Pastors experience God's timing in Ecuador

EDITOR'S NOTES: This year's Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Nov. 30-Dec. 7 with the theme of "One Sacred Effort -- Find your place in God's story" from Matthew 28:19-20 (HCSB). The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches support approximately 4,800 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.

LAGARTO, Ecuador (BP) -- Tony Mathews was on a mission. He wanted to find the man he had led to Christ a couple of days earlier.

Mathews, pastor of North Garland Baptist Fellowship in Garland, Texas, had met Wiston while walking through the small town of Lagarto on the Ecuadorian coast with a handful of fellow African American pastors and church members from the Dallas area.

The pastors' daily strolls through town had started earlier in the week, Aug. 18, 2014, as a way to acclimate the group to the town. IMB missionaries Johnny and Donna Maust had identified Lagarto for the Dallas Baptist churches to consider collectively adopting to plant a church there.

When Mathews shared why the group was there, Wiston told the pastor he had been attending the church in his nearby village but had yet to place his faith in Christ. That changed when Mathews asked Wiston if he'd like to take that step. Circled by the pastors, Wiston prayed to receive Christ.

He then asked Mathews for some Christian literature to read, but in the rush to gather the group for the walk through town, Mathews had forgotten to put the Spanish-language material into his backpack.

Mathews promised to look for Wiston on the town's main street the following afternoon to give him the literature to help him start his Christian walk. But early the next day, Wiston found Mathews first. Caught by surprise, Mathews hadn't yet stuck the material in his bag.

On day three of the pastors' walks through town, Mathews was determined to complete the task, pleased that IMB missionary Johnny Maust's intention all along had been for the pastors to reconnect each day with the people they met. This time, the missionary accompanied the group in order to meet the new believer and to arrange to follow up with him after the team left at the end of the week.

"That third day when we walked down the main street with Johnny, lo and behold, there was Wiston," Mathews said. "When we gave him the literature, he hugged us. It was so moving and touching. Then, we connected him with Johnny so he could help him in discipleship and growth -- he wants a Bible study."

That wasn't the end of the providential connections. In this region of 600,000 people, there are only a handful of Baptist churches, one located rurally in another town and the rest in the city of Esmeraldas almost an hour away.

As Johnny spoke with Wiston, the missionary learned the church Wiston had been attending was the one rural Baptist church in the area.

It was in the same village the Dallas pastors had visited earlier in the week as an example of what to be praying for -- for a similar body of believers to form in Lagarto.

Johnny plans to reconnect Wiston with the rural Baptist pastor, as well as invite the man to a home Bible study in the works in Lagarto.

"That was worth the trip right there!" Mathews said.

For many of the visiting group who'd never been on a missions trip before, seeing this profession of faith happen right before their eyes was confirmation of God drawing them to this town to plant a church.

"When you see the need, the Lord calls you," said Timothy Wilbert, pastor of Bible Way Community Baptist Church in Irving, Texas. "Now is the time. We can get so busy, but we need to put all of that energy to work on the missions field. We need to broaden our vision."

The pastors realize it won't always be that easy to lead people to Christ in an area steeped in drug trafficking, witchcraft and teen pregnancy.

But their trip motto has been, "It's time for a change," not only in this community and in the hearts of its people but in the level of missions involvement of African American Southern Baptist churches.

"I've been preaching for 24 years, and you can always have your perspective changed," said Bill Toney, pastor of New Life Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas. "The need I see here is motivating. I didn't know. … I see so clearly now that we need more people on the missions field."

Robert Shepherd, pastor of Restoration Community Fellowship in Garland, Texas, said, "Sometimes you just have to see it … to see what missions really is."

Mathews and Billy Bell, a church-planting consultant for Dallas Baptist Association, had recruited four African American church-plant pastors within the association to explore partnering with the Mausts to plant a church in Lagarto to reach the Afro-Ecuadorian people group prevalent in the area. The group of Texas church planters contains members of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, as well as Texas Baptists (formerly known as the Baptist General Convention of Texas).

This cooperative effort highlighted the importance of another one for the pastors -- their giving to international missions through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

"We have more we can do together than separately," said Raymond Perry, pastor of Trinity Friendship Baptist Church in Wylie, Texas.

In addition to the Mausts' living expenses, the vehicle Johnny uses to visit surrounding areas is paid for through these Southern Baptist giving channels. He couldn't get to area villages year-round without the terrain vehicle -- the roads flood each year during the rainy season.

"It's time for us to live out what God has told us," Perry said about increased missions involvement. "To come to a land where God isn't shared widely, where people aren't reached, it's time for us to quit having church and be the church. To do things not on our time but His time. What He's showing me is how real He is and how real we need to be."

After Perry voiced a concern that there may not be much his small church plant could do to send many people to the missions field, Johnny encouraged the pastor that it's OK and often effective to start small at first in order to expand globally. Smaller missions teams containing a couple of members often are more economical for small churches to send and are more mobile on the missions field, Johnny told the pastors. In addition, churches can help support missions volunteers from partnering churches.

Being bivocational also is a connection point with local pastors and presents open doors into the community, Johnny added. Within the visiting group of 14, both pastors and church members alike experienced "God moments" when realizing that their professions could give them instant connection points and ministry opportunities in the Lagarto community.

-- Perry, a 30-year nursing professional, has eight other nurses in his congregation. Missionary Donna Maust also is a nurse. Local health clinics are receptive to their help in teaching basic health and hygiene. Prior to his nursing career, Perry ran a restaurant. Donna teaches a weekly cooking class to Lagarto women in which Donna and the locals swap Ecuadorian and American recipes.

-- Billy Bell, pastor of New Creation Bible Church in Dallas, invited layman Joseph Taylor of Great Commission Baptist Church in Fort Worth on the vision trip. Taylor is a welder. A welder's workshop is located directly across the street from the family who is open to hosting the Bible study in Lagarto.

-- Tony Mathews asked Dean Brown, North Garland Baptist Fellowship's creative art director, to make Ecuador his first missions trip. Brown, who also has a background in construction, mentally calculated what would be involved in building a set of hillside stairs to the local high school's basketball court, and what the court would look like if it were roofed and lighted to host sports clinics at night or amid rain. The North Garland church has several members who coach teen sports.

-- Mathews also encouraged Reggy Mabry, a member of North Garland Baptist Fellowship's finance committee, to experience international missions firsthand through this trip. In information technology, Mabry builds computers. During his daily walks through town, he discovered that the town has a computer lab. Mabry envisioned the potential for job training classes and interactive sharing of Gospel materials there.

"It makes me think of the Winans' song, 'It's time.'" Mabry said of the Gospel musicians' music. "Now, it's time to make that change. 'We are the people who can do it.'"

To see part 1 of this story, "Missions 'just got personal' for pastor Tony Mathews," click [http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews?id=43756]here.

Kate Gregory writes for IMB. To contact Keith Jefferson, IMB's African American missional church strategist, email kjefferson@imb.org or call 1-800-999-3113, ext. 1422.
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