Smoke from the kitchen wafted up through the red floorboards and a single window offered little reprieve from the sun’s relentless warmth. Mark Harrison could see the top of a shiny, gold pagoda across the road and hear the occasional honk of a truck driving by.
But Harrison’s focus was on the family he had come to visit.
It wasn’t the North Carolina pastor’s first visit to this home in a remote Southeast Asian village tucked among lush, green mountains. He had visited the family during other trips to the villages of T* people. Although the youngest sister and her husband had become Christians, her parents and three sisters never seemed interested in the gospel.
So Harrison hadn’t planned to stop that day. Tired from traveling all day, he was headed to the rickety wooden boat that would take him back across the river.
But when a local T believer called him, Harrison, missions pastor at Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, knew he needed to go with him to visit this family again.
Mark Harrison, missions pastor of Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, shops in the market on one of his trips to Asia.
Early on, Harrison and Old Town had decided to focus their strategy to reach T people on encouraging and discipling local believers to share the gospel.
“They [local believers] know the language. They know the culture. They understand the ins and outs of everyday life. They have access to the people,” Harrison said.
After more than a dozen trips to T people villages in the past five years, Harrison and Old Town members have seen T people turn from Buddhism, believe in Jesus and then lead others to faith in Jesus.
Yet believers are still few among this unreached people group that is staunchly Buddhist. Less than 1 percent of the nearly 1.5 million people believe in Jesus. “The T people are deeply rooted in their animistic and Buddhist background,” Harrison said. They’re very attracted to the gospel, he added, but hesitant to let go of their heritage.
Counting the cost
That’s the story at the home of the four sisters. As Harrison scooted closer to help the oldest sister tie a knot on the bracelet she had made – a beaded bracelet telling the story of creation and salvation – he asked if she’d ever thought about trusting in Jesus.
“She was very interested in the gospel, but could not say yes to Jesus. She wanted to choose both,” Harrison said. “She wanted all the benefits of following Jesus, and yet [to] maintain her religion.”
The woman is afraid family and friends will reject her if she leaves Buddhism.
“You are so close to experiencing the love of the Living God,” Harrison said tenderly. “I pray you will have courage to say ‘yes’ to Jesus, no matter the cost.”
Ever since they committed to sharing the gospel among the T people, Harrison and Old Town have prayed for them to have courage to leave Buddhism.
When the church began praying about engaging an unreached, unengaged people group, Southeast Asia missionaries such as William and Mallory Ritz* helped guide them to the T people and helped them learn about the people group and Southeast Asian culture.
“We help build partnerships between our Southern Baptist churches in America – with our national partners and existing field personnel,” William said.
“We want to help our churches in America develop strategies toward reaching, equipping and training,” he said.
Old Town’s strategy to partner with local believers is working. Before stopping at the sisters’ home, Harrison visited a young believer named Met,* a motorcycle repairman whom Old Town had helped disciple.
“As our teams go to his village we always stop by his house to encourage him and nurture him along in his faith,” Harrison said.
Met had invited a former Buddhist monk to his bamboo hut to meet Harrison. When he came to have his bike repaired, the former monk explained, Met shared the gospel and led him to faith in Jesus.
“It’s exciting to see that a man from the T people background, through the influence of another T person, made a commitment of his life to Christ,” Harrison said. “This is an incredible evidence of the activity of God.”
As T believers continue helping Harrison and Old Town learn about their people and culture, Harrison and Old Town in turn help them learn to share their faith.
Before visiting Met, Harrison began his busy day with Thura,* a local believer with whom he had spent time a few months earlier, teaching him to share the gospel.
Thura shares the gospel although his father, the village leader and a Buddhist, doesn’t want him to.
Thura asked Harrison to teach and pray with Nanda,* who had believed in Jesus after Thura shared the gospel with him. The men sat at an outside restaurant until the glares became too much. The foreigner – and the Christian conversation – were not welcomed.
So they crossed the dirt road to Nanda’s home. On the porch Nanda’s young daughter swung her legs back and forth in her plastic chair, gently resting her head on dad’s shoulder as he told how he turned from Buddhism to trust in Jesus.
And as he talked, answered prayers unfolded before Harrison.
“The seed of the gospel has taken root in their hearts and is now growing,” Harrison said.
He could leave with confidence, believing the new family of faith established there could continue to grow and sow the seed of the gospel among their neighbors.
Holding the rope
Southern Baptist missionaries are able to serve in Southeast Asia through the International Mission Board (IMB) because local churches give through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (LMCO).
“Global missions is not a compartmentalized program of the church for a select few people; it is the purpose for which we all exist. Every church and every believer has a part to play in fulfilling Christ’s commission,” said an IMB press release.
“Today, globalization and urbanization present new opportunities for more men, women, singles and families to be active in international missions than ever before.
“As IMB equips churches to send ordinary Christians as missionaries to unreached people and places, it also partners with churches to send limitless missionary teams of business and medical professionals, students, retirees, teachers and others to work together in global cities.”
The IMB is calling churches to reflect on how they might contribute to the sending endeavor by marking Nov. 29-Dec. 6 as a week of prayer for international missions. The prayer week is part of the months-long international missions emphasis that leads up to the Feb. 29 deadline for sending LMCO gifts to IMB.
The theme for the 2015 LMCO states the reason for Southern Baptist missions: “Because of who He is.”
As churches plan their services and special events for the rest of the year, IMB has released resources, including a full video sermon from IMB President David Platt, free of charge to help church leaders LMCO.
To view or download these resources, go to imb.org/plattsermonhelps. To find out more information about LMCO, visit imb.org/lottie-moon.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Paige Turner is a writer living in Southeast Asia. BR Content Editor Seth Brown compiled additional information for this story from IMB press releases.)