By Marc Ira Hooks
VIENNA — One Southern Baptist pastor has found a renewed vision and passion for ministry through embracing one of Europe’s unengaged, unreached people groups.
“This is more than an opportunity to do missions,” said Keeney Dickenson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Crockett, Texas. “This is an opportunity to reawaken in us what true ministry really is, what evangelism is really about, and what it should be.”FBC Crockett is one of several churches in Texas’ Neches River Baptist Association who are participating in the International Mission Board’s (IMB) Embrace initiative that connects stateside churches to specific unengaged, unreached people groups around the world. Their association has committed to work with a European people group located in a Central Asian country and is part of the Euro-Embrace program.
However, Dickenson readily agrees that many churches are not in a position to commit time, people and financial resources to the level that is asked of Embrace partners. Embrace partners are asked to commit to spending eight weeks a year for eight years on the ground engaging their assigned people groups.
Recently, Euro-Embrace leaders announced a companion program called Partners in Embrace (PiE), which offers a second, less intensive path to help churches engage people groups in Europe. PiE partners commit to spend two weeks a year on the ground for just three years, lessening the obligation and making it more feasible for smaller churches to participate in the Embrace program.
Euro-Embrace director Tom Hearon said PiE partners still receive training from IMB field personnel and participate in a European training lab before they are expected to begin working in the field engaging their people group. He added that most PiE partners would be teamed with other Embrace churches that have made longer, deeper commitments. That way both churches can support each other and team together to reach these unengaged and unreached peoples.
“This is a Kingdom effort,” said Dickenson. “It is not the effort of a church, or of an association, or even the IMB. This is something we are doing for God’s Kingdom, and that is why people should be involved.”
Dickenson said being part of the Embrace program has brought new life to his church.
“This has really captured the attention of our laypeople,” he said. “While I am involved, this is a project that is being led from the pew and not the pulpit. And people are excited about that.”
Dickenson said he understands how churches, big or small, can be overwhelmed by the task of being an Embrace church. However, he said, for every fear they had before leaving, or obstacle they encountered while on the ground, God provided answers to their prayers.
“It seems like every challenge that we were overwhelmed with, God eliminated those challenges,” he said. “So by the time we got back home we were very enthusiastic about all that has happened so far.”
Dickenson said he hopes other PiE churches will join their association and other Embrace churches as they work.
“Each church has different strengths,” he said. “And that is the beauty of it. One church could be focused on prayer, another on evangelism, and another on discipleship. Each church can bring its own gifting and vision to the table and they all work together for the greater good of the project. It is a very neat process.”
Hearon said the next training lab has been scheduled for the spring in London. Churches who would like to become either an Embrace church or PiE partner church can find out more by going to http://europeanpeoples.imb.org/embrace
“As a church, we are on the cutting edge of something really big,” concluded Dickinson. “It’s global…and it’s God-sized…and we have never been a part of anything like this before.”
Marc Ira Hooks is a writer for IMB based in Europe.