Trading tee times for divine appointments
EDITOR'S NOTE: This year's Week of Prayer for International Missions, Nov. 30-Dec. 7, focuses on missionaries who serve in South America as well as churches partnering with them, exemplifying the global outreach supported by Southern Baptists' gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. This year's theme is "GO TELL the story of Jesus"; the national offering goal is $170 million.
SAN JOSE DE QUERO, Peru (BP)--During quiet moments in his office, banker Larry Jackson would stare at the walls and say, "God, there has got to be more to life than this."
Jackson assumed he would spend his retirement in Greensboro, N.C., on a golf course. But his plans changed eight years ago when he and his wife Nancy became church planters in Bolivia. Later they served as prayer coordinators and trainers for the Xtreme Team, young people who take the Gospel to difficult-access areas in South America.
While riding in a boat down the Amazon River, he realized, "This is the 'more to life' I was thinking about. This is where I'm supposed to be."
The Jacksons joined the International Mission Board's Masters Program in which individuals 50 or older commit to at least two or three years of overseas service. The Jacksons are in their third term.
Through a program called REAP (Rapid Entry Advance Plan), the Jacksons now are recruiting churches to adopt people groups in remote villages in the Peruvian Andes with whom to share the Gospel.
REAP encourages stateside partners -- known as strategy coordinator churches -- to plant indigenous, self-sufficient bodies of believers among specific people groups. Today more than 25 churches are committed to reaching approximately 15 different groups that the Jacksons have researched in northern Peru.
"My job is to introduce them to the people, and that's when God takes over," Jackson says.
Using crude maps and car window conversations to make contact with groups such as the Yagua, the Jeberos and the Quechua, the Jacksons accomplish by trial and error what their Google searches cannot. Walking through the dusty streets of a little-known mountain village, they greet shepherds with a quiet smile. Asking questions at a rudimentary clinic, they gather data about the community. Loaded with information -- from the number and type of local churches to the accessibility of running water for volunteer teams -- they paint a picture of the people and the possibilities for involvement. The Jacksons share this with churches they meet in stateside conferences and others who express interest in a deeper missions commitment.
The Jacksons' first step is to lead a church on a vision trip. A "Caleb team" from the church visits the people group to take back a report and recommendation. If the church votes to adopt the people group, the Jacksons continue working alongside the members as they begin implementing strategy and taking mission trips as part of a multi-year commitment.
Approximately 90 percent of the churches the Jacksons lead on vision trips choose to make a commitment -- some for up to four years -- to adopt a people group.
It is a statistic that gives Jackson hope. Even with long nights, mind-numbing research and battles with the elements, he is thankful he has traded tee times for the adventure of serving God in South America.
"I've searched the Scriptures, and I've never seen the word 'retirement,'" Jackson says. "There's just this thing about trying to make your life count for something. I think I want to be more like Paul and finish strong."
Dea Davidson is an overseas correspondent with the International Mission Board. To learn more about becoming a strategy coordinator church in South America, go to www.takingit2the edge.org/SCCP.htm. For other areas of the world, contact the International Mission Board at 1-800-999-3113 or go to imb.org and inquire about a particular world region. Gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering can be made at www.imb.org/offering to support the International Mission Board's more than 5,300 missionaries worldwide, including Larry and Nancy Jackson in Peru.