For the people IMB missionaries Aaron and Sheila Crowder are trying to reach, a coffee meeting can take around three hours. Last year, Sheila was able to lead one of her dear friends to faith over coffee. (IMB Photo)
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by Myriah Snyder, International Mission Board.
International Mission Board missionary Sheila Crowder entered the worn apartment building. She’d cleared her schedule to meet with a woman she’d been praying for long before this coffee date. As she entered the apartment, the smell of coffee grounds welcomed her in, and she knew she’d be there for a while.
Her friend is from an unreached people group who takes as much joy in a freshly brewed, aromatic cup of joe as they do the conversations that naturally develop around the experience. She’d bathed the encounter in prayer, but she still wasn’t prepared for what came next.
Sheila and her husband, Aaron, have been trying to reach this people group for years. The people, who have dispersed and can be found in a nearby city, are traditionally nomads who live in a tumultuous and hard-to-reach area. They’re oral learners, as the majority cannot read or write. They practice folk Islam. There are very few known believers among them, as generally their hearts are resistant to the gospel.
That day, after Sheila yet again poured her heart out sharing the gospel with her friend, the woman made a bold decision. She wanted to follow this Jesus Sheila had been sharing about. The missionaries and their team rejoiced as Aaron baptized her. Her salvation was the fruit of many years of labor and prayer.
It wasn’t just the missionaries who were praying though. They weren’t the only ones celebrating either. An ocean away, a small church in Wilson, Arkansas, had been praying for believers among this people group. Now, they were rejoicing too.
When First Baptist Church in Wilson, Arkansas, connected with this IMB missionary family, reaching the nations became personal for them. As a result, God moved in their congregation and their little community.
Pastor Paul Huenefeld realized that most of the members in his church had never met a real-life missionary. He reached out to the IMB asking if one could visit his church. Through the IMB’s efforts, he was connected to Aaron and Sheila Crowder.
Even before church members organized a trip overseas, they began praying for this unreached people group, fervently. When they heard that the Crowders saw this woman come to Christ and be baptized, the church not only rejoiced, but they began to look at their own lives and draw closer to God.
“Their simple decision for Christ in their situation caused our people to rethink their own spiritual lives,” Huenefeld said.
Soon, his church doubled in size, from 35-40 on a Sunday morning to nearly 80 each week. Huenefeld’s church members were so excited by this work God did an ocean away that their passion was ignited to reach people in their own community.
He saw his church begin to grow as they started to reach the world around them.
At the beginning of this year, Huenefeld, his wife, Angela, and another member of his church, Justin Cissell, put boots on the ground. Traveling to another continent, they met missionaries, national believers and missionaries who are working with the UPG, and learned how God is working in the lives of this people group the Arkansan church adopted.
“Once we began to minister outside of our own area, that’s where the growth really came from,” he said. “People got more of a passion, and our community was hearing that we were not just sitting in the pews on Sunday morning, but we were out doing stuff.”
The church members aren’t the only people encouraged by this connection-turned-partnership. For the missionaries, having a church host them, join in on their monthly prayer meetings, be a part of their ministry overseas, and most importantly, pray for them, is invaluable.
Sheila shared, “It was just surprising to find a church that jumped into ministry and was so encouraging, to be honest.”
“It’s easy to feel disconnected from churches in the States,” Sheila added. The missionary couple is grateful for every church that has invested in their ministry, prayed for them, given through IMB giving channels or the Cooperative Program, and connected with them.
Still, FBC Wilson holds a special place in their hearts. “We don’t feel disconnected anymore.”