence with our ministry partner, the Indian pastor, proved to be frustrating at times. There were long periods of no communication. There was little word of encouragement on the advancement of the Gospel there, yet our church continued to pray. It's all we could do.

In 2009, our church went back to get a firsthand account of what was happening. There was an ever-present sense of spiritual bondage during this visit. Two years after we had adopted the Bedia, there were still no professions of faith, no baptisms and no churches.

We returned home, not sure what to do. So I consulted with an IMB administrator from South Asia about our stalemate. He said a new missionary family had begun serving in the same geographic area. What a blessing and an answer to our prayers. We could partner with some of our own missionaries supported by our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

Celebration Years (2011-2012)

There was very little Bedia news from January 2010 until September 2011. And then God moved in mighty ways—or at least, that's when our church saw God moving.

When I connected with Melek, we heard a side of this story we didn't know. The IMB representative told his discipleship training students about our church praying for the Bedia for five years. Immediately, everyone pointed to other students and said, "He's Bedia! He's Bedia! He's Bedia!"

We found out that not only were there five baptized Bedia believers in Melek’s class, they were training to become pastors and missionaries.

We were stunned! God had been working this entire time.

We had to go back to India and see for ourselves. That's when we met Sahaji and a host of other Bedia believers. Sahaji took us to his village to attend church. Around 100 people crowded into a small room, while more spilled out the door and peeked in the window.

We worshipped with OUR people for the first time. As we heard the first Bedia praise and worship song, we cried. I preached, and when Melek offered an invitation, eight Bedia professed a new faith in Jesus. I was given the honor of naming the very first Bedia church, "Bedia Victory Baptist Church."

The road for embracing an unengaged, unreached people group is a long and rocky one, but one worth taking. FBC Centerton must diligently continue our prayers and minister alongside the Bedia believers so that many more come to know Christ.

*Name changed


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FBC Collierville, Tennessee Reaches UUPG

by Ken Carver

FBC Collierville Reaches UUPG

Two retirees from FBC Collierville, Tennessee teach Scripture to the Lingayat people in central India. Photo courtesy of First Baptist Church Collierville, Tennessee.

What is it like to spend a month in India pursuing a particular people group with little if any exposure to Jesus Christ?

For two retirees (names withheld for security reasons) from First Baptist Church in Collierville, Tennessee, it was, in a word, "wonderful."

In late 2012 First Baptist adopted the 2.2 million Marathi-speaking Lingayats of south central India, a previously unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG). Prior to the month-long trip, four church teams had traveled to the area for short-term, ten-day efforts.

The two retirees spent four weeks there this summer seeking the lost and training national pastors and believers in church planting. One of the volunteers celebrated his seventy-ninth birthday there and declared it to be, "My best ever." Both plan to return.

First Baptist's base of operations is a city with a population of over 900,000, but with only two working traffic lights. The church has rented an apartment there that is spacious by Indian standards and includes basic amenities. More importantly, it gives Indian visitors (mostly pastors) a sense of long-term commitment on the church's part.

The Lingayats are interspersed within the general population. Locating clusters of them has proven difficult. Previous church teams reached numerous Indians but few Lingayats. Yet, the census data indicated that they were there.

Then along came a local pastor who promised to connect the two retirees with a cluster of Lingayats. He led them to a very poor area populated by numerous Lingayat families. God had obviously prepared their hearts.

In one evening in that one neighborhood, more than sixty people received Christ, and at least fifty of them were Lingayats. In home after home, entire families repented of their sins and put their faith in Jesus. The team declared, "The Lingayat wall has been breached!"

Five new house churches are active in that area, studying the Bible and worshiping God. National pastors are planning weekly outreach events to offer other seekers the relationship with God that only Christians know.

First Baptist plans to send several teams there each year, most for a few days, some for a few weeks, to maintain the momentum in reaching the Lingayats. The church is looking for other churches in Tennessee to partner with them in this God-sized task.

Churches interested in joining forces with First Baptist can contact Sam Nichols, executive pastor of missions and operations, at [email protected].

This article appeared in the Baptist & Reflector (http://tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Ken Carver is a special contributor to the Baptist & Reflector.

Hearing Church Reaching Deaf Malagasy

by Don Graham

Hearing Church Reaching Deaf Malagasy

Connie Hook (right) builds her Malagasy sign language vocabulary with students at a Deaf school in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Photo by Joann Bradberry.

Tucked off Africa's eastern coast, Madagascar is home to roughly 110,000 Deaf, less than 1 percent of whom are disciples of Jesus Christ. Most follow a tradition of ancestor worship. There may be a "veneer of Christianity," said missionary Matt Spann, who leads IMB's Madagascar team, but "they fear their ancestors more than they fear God." That's what Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia, came to change.

Sending a "hearing" church to evangelize the Deaf may seem odd, especially since the church has no Deaf ministry. Roger Henderson, Warren's missions pastor, said the decision left many scratching their heads—including the people who chose which unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG) Warren would embrace.

Sorting through thousands of UUPGs identified by IMB, a men's discipleship group researched and prayed through their top picks, eventually selecting the Malagasy in Madagascar. The process went smoothly, save for a "slight hiccup"—they didn't realize the UUPG was Deaf.

"All throughout the Bible, God uses our weaknesses to display His strength—from Moses to David to Paul," said Vesta Sauter, who leads IMB's global Deaf work with her husband, Mark. "I think He knew exactly what He was doing when He chose Warren Baptist to bring the Gospel to the Deaf of Madagascar."

Phillip Easterling, 51, a pastor and church planter from Asheville, North Carolina, became Warren's way of gaining access to Madagascar's Deaf community. Easterling was born deaf. He started Asheville Deaf Church, which he currently pastors, and has helped Southern Baptists plant Deaf congregations all over the world.

Sauter says Easterling provides critical help because the Deaf are used to being ignored, abused, and marginalized by the hearing. But Easterling's intimacy with Deaf culture helps breaks down those walls.

Henderson challenged Warren's team to tell a Bible story using Malagasy sign at a Deaf school in Madagascar's capital city. Some of them stayed up late the night before crafting and rehearsing their stories. But they struggled to communicate.

When Easterling began telling his Bible story, the students' eyes snapped to attention. It's a payoff that comes from a deep understanding of sign.

Henderson believes God will equip Warren to overcome these kinds of barriers. He said this first trip is just the beginning, a litmus test of sorts. In a week, Warren's team managed to learn a surprising amount of Malagasy sign and forge genuine relationships—confirmation that Henderson and Warren's men's discipleship group aren't crazy. God can use a hearing church to share Jesus with the Deaf.


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