Teamwork yields East Asians putting trust in Christ
"We wanted to give you a gift before we return to the U.S.," Timothy,* one of the volunteers tells some of the new believers who gathered to meet him and his teammate Joshua* for lunch.
The new believers received Bibles from the volunteers, complete with a handwritten note inside the title page.
The two volunteers are members of a multi-ethnic church in California.
Joshua, who is Taiwanese-American, says he realized his life was worth more than just crunching numbers and that's why he decided to go. He works for a company in Silicon Valley that develops ads for cellphone applications. His teammate Timothy is Chinese-American and works for Stanford University.
For the past four years, the church has sent volunteers to minister alongside International Mission Board workers and local believers in East Asia.
This winter, the two volunteers were part of four short-term volunteer teams who shared the Gospel with more than 3,500 people and led 242 to follow Jesus Christ. Local believers are following up with those who put their faith in Christ. Those involved contend the partnership between the local church, IMB workers and U.S. churches shows how missions can be more effective when all three groups work together.
An IMB worker in East Asia says this region was once known as a missions-sending Antioch and he hopes believers will rise up again to regain its heritage of faith. In the Bible, the city of Antioch was a center for Christianity. Short-term volunteers are helping believers find their Antioch.
The IMB worker, once a short-term volunteer, said he has seen entire villages profess Christ and hundreds more who traveled hours because they heard Americans had come with a message to their shores. He said this is one of the reasons he and his IMB teammates continue to work with volunteers in ongoing partnerships.
Teams from California, Oklahoma, Texas, and Singapore have made multiple trips and continue to champion the work while stateside.
One California worship leader says his church's close ties with the IMB worker in East Asia helped spark a partnership.
"As a church that supports (IMB) workers ... I think the key is to keep a long-lasting relationship with the people we are supporting globally," the church worship leader said.
Another church leader in California says his congregation keeps returning to East Asia because of "the spiritual fruit, both for our team members and for those whom they share with, [that] we see each time we send a team."
Music was one way volunteers from California ministered in East Asia. Volunteers played worship songs while local believers passed out invitations to an outreach party. Six people accepted Christ at the party.
Through the work of California volunteers and the local believers they partnered with, more than 30 people made decisions of faith and many more heard the Gospel for the first time.
The IMB worker in East Asia said he's seen from experience that volunteers who come and serve on their own don't have as much success.
"One of the things that has really been revolutionary is [for volunteers] to ask, 'what are the needs on the ground?'" he said.
He said they then follow the local churches' lead. The local believers decide what is secure to share in different settings. This way, the worker said, the U.S. church has optimum effectiveness and it's a safer investment of time for the local church.
"You can do so much more when you have people working together for a common reason," he said. "When you do it strategically, things really come together."