July 30, 2014
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WEEK OF PRAYER: Prayer intertwines Ark. church & South Asia
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Lisa Bell, First Baptist Church Centerton, Ark., looks over homework with some children in South Asia. In 2007, the Bedia people were considered an unengaged, unreached people group. First Baptist Church Centerton, Ark., "embraced" the Bedia and prayed for the Gospel to reach them.  IMB photo.
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Shanti* (center) prays in a crowded room. She asked God for years that this room would be filled with other believers praying and worshipping alongside her. It took years of persevering persecution and isolation, but God is answering her prayers. *Name changed.  IMB photo.
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As a way to keep their people group in front of the church, an entire wall outside the sanctuary of First Baptist Church Centerton, Ark., is dedicated to photos of the Bedia. The congregation began praying for the South Asians in 2007 and continue working with them in a long-term partnership with the International Mission Board.  IMB photo.
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Posted on Dec 6, 2013 | by Jenifer Martin Siemens

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This year's Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 1-8 with the theme of "Totally His heart, hands, voice" from Matthew 22:36-39. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches support nearly 5,000 international missionaries in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at imb.org/offering, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year's goal is $175 million.

CENTERTON, Ark. (BP) -- Shanti* was the only believer in her village. The Bedia woman prayed in secret every day for one year.

The persecution from her friends and family was unbearable. Day after day, she cried out to God in a private prayer room built by her nonbelieving husband, Ashish.* He wanted to keep her safe.

"Lord, how long will I have to pray alone?" She cried. "Help me!"

But Shanti was not praying alone. First Baptist Church Centeron in northwest Arkansas had been praying for five years that there would be at least one believer from this unengaged, unreached people group who could be the starting point for a church.

Church member Robin Gill was among those who started praying for the Bedia in 2007. Gill suffers from cerebral palsy, yet faithfully hosts a weekly prayer time in her home.

"I knew God would answer," Gill said. "We just needed to be obedient and pray."

Their prayers prepared the way for Shanti. She became bolder in her witness and shared with her husband about God. Ashish had already heard about this Savior from his brother and sister, who were also believers. Soon, he accepted Christ and Shanti's private prayer room became the "meeting place" for Bedia believers from five different villages.

First Baptist Centerton did not know all of this, but they continued praying blindly, believing God would prevail. Then, the silence was broken when Pastor Stuart Bell connected with Southern Baptist worker Clifton Melek,* who shared that he had five Bedia -- Shanti, Ashish and Ashish's three siblings -- in his discipleship classes, training to be Christian leaders.

A mission team from the Arkansas church journeyed to South Asia to see it firsthand and partner with Melek. They worshipped and cried with the people they connected with through prayer. They witnessed eight baptisms and went to the first Bedia church -- all exactly five years after the church's commitment to prayer.

"It was like we were living out the Book of Acts," Bell said, describing the baptisms and joy of worshipping with an unreached people group.

When the team returned, videos and pictures documented names and faces of the Bedia believers for members of First Baptist Church Centerton. The "silent years," when they prayed blindly, were finally filled in with stories and testimonies of God revealing Himself.

Poster-sized photos of the Bedia now hang throughout the church as testimony to what God has done, what He is doing and what He will continue to do as other Southern Baptist churches simply answer the call to prayer for those who have never heard.

To date, IMB personnel report that there have been more than 750 Bedia baptisms, with more taking place each month. A centrally located community center has been constructed where Bedia pastors will receive training.

Through IMB's Embrace initiative, you and your church can take the Gospel to one of these groups. To learn more about the International Mission Board's Embrace initiative, go to call2embrace.org.
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*Names changed
Jenifer Martin Siemens is a member of First Baptist Church Centerton in Arkansas.
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