Diaspora ministry summit returns for 2017
Chuck Register, a "Reaching the Nations in North America" summit organizer, said he was "more than pleased" with the response to last year's conference held in Brentwood, Tenn.
"There were just under 400 registered participants, which was beyond our expectation. We hoped for around 175," said Register, executive leader for church planting and missions partnerships for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC). "We had practitioners from all across America -- 25 states were represented by the group."
J.D. Payne, one of the keynote speakers, said it was the largest gathering ever of Southern Baptists to address diaspora ministry, targeted at people as well as people groups living outside their country of birth.
Attendees sought inspiration and information about diaspora ministry, including practical breakout sessions, Register said. Breakout sessions, which he considered "the most helpful aspect of the conference," provided tools and strategies for participants to return to their communities and begin to engage immigrants, refugees and international students.
Event sponsors include the International Mission Board (IMB), North American Mission Board (NAMB), Southeastern Seminary (SEBTS) and the BSC. Keynote speakers are Danny Akin, SEBTS president; J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church, Durham, N.C.; Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Marietta, Ga.; J.D. Payne, pastor for church multiplication at The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, Ala.; and Chris Clayman, associate director of Global Gates Network.
At least 32 breakouts will be led by BSC staff, SEBTS faculty, key leaders at IMB and NAMB and other mission strategists.
"We feel like we have an extremely strong lineup of plenary speakers," Register said. "We have some very strategic field personnel from IMB and NAMB who will be leading breakout sessions on how to engage different worldviews with an understanding of the Gospel."
The original plan was to schedule a second Reaching the Nations conference for 2018, but attendees last year requested momentum, Register said. "They felt it was excellent training for them, and they wanted to get the next conference on their schedule soon. So the planning committee agreed but moved the conference later into the 2017 fall season. The location allows more students to participate in the event."
Register told the Biblical Recorder, the North Carolina convention's newsjournal, that the conference is needed because "Southern Baptists are behind the curve in responding to diaspora ministry in the U.S., compared to other denominations. We've got a lot of ground to make up in mobilizing local churches to be engaged with diaspora ministry." Conference organizers say having another conference one year later shines a spotlight on both the opportunity and the challenge of diaspora ministry.
"There are 45 million foreign-born residents in the U.S. and another 7 million in Canada," Register said. "The average Southern Baptist church is probably not as engaged in diaspora ministry as she needs to be. Having a conference each year gives us the opportunity to blow this trumpet, to shine a light on what God has done in bringing the nations to North America and our Great Commission responsibility to respond to that challenge. The conference gives local churches some practical handles on how to engage in diaspora ministry."
The target audience for the event is mission leaders and mission practitioners in local churches, associations and other Great Commission ministries. Both pastors and laity would benefit from event, Register said. "With 32 breakouts, you really need to strategically assign different people from your church to different topics. There is something there for everyone."
To register, visit Reachingthenations.net. Three of the breakouts and all five plenary sessions will be live-streamed.
Brett Gibson, worship pastor at Holly Ridge Baptist Church in Simpsonville, S.C., and a 2016 conference attendee, said various upstate S.C. attendees began meeting together soon after they returned home.
"We shared a vision for bringing churches together in the upstate of South Carolina in order to map out and engage people groups in the upstate," Gibson said. "We continue to meet monthly to pray and share stories. We are currently working on a way to involve church members across the upstate to discover and engage people groups."
Sandi McDowell, who serves as a volunteer international campus catalyst with Baptist Campus Ministry (BCM) in Richmond, Ky., was motivated to meet international students at her local university after she returned home from the 2016 conference.
With the help of the local BCM and BCM state director Brett Martin, McDowell organized an international student ministry. In 2016, the outreach held a "Thanksmas" dinner to introduce internationals to the Christian ideas behind Thanksgiving and Christmas. Eighteen international students accepted invitations to visit an American home over the holidays.
Focusing on the 300 international students in the area, the ministry will host a Welcome to America party in September to encourage pastors and church members to serve as host families for two students for one year.
"Last year's [Reaching the Nations] conference has changed my world! God used the conference to open my eyes to the nations around me," McDowell said. "I can't wait for this year's conference and a chance to learn more!"