Churches mobilize fellow blacks in missions
NORTH GARLAND, Texas (BP) -- Dozens of missionary families gathered for a meeting in South Africa, but missions volunteer Jacquie Collins didn't see any African American families among them. That struck the heart of Collins, an African American, because she hadn't considered going overseas herself until a few years ago.
"I never personalized it. I never thought that it was applicable to me," said Collins, a member of North Garland Baptist Fellowship, a predominantly African American congregation within the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
"I always thought it was somebody else's responsibility," Collins recalled. But "it's not somebody else's responsibility, it's all of our responsibility."
Collins joined the missions team from the North Garland congregation to lead activities for the children of missionaries serving in Africa while the parents met together. This overseas missions experience gave the North Garland team a different view of missions and their role in it -- personally and as African Americans.
Prior to this experience Collins said she thought, "I'm an American, and I go to church here [in Garland]. Me witnessing would be to somebody in Wal-Mart, not necessarily in South Africa."
After her missions trip, her perspective broadened: "God can use whoever He wants to, in whatever situation He wants to, to go wherever He wants to, to do whatever He wants to, so it became more personal for me.
"There's probably a lot of people like me who made it to 40 and had never gone overseas on any mission trip, had never even considered it," she said. "But I think the more we share our stories and our experiences and our take-aways from those trips, I think that might encourage more people."
African Americans are underrepresented on the missions field, Collins realized. Though she did not encounter any African American missionaries at the meeting in Africa in 2012, currently there are six African American couples serving in sub-Saharan Africa through IMB. They are among the 28 African American Southern Baptists serving internationally as full-time missionaries.
But that's less than 1 percent of IMB missionaries, though African Americans consist of an estimated 6 percent of Southern Baptists, said Keith Jefferson, IMB's African American missional church strategist.
While commonalities like shared ethnicity can open doors to sharing the Gospel, "African Americans can serve God all around the world, not just in places that have people of African origin," Jefferson said. "It's not optional. … It is an obligation; it is a commandment, and no child of God can get around the Great Commission that Jesus gave us -- preaching the Gospel to all peoples."
It wasn't just Collins who felt like God had lit a fire inside her to tell others, near and far, about Him after experiencing overseas missions. North Garland pastor Tony Mathews says he had "his world rocked" by talking with the missionaries in Africa and hearing the opportunities and challenges of reaching people groups with the Gospel.
"God did something in my life there in Africa," Mathews recalled. "The Lord began at that moment to break me, to do a work in my life."
Mathews said he feels called to encourage other pastors and church leaders to "step up" their commitment to missions and make it a personal commitment as well as a corporate one.
-- Set a budget at home and in church designated for missions, Mathews counsels, no matter how small the amount may be at first. "If you put $5, $10, $100 into the budget [for missions], that is almost a guarantee that you will begin to support missions in a larger way," he said.
"We're not where we want to be with the Lottie Moon offering," Mathews said of the North Garland congregation, "but now that I know and now that we see that we can have a direct impact in addition to the Cooperative Program dollars, we want to step it up.
"I just want to encourage leaders and pastors who are giving a little bit to look at the CP dollars, look at the Lottie Moon offering and know that God is using these dollars and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering without a doubt to make a direct impact into lives of people."
-- Talk about missions, not only in the general sense of every Christian's Great Commission call to it but also in a personal way born out of individual experience -- share this message in the pulpit and in groups of all ages. Mathews encourages pastors and other church leaders to regularly participate in missions trips and embark on missions partnerships with missionaries.
"Ask God to speak to your heart, and I can almost guarantee you that when you go out there and you touch people, when you hold them in your arms, when you can see how these people are wonderful people who need the Lord, it will break you. You will do whatever it takes not only to reach your people locally in your church and around your neighborhood and around your community, and around your state; you will also do whatever it takes to reach people round the world."
Barry Calhoun, North Garland's director of missions, also serves as director of mobilization and fellowships for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. He encourages churches, particularly those with bivocational pastors, to join together on missions partnerships.
North Garland Baptist Fellowship has participated in a Southern Baptists of Texas Convention partnership with a Southern Baptist couple serving in South Asia. In addition, North Garland has joined Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in adopting the Antandroy people of Madagascar, and also has begun encouraging area African American churches to partner with an IMB missionary couple to reach Afro-Ecuadorians. South America can be a less expensive air travel destination than places farther away for churches beginning their involvement in international missions, Calhoun says.
Billy Bell, pastor of New Creation Bible Church in Dallas, has traveled with Mathews and a group of area African American pastors on missions trips to Ecuador twice. He and Mathews bonded over the need to recruit other African American pastors to go overseas when Mathews was leading a break-out session at the Black Church Leadership & Family Conference at LifeWay's Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.
Bell, also a church-planting consultant for Dallas Baptist Association, and Mathews organized a local conference for African American pastors. Of the 88 participants, more than 50 of them were pastors. A group of them traveled to Ecuador this fall with Bell and Mathews. For many of them, this was their first missions trip overseas.
The key to getting a church involved in missions is getting that pastor involved in missions, Bell says. Bell began to go on missions trips in 2006 after 12 years as a pastor. "When I came back, I was changed," he said. "I began to see how God works globally and not just locally.
"I mean, you can't lead where you don't go, OK, and people can't catch what you have [a vision for missions involvement] if you don't have anything to catch.
"What I say to the African American churches is God has called 'us' to go and us meaning the body of Christ, which makes up all ethnicities ... And so therefore we should be engaged in doing whatever God has called us to do."
-- Instill a heart for missions within congregations, especially within young people.
"Little kids are like sponges, and they're watching their pastors, they're watching their church leaders," Mathews said. "And when we can instill the importance of missions and global missions into the minds of our church members, it becomes a part of the DNA of the church."
Mathews' daughter, Ryann, went on her first missions trip this year at age 22. The trip to South Asia was part of North Garland's continued ministry with a national believer there, as well as a Southern Baptists of Texas Convention partnership with a Southern Baptist couple serving in South Asia.
"The change that I saw in my dad in regards to missions and how it affected me is really just showing me that there's just a whole other world out there," Ryann said.
"I was fearful and honestly I still am a little fearful: 'How is God going to use me there?' So you have all these fears and these questions and these doubts, and you just have to release them and give them over to the Lord and say, 'Lord I'm yours, do what you want with me.'
"I think that different things may hinder young African Americans going on missions trips … I think a lot of that has to do with fear, but I think some of the frustrations are (the financial expense) and just feeling as though God can't use them.
"But I think the Lord's raising up different African Americans, like my dad and others, to just get up and go and encourage other African Americans to go because they see, like wow, there's a black person who's going to (South Asia), there's a black person who's going to South Africa to share the Gospel, I can do that, too. So I think if we saw more blacks who we can relate to doing that, then I think that would encourage other African Americans to go."
-- Include missions as part of altar calls, and explain what being called to missions means.
"If we expect people to respond to the call, we have to put the call out there for them to grasp," Mathews said, as part of helping people overcome the fear of the unknown.
Mathews has been advising Caleb Cummings, age 13, as he explores a draw toward missions.
"We've sat down a couple of times when I was really in that deep time with the Lord about what He wants for my life," Cummings said. "We just talked about how if the Lord wants you to do something, then He's going to lay opportunities and options in front of you. Pastor Tony would just say, 'Let the Lord lead.'
"When the pastor first went on a mission trip, which happened to be with my mom, it really just changed both of their mindsets. I could see … how the pastor's been really focused on missions … He's added more funds to the missions ministry. I can really see that through the mission trip, it kind of changed his perspective on what missions actually is and how it can affect so much more than just donating, how we can actually do the act of missions, too."
-- Encourage other pastors and church leaders to embrace missions as not only a good option but a great necessity. Don't tell people what they aren't doing, Mathews counseled, tell people what greater things they could be doing for God's kingdom.
"My approach with pastors in general but African American pastors specifically is to come alongside them in a workshop setting or one-on-one and say, 'You know what, having a budget for missions is great … spending your funds overseas is greater. To sit in the congregation and to hear a mission report from one of the members who has gone on a mission trip is great, but to come back as an African American pastor or any pastor and actually give a mission report is greater.'"
-- Connect with those currently on the missions field.
"One advantage with partnering with IMB is that they already are connected globally," Mathews said. "Being able to have an outlet or an agency that can give us information on African American missionaries who are around the world is priceless.
"When that [African American missionary] couple comes home [to visit], churches could have that couple at the church to speak about what's going on in the mission field."
Janice Watson serves as IMB's African American mobilization specialist, giving churches information on unreached people groups, how to connect and partner with IMB missionaries and resources on prayer, training, missions events and securing missionary speakers. Her contact information is firstname.lastname@example.org; 1-800-999-3113, ext. 1501.
Keith Jefferson, IMB's African American missional church strategist, helps coach, train, connect and network churches as they develop a comprehensive missions strategy and identify strategic opportunities for missions involvement. His contact information is email@example.com; 1-800-999-3113, ext. 1422.
Get connected with other Southern Baptist news and with African American Southern Baptists at facebook.com/Black.Missions.Link.