Many churches have experienced the blessing of hosting a furloughed missionary, hearing encouraging testimonies, and being challenged to mobilize short-term trips. But it is not every day that over 30 International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries are able to make a special “short-term” trip themselves to intentionally invest in those who have sent them. One of the great benefits of the Cooperative Program (CP) is this mutual encouragement and investment.
For the past several years the American Peoples Affinity of the IMB has hosted a training event in Richmond, Virginia called Missions College. This year they decided to offer a second date and location to serve a broader group of Southern Baptists who might not be able to travel to Virginia. After hosting a series of virtual “mission trips” during the Covid pandemic the affinity reached out to Arkansas Baptists. IMB Missions College was held at First Baptist Church (FBC) in Russellville from Monday, February 28 to Wednesday, March 2.
For three days, 150 participants received training from and built relationships with over 30 IMB missionaries who made the special trip back to the States just for this event. The reach was well beyond Arkansas. Over 50 of those participants represented 11 other states, with some traveling from Washington, Nevada, Oregon, and Florida. An IMB candidate consultant was also present, as there were a handful of individuals currently in the IMB application process.
Lloyd and Connie Rodgers, IMB Missionaries in Cali, Colombia were the main organizers of the event and spent months coordinating details with the ABSC Missions Team, FBC Russellville, and participating missionaries. “What a joy it was to experience the hospitality and missions enthusiasm of Arkansas Baptists during Missions College. We had a unique opportunity to spend quality time learning together about how God is moving among the peoples of the Americas. We heard testimonies of how Arkansas Baptist churches are partnering with IMB missionaries. FBC Russellville was absolutely wonderful! We praise the Lord for Arkansas Baptists.”
This hands-on training event was intended for anyone desiring to go deeper in their missions involvement. And while it is designed to facilitate relationships and partnerships with IMB missionaries, their aim is to help churches learn the skills and gain the knowledge they need to effectively engage the lost in cross-cultural settings.
A big vision for God’s glory among the nations, strengthened relationships between. missionaries and churches, clear paths of sending and serving, and simple tools were just a few of the benefits expressed by those who attended.
Marty Davis, Missions Coordinator for Park Hill Baptist Church in North Little Rock, said, “This was my first experience with an in-person Missions College after participating virtually last year. I was impressed with the knowledge and experience of the IMB missionaries who led the tracks and breakout sessions. The material was useful for both ministering overseas and at home, and the missionaries were available for personal conversations about ministry on the field. I am grateful to the ABSC and the IMB for working together to make this available.”
Participants spent most of each day in one of seven different learning tracks and two of nine different breakout sessions that covered topics such as “Foundations for Missions,” “Short-Term Trips,” “Reaching Muslims,” and “Sending Students.” In the main sessions participants were able to hear passionate sermons from Dr. Sonny Tucker (Executive Director, ABSC), Dr. Todd Lafferty (Executive Vice President, IMB), and Dr. Wes George (Pastor, FBC Rogers), as well as experience powerful worship led by Robert Ramsey and others from the FBC Russellville worship team.
Thomas Sewell of Central Baptist Church in North Little Rock said, “As a missions pastor there are two things I am passionate about: equipping our members to be on mission locally and abroad and partnering with missionaries around the globe to further the kingdom of God. One of the greatest takeaways for me at IMB Missions College was to gain tools on how to develop and mobilize our members to be more missionally minded. The other one was to connect with IMB missionaries, hear what our CP giving is going to and start conversations that will grow into mission partnerships. Coming home with tools to better equip and develop missionaries in our pews and connecting with IMB missionaries from different parts of the world were two huge advantages to participating in the IMB Missions College.”
On Tuesday evening, there was also a special student mobilization event hosted by IMB for students in partnership with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) at Arkansas Tech University (ATU). Adam McCampbell BCM campus minister said, “The IMB Missions College brought in missionaries from the Americas who have a passion for mobilizing churches and students to the nations. They not only filled FBC Russellville during the conference, but on Tuesday night after teaching all day they filled the ATU BCM Gathering. They shared inspirational stories, put together great trivia questions about the Americas, answered many questions from students, and shared Hurts donuts with us! It was a great night that impacted students and took the first steps of inspiring them to be on mission with the gospel on their campus and around the world through programs such as Summer Sojourner. As campus pastor at ATU BCM, I am excited to see the growth of the seeds planted from IMB Missions College…and I hope they come back to plant some more!”
Paul and Robin Tinley, IMB missionaries in the Americas, reported after the event, “One of the young women in the Missions College Orality Track expressed her on-going sense of calling to cross-cultural missionary service. While in the airport waiting for her flight to leave Little Rock immediately after Missions College, she filled out the application form for the IMB Journeyman missionary program.”
There is no doubt that this event will be catalytic for Arkansas Baptists serving overseas, but there will be an immediate impact made at home as well. Ellen Harrison, a member of FBC Russellville who helps lead a local outreach to international students said, “It was exciting to hear what God is doing all over the world. I believe that this Missions College was very timely to help cast renewed vision as we work together to share the gospel in our own cities as well. I am so thankful that we were able to have this event in Arkansas.”
This unique event was made possible by the cooperative giving of SBC churches who love the nations and love their missionaries. Jeff Ginn, affinity leader for the Americas and himself an Arkansas Baptist, expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to invest back into local churches, “What a joy it was to partner with the ABSC as we sought to help equip Arkansas Baptists to impact the world. Your state convention is exemplary in its heart for the nations. Seed was sown in this gathering that will change the nations!”