Equipping the persecuted, reaching the lost: Southern students minister in South Asia

Communications Staff — July 1, 2008

Equipping the persecuted, reaching the lost: Southern The nationals thronged around the Americans as they walked the streets. Others hung out of windows or pushed to the edge of rooftops to catch a glimpse of the foreigners and hear what they had to say.

What the Americans said — in the Muslim-saturated community — was Jesus Christ died for sinful men that they might repent and receive eternal life.

Eight students and faculty from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary took the Gospel to areas where it had not been preached and led pastor-training seminars in areas where it had in a South Asian country, May 17-June 2.

Brian Vickers, associate professor of New Testament interpretation, said of the three student trips he has led to the region over the past four years this one afforded the most opportunities to provide a Gospel witness.

“Pairs of students would go out accompanied by a national believer who would also serve as a translator. They would have various opportunities going from village to village and town to town as they drew attention just by being there,” he said. “This led to more opportunities for sharing the Gospel than the last two trips [I have led] combined.”

Chet Daniels, a master of divinity student at Southern, said the crowds of people amazed him.

“There was a desire that people had to hear what we had to say,” he said. “There would be times when we would come into an alleyway and there would be people in doorways, people hanging out of windows and we would look up and see people hanging off of rooftops. People just surrounded us hearing us preach the Gospel.”

The two-week mission trip had two main elements: training seminars for local house church leaders and street evangelism in cities and rural areas.

Joining Vickers and Daniels, were students Matt Anderson, Ryan Townsend, Ben Stubblefield, Ryan Falls, Tom Pendergest and Shane Burchfiel.

Vickers said the group led two three-day seminars, one per week, in a Bible institute in a major city. During the first week, he and Anderson led an additional seminar outside the city for pastors from remote areas.
Anderson said the persevering faith of the 27 attendees was both encouraging and convicting.

“The area where we went the churches are sparse, few and far between,” Anderson, a master of divinity student, explained. “It was a chance for some of these guys from this area, which is heavily Muslim, to come in and get Bible teaching. It was humbling to see men who were more than willing to be beaten in their faith, and who were just holding on to simple doctrines of the Christian faith. They have not had a chance to reflect on deep Christian truths [like I have] and yet their endurance put my Christian walk to shame.”

Vickers said the seminars centered on three topics: the person and work of Christ, Christian life and discipleship, and basic Scripture reading and interpretation. During the first week, students Townsend and Daniels handled the bulk of the teaching, while the other students assisted breakout sessions that included question and answer times. Townsend and Vickers did a majority of the teaching during the second week.
Daniels said the house church leaders had question after question covering a variety of topics.

“There were about 25-30 house church leaders there [during the first week],” he said. “Ryan and I had to try and explain the intermediate state. We got asked questions about ministry to the poor. There were many practical, down-to-earth questions.”

In addition to the seminars, the students went out in pairs to engage people in conversation and share the Gospel in surrounding cities and rural areas. Two or three national believers accompanied each pair of students and the groups focused on Muslim-saturated areas, Daniels said.

Because it was Vickers third time to lead a trip to the region (the other two took place in 2005 and 2006), the group was able to work with established contacts while also making new ones. In one area, Southern students made contact with a national who missionaries with the International Mission Board that Vickers knew had met a few weeks before.

Stubblefield and Falls accompanied three national believers to the man’s village, where they spent three days helping spread the Gospel in an area where there was no existing witness to the Gospel.

“We would walk in and a crowd would gather. It is very likely that no Western Caucasian people had been in those villages,” said Stubblefield, a Ph.d. student in New Testament and pastor of New Washington Christian Church in New Washington, Ind.

“Two or three times we sat down with a Muslim Imam. One time we had a group of about 50 people gather around us. We would initiate a Gospel conversation and then let the nationals handle it from there. That way it was not a message from the white people; it was a message from the nationals.

Daniels and Pendergest set out one day with three national believers planning to employ a similar strategy. However, Daniels said their plans soon changed when they saw the people took particular interest in what the Americans had to say.

“We had great reception to us sharing and so we started doing that at each stop,” he said. “We visited three or four areas around one town and then went to another one and preached in four different areas in that town. The goal is to help the national believers build up enough interest to be able to start house churches.”

All told, Daniels and Pendergest walked about 15 miles
over a 14-hour span and preached the Gospel to more than 200 people in the two cities. The pair also spent a couple of days doing the same thing in different villages in rural areas.

“I was surprised by how [spiritually] dark it was,” Daniels said. “We passed thousands and thousands of idols in our time there. It caused the Gospel to shine all the brighter. It was a bastion to be around believers there, to see their boldness in faithfully sharing the Gospel. I was very pleased to be able to see that light.”

Vickers said the seminar training was an essential and vital ministry to the house church leaders, most of whom face regular persecution.

“The local church pastors there do not have access to the resources we are surrounded with in America,” he said. “These are small house churches that are literally giving their lives for Christ and the Gospel. Most of these leaders have been thrown out of their communities, evicted from their houses or beaten for their faith. There have been attempts on some of their lives. These are men who understand what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus in more than a theoretical way.”

Anderson noted that the lack of resources and depth of theological knowledge did not prevent the house church leaders from having a passionate, devoted faith.

“We saw a lot of men who just want to be faithful with the Word of God,” he said. “I wish that more of us (American believers), even at Southern, were that eager to hear the Word of God. You pray that they will go to their house churches and then in this generation, or the next, or the one after that, the Gospel takes off and this region becomes a center for Gospel ministry.”

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