MARIETTA, Ga. (BP) -- With both anticipation and nostalgia I listened to Bryant Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, tell how he and Tom Elliff, the International Mission Board's new president, each had been led by the Spirit of God to challenge Southern Baptist churches to embrace the world's remaining 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups at the 2011 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix.
While many think embracing a people group will entail an immediate trip overseas, quite often the first step is commitment followed by much prayer.
The nostalgia at the SBC meeting came because in 1989 Bill O'Brien, a vice president of the then-Foreign Mission Board, visited Johnson Ferry Baptist Church to talk to our pastor, Bryant Wright. I remember being called into the conference room to hear the discussion because we had established a focused prayer ministry a few years earlier and I was the prayer coordinator. If this commitment was made, the prayer ministry would help carry the responsibilities to ensure church-wide participation.
The more I heard, the more intently I listened. This was no ordinary prayer request.
We were looking at committing to a people group that was not only unreached, but also unreachable due to the "Iron Curtain" in place at the time. This was an opportunity to be stretched into believing that God was up to something and was inviting us to join Him in prayer. With growing excitement, I agreed to do whatever it would take to help get everyone praying for our new group.
When we got our people group assignment, we couldn't even pronounce their name, let alone spell it. So we got out a world map to find where these people lived. While they seemed strange at first, over time and with faithful installments of information from the mission board about our group, we became more familiar with them.
At least once a month as we received information, we printed a bulletin insert and took a special time during worship services to pray for our people group. We prayed for them around the clock in our 24-hour prayer room. And we began to discuss them and pray in our Sunday School classes.
The World Day of Prayer and Fasting for World Evangelization on June 1, 1990, focused our people group, the Kirghiz people of Asia. We were praying but we were not alone, and it was exciting to realize that adopting a people group is indeed a "group" project. When we responded to our God-sized assignment, He was simultaneously calling out others as well.
With all the extraordinary prayer God was drawing from people around the world, He granted the fall of the Soviet Union. That new open door allowed for an exploratory trip to be taken from Johnson Ferry in 1991. Groups began to go, including medical teams to host clinics and business training teams looking for open doors for the Gospel. By the fall of that year, interns from Kyrghizstan were invited and brought to Atlanta to have hands-on training with business men and women in our church. With all this interaction, our people group really became tangible to our church and God opened many doors for the Gospel to be shared.
Fast forward to 2011, and the ripple effect is still being felt in Kyrghizstan where indigenous, growing churches are reaching their own country for Christ. We are so glad we stepped out in faith to pray for what God wanted us to do and obeyed His call to adopt and partner together to reach an unreached people group. Just the other day at lunch a church friend told me that two Kirghiz women, both Christians now studying in the United States, came to Christ on one of our mission trips to their people group. They are eternally grateful that we cared about them.
Now with this new call to the SBC, our Sunday Bible study class is praying about embracing a people group. We are large enough to be a small church and interested enough to trust God to do it again!
I hope you, too, will pray about embracing an unengaged, unreached people group and see what God will do through you and your church.
Elaine Helms was the national prayer coordinator on staff at the North American Mission Board from 2000–10. She is the author of "Prayer 101" and is now director of Church Prayer Ministries (www.ChurchPrayerMinistries.org) in Atlanta. To learn more about the International Mission Board's call to embrace an unengaged, unreached people group, go to www.call2embrace.org or call toll-free 1-800-999-3113.