Diverse challenges ahead for new missionaries, chaplains

DENVER (BP)--Joe Beckler and wife Cheri are on a mission field where people are skeptical, even suspicious, of Christianity.

"Many of them have alternate lifestyles. How do you present the Gospel to people who have great disdain for the Gospel? Many people here view Christianity with great suspicion," said Beckler, a missionary who is working to start churches in Denver.

"Their worldview is complicated."

Sharing Christ with such people often is contingent upon building relationships. "Life is our best tool. Calling yourself a Christ-follower gets attention," Beckler said. "It's not uncommon here to have someone literally following you. You have to show them the way to Christ through daily life."

The Becklers were two of the 119 missionaries and chaplains commissioned by the North American Mission Board Oct. 5 at Applewood Baptist Church in Denver. The mission field they face reflects the growing diversity of ministry by NAMB missionaries as North America's population grows increasingly diverse and complex.

"We are a diverse culture. The world has come to our front door," NAMB's interim president, Richard Harris, told the missionaries. "And that's the reason we need missionaries and chaplains going out to the front lines and representing us."

The group who were commissioned in Denver reflect the diversity of the mission field -- and those who are going to that field, including:

-- Prasad and Vandana Aghamkar, who minister in the south Asian Indian and Nepali communities of Louisville, Ky.

-- Ken and Thurleen Bain, who work among Native Americans in Arizona.

-- Chuy and Maria Avila, who are reaching Hispanics in Laredo, Texas.

-- Jali and Sundus Dawood, who minister to the Arabic community in Dallas.

-- Harold and Barbara Lunsford, who work among oilfield workers in Wyoming.

-- Pedro and Dionisia Escobar, who reach out to Latinos in New Mexico.

All of these missionaries work through state convention partners to most effectively link national and local strategy and maximize efficient use of Southern Baptist resources.

Vivek Arora, as a young man living in India, had a dream that he would find a book someday that would answer all his questions, and that he would be instrumental in bringing people together in a way that they could live in harmony. He discovered that book years later when he came to faith in Christ while reading a Hindi translation of the Bible. As for people living in harmony, he believes the Great Commission is God's plan for that.

Today, Vivek and his wife Manisha are church planting missionaries in Boston, ministering in the international community that has come from around the world to one of America's great cities.

"We are reaching out to international students and professionals," Vivek said. "Many come here from their countries for two or three years. If we can reach them for Christ, the impact will be greatly multiplied when they return to their home countries."

Harris told the missionaries and chaplains that, in being sent to challenging mission fields, much is expected of them.

"Be evangelistic," Harris said. "We're not looking for you to go out there and help us shuffle around church members. We want you to go out there and take the Gospel to people, let the Holy Spirit work in their lives and transform them into new creatures in Christ."

Mark Edlund, executive director of the Colorado Baptist General Convention who served in Asia as a Southern Baptist missionary for 17 years, thanked NAMB for its partnership in Colorado missions.

"Welcome to this mission field we call Colorado," Edlund said. "I am so thankful to NAMB for what they do for Colorado."

Edlund said NAMB provides at least partial funding for the work of 49 missions personnel in Colorado and for another 86 self-funded Mission Service Corps missionaries commissioned by NAMB who serve in the state.

Others participating in the commissioning service were Applewood's senior pastor, Calvin Wittman; NAMB trustee chairman Tim Patterson; Woman's Missionary Union Executive Director Wanda Lee; and Bob Ryan, director of missions for Denver's Mile High Baptist Association.

Harris encouraged the missionaries not to be distracted by things that might derail them from ministry. He specifically addressed the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force which is considering, among other things, recommending changes in how NAMB functions.

"If there's one thing that Southern Baptists love, it's their missionaries and their chaplains," Harris said. "You do what God has called you to do and leave the rest to Him. Southern Baptists will take care of you."

Harris ended with a challenge: "Go out of here tonight with a new zeal and a renewed belief that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. You're going to meet some tough cookies. You're going to meet some people who are mixed up in their theology, their mindset and their worldview. Don't let it deter you, hinder you or discourage you. Present the truth. Present the Gospel and depend on the Holy Spirit to work through your life."


Mike Ebert is communications team leader at the North American Mission Board.

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