By Brandon Elrod, staff writer for Send Relief.
ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Wars, natural disasters and famines have been displacing tens of millions of people around the world in recent years, and Southern Baptists have been strategizing together to find ways to minister to them.
During a March 10-11 “Reaching the Nations” event at the North American Mission Board (NAMB), Send Relief hosted the Diaspora Missions Collective (DMC) as ministry leaders from across Southern Baptist life discussed ways to best connect diaspora peoples to the gospel who have arrived in North America and in other parts of the world.
“All of our Southern Baptist entities and our seminaries have come together to recognize that we live in a unique time to fulfill the Great Commission. The nations are on the move, and amid this unprecedented global migration, we need to be able and ready to reach displaced people here in North America and around the globe,” said John Barnett, director of diaspora mobilization with the International Mission Board (IMB). “The Collective has come together to equip the church and discover more opportunities to engage people with gospel intentionality.”
The DMC developed over the last few years as Southern Baptist practitioners identified a need to communicate and share ideas. The “Reaching the Nations” event provided an opportunity for leaders with NAMB, IMB, Send Relief, seminaries and others to network and articulate best practices.
“We live in an age where the least-reached people in the world are within arm’s reach of our local churches,” said Keelan Cook, professor of missiology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., during a breakout session. “The Lord is up to something.”
Cook, who directs the seminary’s Center for Great Commission Studies, told attendees that sharing the gospel across cultural lines does not require expertise but instead a willingness to learn.
“Sharing the gospel with internationals, and others, looks different than it did in the past,” said Cook. “What’s not different is the gospel.”
As the first day of the event began, Gordon Fort emphasized the critical role prayer plays in global evangelism.
“Prayer is the key in the hand of God that opens doors,” said Fort, who is senior ambassador to the president with the IMB.
Peter Yanes, associate vice president for Asian American relations at the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, challenged attendees to embrace the nations as neighbors, partners and practitioners in the advancement of the gospel.
“The need to embrace the nations with the gospel is far more urgent than ever,” said Yanes.
Trent DeLoach pastors Clarkston International Bible Church in Clarkston, Ga., a community that is one of the most diverse in the nation. He shared the importance for ministries in diverse neighborhoods to have a strategy driven to and through the local church that engages the diaspora and equips church members for missions.
“We share Jesus in a way that shows respect and that we will love them whether they accept or reject,” DeLoach said.
Barnett spoke with Cook to discuss strategies for engaging the nations with the gospel.
“The world needs to see a church that’s not shrinking back but a church that stands forward in the boldness and power of Christ,” they said.
When people from other parts of the world come to a new neighborhood, said Cook and Barnett, churches should be one of the first people to welcome them and help meet their needs. As churches reach out, they need to be ready to share the gospel and have a place for them if they do say “yes” to the message.
As part of a breakout session, Send Relief ministry center directors John Ames and David Creswell described the value of hospitality in ministering to refugees.
“We don’t want to be the people who go out and share the gospel, but if someone asks for something to eat, we turn the other way” and ignore their need, said Ames, echoing James 2:15-17.
Ames, who leads Send Relief’s Boston Ministry Center, stated that 80 percent of internationals are never invited into an American’s home during their first 10 years in the United States. Simply being welcoming creates opportunities to build relationships and open doors for gospel conversations.
Vance Pitman, president of Send Network, laid out his vision for church planting in North America as the “Reaching the Nations” event concluded. When God births a church, Pitman said, it is about something bigger.
“The church is the gathering place to introduce people to Jesus, the center for discipling people in kingdom living and the launching pad for the expansion of the kingdom in cities and nations all over the world,” said Pitman.
Send Relief staff person Megan Parrish contributed to this report.