N.C. church perseveres on journey to embrace people group
    December 2 2014 by Paige Turner, International Mission Board

    They sit on the floor in a “T” people fishing village home with their eyes fixed on the pastor from North Carolina. The men and women listen as he speaks, especially the young men. The pastor’s gaze rests on them and he knows he has their attention – he sees it in their eyes.
     
    The sky threatens, but rain no longer pounds on the bamboo roof as it did when the pastor began sharing. The group of three or four is now nearly 20 as people from the village climb the bamboo ladder upstairs and crowd in to listen. The pastor continues on with the creation story. “Have you ever thought about where this beautiful place came from?” Mark Harrison asks the group surrounded by lush, green mountains and a sandy shore. “This all came from the Word of the Living God. No one created the Living God.”
     
    Harrison, missions pastor at Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, finishes the story and then asks how many had never heard the story before he came. Nearly every hand in the room goes up.

    Harrison leads Old Town teams to “T people” (as the church identifies the people group) villages several times a year, ever since they became involved with the International Mission Board’s (IMB) Embrace initiative four years ago and committed to engage an unreached, unengaged people group with the gospel.
     
    During December, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is collected in many Southern Baptist churches to support efforts like this with IMB.
     
    He learned about this particular village through Southeast Asian believers Khin* and Thet* (their culture does not use surnames). The men left their hometown to be closer to where the majority of T people live and where they focus their ministry. Although they are from a different people group, they feel called to serve among an unreached people group, specifically the T people in Southeast Asia.

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    IMB photo by Hugh Johnson
    With each trip to the T people, Mark Harrison, missions pastor at Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, seeks to disciple local believers. He helps them learn how to share the gospel with Buddhist background T people and encourages them to be bold in their witness. T people are so strongly tied to Buddhism that when they come to faith in Jesus Christ, pressure and opposition from religious leaders, and family, is common.

     

    Most T people don’t know the creation story Harrison shared in the fishing village because they’ve never heard the gospel. Less than one percent of T people are believers in Jesus Christ.
     
    Yet, Old Town members are seeing T people turn from Buddhism and believe in Jesus. When Harrison and church members come to Southeast Asia, they share the gospel, encourage believers and try to find areas where the people group live.
     
    The problem lies in getting to these people. It isn’t easy. Few outsiders make it to the remote villages nestled in the steep, wet mountains of Southeast Asia.
     
    Just to tell this one Bible story about creation, Harrison and several local believers ride 45 minutes in a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi, with little protection from the rain and wind.
     
    Along one road, the group walks while the taxi slowly maneuvers through the mud. Then, they ride motorcycles another 30 minutes straight up a mountain to the fishing village.
     
    The journey is even difficult for local residents to reach the remote villages. Khin and Thet often walk three hours one-way during rainy season, when their motorcycle can’t make it up the mountain through the mud, to share the gospel.
     
    “I prayed to be a minister for the gospel,” Khin says. “In my heart was a calling to be a missionary. I prayed to be somewhere no one had been before.”
     
    When Old Town began the journey to embrace the T people, they prayed God would send people to help them.
     
    “Many people back home are praying for you,” Harrison says, offering encouragement. “They pray for you every day.”
     
    Old Town prays for believers such as Khin and Thet, who are lonely away from family and friends, but stay because they want T people to believe in Jesus. 
     
    “The people don’t know Jesus – that is the most difficult part,” Khin says. “They don’t know other religions; they only know Buddhism.”
     
    That’s why Khin and local believers want to learn from Harrison how to naturally start conversations about creation and the Living God.
     
    In an outdoor market, elbow-to-elbow with people, Harrison stops to talk with a woman sitting in the midst of rows of fish for sale. He asks if she knows where the fish came from. When she says “no,” he shares the gospel beginning with creation.
     
    In a village home a local believer asks Harrison how to share the gospel with other Buddhist background T people. After an afternoon of conversation, this is exactly what the pastor wants to hear – local believers stepping up and Old Town helping them to advance the Great Commission among their people. 
    Harrison wastes no time answering his question.
     
    He explains how scripture teaches that in Athens, Peter spoke to Jewish believers about the Old Testament, and they were familiar with those Scriptures.
     
    Yet, when Paul spoke to Gentiles in Athens, who had no knowledge of the Old Testament, he started with what they did know – their own religion and idols. 
     
    “Both men tried to understand how people were already thinking,” Harrison explains to the local believers. “You are from their [T people] background and you understand how they think. God has chosen you to help the T people understand the gospel.”
     
    Harrison pauses for a few moments and then asks, “What do you think of these stories, these examples?”
    Quickly, but quietly, the man says, “A fisherman knows how to teach other fishermen to fish.”
     
    A simple, yet bold statement, because the T people tell Harrison that when they share their faith and teach others to do the same, they often pay a price. Their very identity is wrapped around Buddhism, so when they convert, pressure and opposition from religious leaders and family is not uncommon.
     
    Harrison has seen how opposition often keeps believers from other people groups from reaching out to the T people. 
     
    Shein* recently moved from his hometown to serve among the T people and experienced opposition.
     
    “People tried to talk me out of it, but my mom encouraged me,” he says. “It is my heart’s desire that these people may be saved.”
     
    For years Shein wanted to reach this people group, but leaders at the Christian school where he taught said the need was too great at home – until now when they see God working among T people.
     
    Thura,* who recently came to faith and is leading others to Christ, shares the gospel despite opposition from his father who is the village leader and sees the gospel as a waste of time.
     
    “I know believing the gospel is precious. When I share, there is peace in my heart,” Thura says.
    Nanda* and Mya,* a husband and wife in Thura’s village, moved to another village because family pressured them to leave after they became followers of Christ.
     
    A group of men watch and stare from across the street as Harrison and local believers get out of the tuk-tuk and go inside to pray with Mya.
     
    She voices hope that one day she can live and worship freely in her village. Mya shares other prayer requests for Harrison to take back to Old Town. At the top of her list is a request Harrison hears time and time again: that family members and T people will believe in Jesus.
     
    *Names changed
     
    To learn more about how your church can embrace an unreached, unengaged people group, visit www.imb.org. To contact Mark Harrison, email mharrison@otbclife.org.
     
    (EDITOR’S NOTE – Paige Turner is an IMB writer living in Southeast Asia.)


    Related Stories:

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    Old Town moves forward in commitment to unengaged, unreached
    'This is God's passion:' training for N.C. churches to embrace UUPGs

    12/2/2014 11:04:43 AM by Paige Turner, International Mission Board | with 0 comments
    Filed under: Embrace, IMB, Old Town Baptist Church




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