July 6 2011 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

    In the area known as the outskirts live the tribal groups, who tend to be animistic and somewhat open to the gospel.

    The majority of the population, which practices Buddhism and is highly resistant to the gospel, lives in the central plains and river valley regions.

    Mark Harrison moved his fingers across the map, pointing out each region. Colored stones outline the different areas. The map is a gift from friends living in Southeast Asia.

    Old Town Baptist Church, where Harrison has served as missions pastor for three years, is considering adopting an unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG) living in Southeast Asia. The specific people group they are praying about lives in a country that is 89 percent Buddhist; less than .07 percent of this people group is evangelical.

    Whereas an unreached people group (UPG) has a negligible percentage of Christian believers, the UUPG is essentially void of any evangelical witness and is less than two percent evangelical. About 3,800 UUPGs live throughout the world.

    Harrison believes the church is close to selecting the people group they will adopt. He is praying that their vision trip next month to Southeast Asia will bring even more clarity.

    “We’re praying that if this is what God wants us to do He will affirm that while we’re there,” Harrison said. “I don’t know what that affirmation will look like. But I do know that God will affirm His will through the body. It needs to be the church body taking responsibility for this.”

    Old Town is already further along on their journey than they were just a few months ago. If there’s one thing Harrison has learned in recent months about how to adopt an unreached people group, it’s to start at home.

    “This process starts where you already are. You don’t have to go out and look for something else. Just look at the connections God has already established for you,” he said.

    Several years ago during an International Mission Board (IMB) regional meeting Harrison met a missionary from Southeast Asia, from the country where Old Town is praying about adopting a people group. Since Harrison already had planned a mission trip to that region, he extended his trip in order to visit the missionary and learn more about the work being done in that country.

    Harrison and the missionary continued to keep in touch. Last year, Harrison and Jason Ledford, pastor of families and discipleship, traveled overseas to help the missionary lead evangelism training.

    As the partnership continued, conversations turned to adopting a people group. And as it turns out, one of the UUPGs in the missionary’s country has refugees from a related people group living in Winston-Salem. Through a local refugee ministry, members of Old Town have already been ministering to these refugees.

    Harrison said whichever people group they adopt, their goal is to create local, national and international points of connection. While they want to minister to members of this people group living in their homeland overseas, they also want to minister to refugees living in North Carolina, North America and throughout the world.

    Harrison is helping the congregation start to think more in terms of “engaging” a people group and not just “adopting” them.

    “We want to be hands-on involved in making sure that this people group hears the gospel and that there are sufficient opportunities for them to respond to the gospel,” he said. “For us, missions is demonstrating and verbalizing the gospel so that people can respond to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him. We want to be very intentional.”

    Reaching an UUPG of any size is going to require cooperation among churches. “I don’t have any illusions we’re going to reach them alone,” Harrison said. He prays that however God leads, whether to this country in Southeast Asia or somewhere else, that Old Town would help bring together other churches for the sake of reaching an UUPG.

    Old Town is ready to follow Paul’s example in Romans 15:17 of “going into that unbroken ground where the light has not penetrated,” Harrison said. They want their efforts of serving among unreached people to result in new believers who are discipled and trained to reach their own people.

    Although Old Town is still in the process of selecting an UUPG, excitement about what is to come is already building, due in large part to efforts from church leaders to keep this a priority before the congregation.

    From worship services to Sunday School classes to small groups, repetition is key.

    Harrison joked that whenever he speaks to the congregation they already know he’s going to say something about UUPGs.

    “If they don’t know what you’re going to say, you probably haven’t said it enough,” he said. “You have to oversaturate people.”

    While adopting a people group is a good thing, Harrison doesn’t want Old Town’s missions efforts to end there. He sees this as a way to help build a stronger missions mindset into the congregation.

    “Our church has a long history of mission involvement, which has grown through Pastor Rick’s leadership. Yet, on this continuing journey, we are still growing in our understanding of and obedience to God’s call,” Harrison said.

    Rick Speas, Old Town’s pastor, is excited about all God is allowing the church to be part of for His Kingdom.

    “As I see more and more of our church members becoming active in going, praying and giving to God’s mission, I am extremely humbled,” Speas said.

    “We are eagerly anticipating whatever God is going to do next, and we are excited to be on this journey with Him for the heart of the nations. I sense that God is doing here what He did in Antioch when He placed a burden for the nations upon the leaders, and then they sent a team out to go and preach the gospel.”

    Harrison didn’t expect the stronger missionary mindset to blossom as quickly as it has. Take, for example, dedicated deacon and Sunday School teacher Ray Grantham.

    Grantham is a faithful missions supporter. He supported calling a missions pastor instead of an associate pastor because he wanted to see the church focus turn more outward.

    He always encourages others to go and serve in missions, but in his 19 years at Old Town, never really thought about going himself. “I was a great missionary spectator,” he said. “I was comfortable that I was doing my fair share.”

    In helping the church prepare for this people group engagement process, the church staff encouraged small groups to read David Platt’s Radical.

    “You shouldn’t read it … but you should,” Grantham said.

    It’s a book that asks the hard questions and makes readers seriously evaluate life’s priorities.

    The book talks about not just raising money and encouraging others to go so we don’t have to — which Grantham said hit close to home.

    Grantham is excited about Old Town adopting a people group because it’s an opportunity for the entire church body to participate in one way or another.

    This year Grantham will join the Southeast Asia team for his first ever mission trip.

    This year, beginning next month, this lawyer is committing to take time off from the law firm every Friday so he can be involved in missions in the community.

    “I’m going to put my stake in the ground in 2011 and just go do it,” Grantham said. “We’re called to make ourselves available.”

    (EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the second article in a series following Old Town Baptist’s journey in adopting a people group. Visit imb.org to learn more about people groups that need to hear the gospel.)

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    7/6/2011 6:46:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments




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