CHICAGO (BP) -- Mary Ann Watts already knew North America needed Jesus before taking her first mission trip. But it wasn't until her first trip to Seattle to help a Southern Baptist church planter in 2009 -- the first of four such trips -- that she realized how vast the needs were in some parts of the continent.
"I saw the need for missionaries from a different perspective," Watts said. "I already knew the harvest was great, but I had no idea there was such a spiritual void -- so many spiritually starving people."
Watts took the four trips through her church, Broadview Missionary Baptist Church. The experience, she says, has been life-changing.
"When you are a part of the body of Christ, missions is a life-and-death struggle," Watts said. "If you're in a church where the only thing going on is preaching to the congregation and no one is doing anything with it, then what's the point?"
Broadview, an historically African American church near Chicago, has marked five years of increased missions involvement in North America and throughout the world. The heightened emphasis began when Marvin Parker became Broadview's senior pastor after his mentor, Clarence Hopson, retired. Parker said he is moving forward with Hopson's vision for "bringing them in, building them up and sending them out."
Seattle is one of six North American cities -- including Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, Albany, N.Y., and Murfreesboro, Tenn., in the Nashville area -- in which Broadview partners with church planters by sending volunteer teams, providing resources and prayer. The church is actively involved in both Send North America: Chicago and Send North America: Cleveland as part of the North American Mission Board initiative to mobilize Southern Baptists to expand church planting in 32 influential cities within North America.
Internationally, the church also has been involved in working in Gambia, Uganda and the West Indies.
Parker, picking up on what he learned from Hopson, has led the missions emphasis through his own example, having served in every ministry context where the church has deployed volunteers.
Still, Parker admits, it hasn't come without resistance, some of which would be familiar to many churches that are increasing their missions involvement. Some of Broadview's 2,100 members thought the church shouldn't travel around the nation and the world until their own community had been sufficiently reached.
"People like to stay in their comfort zones," Parker added. "I was preaching and encouraging our people to come out of their comfort zones and press the envelope" instead of just "come to church and then go home."
"God is calling us to do more -- much more -- than that."
Parker is excited about Broadview's progress. The church surpassed its goal of sending 10 percent of the congregation on mission trips in its first year of the new emphasis and already has made significant progress toward its goal of planting 32 churches throughout North America.
"We've learned over the past five years that healthy churches plant healthy churches," said Robert Walker, the church's missions pastor. "We're a healthy church. We were a built-up church through the Word [of God]. That has helped as we help new church plants."
Walker noted that Broadview has learned to expect more accountability from its church planters. Before partnering with a new planter, Broadview requires him to complete detailed financial and evangelism plans. The church helps the planter become more effective, Walker said, by encouraging him to ask important questions about his plans.
Mission trips not only have helped launch new churches but also strengthened Broadview volunteers' discipleship. Darlynn Terry-Johnson, for example, spent her first-ever mission trip last fall serving through a clothing closet community outreach at the Murfreesboro church plant.
"I know I didn't give as much of my time and talents to the Lord as I should," Terry-Johnson said. "I went to church because I was raised in the church. Ever since this experience, I've just been willing to serve and have tried to say yes to the Lord on whatever He has asked me to do. And He has tested me in that!"
Parker uses his pastor's influence to encourage other churches -- particularly African American churches -- to get more involved in church planting and missions. When he does, he recommends partnering with Southern Baptists.
"I tell other pastors and potential missionaries two things when I talk to them about this," Parker said. "First, God told us to do it. Second, as Southern Baptists, we have the means to get it done. The last thing Jesus told us was to 'go into all the world.' We're able to help you do that [as Southern Baptists] through training, people and even finances. Take advantage of it."
For information about becoming involved in similar Southern Baptist church planting efforts through Send North America, visit namb.net/mobilize-me.
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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