by Kate Gregory
EDITOR’S NOTES: This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Nov. 30-Dec. 7 with the theme of “One Sacred Effort — Find your place in God’s story” from Matthew 28:19-20 (HCSB). The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches support approximately 4,800 international missionaries in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at imb.org/offering, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year’s goal is $175 million.
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — After starting a church, the last thing on many pastors’ minds would be how that church could immediately have a hand in starting more, especially great distances away.
But when church planter Steve Gentry worked with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia and the North American Mission Board in 2009 to start Village Church at Midlothian, he led the Richmond-suburb church to form a missions partnership with a Southern Baptist couple serving in East Asia within the church’s first year of existence.
That year, the congregation numbered 12, then grew to 36. Getting involved in international missions when they had yet to establish themselves locally might have seemed out of order, but to Gentry, who grew up in Midlothian, that set the tone for the growth and reach of the congregation, which now numbers 300. And they have two overseas missions partnerships, the other with Southern Baptist missionaries in Peru.
“Whatever you want the DNA of your church to be, you have to start from Day 1,” Gentry said. The church finding their place in God’s story meant them finding ways to reach the world, not only their community, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But how could a small church just starting out do that?
Small churches can feel limited by their circumstances as to how much they can do or how far they can reach, Gentry said. But that doesn’t have to be the case, especially with Southern Baptist congregations, he noted.
Partner with other churches to do missions, Gentry advises smaller churches. Village Church partners with nearby Parkway Baptist Church in Moseley, Va., to send missions teams to Peru.
“Even as a church plant, we can have missions efforts all over the world, through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering,” Gentry said. “Because we get together as Southern Baptist churches to cooperate, we’re able to fund long-term efforts that lead to long-term churches.
“When I was worshipping in a church plant (started by Southern Baptist workers) all the way on the other side of the world, I understood where those dollars are going and what evangelistic efforts are being started simply because churches band together to support people long-term on the ground.”
Not left behind
While in East Asia, Gentry began talking about God with a young atheist who had asked the pastor to help him improve his English.
“He didn’t believe that God even existed, because of the traditions that he’d been raised in,” Gentry said. “I was able to discuss with him the reasons that I believe that God exists and compare them to the reasons that he didn’t believe God existed.”
The night before Gentry’s return to the U.S. the man told him, “‘I can no longer say that I don’t believe in God because I now do, and I believe that He brought you here to talk to me over this past week.’
“The beauty of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering with this story is that I didn’t have to simply leave him,” Gentry said. “I was able to connect him with people who were going to live there fulltime, workers on the ground who started a Bible-believing church there, who were going to continue that relationship and continue to have an influence in his life for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Because of our cooperative efforts there through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, I can continue to have an influence on him through the people there on the ground, through the church started by the workers there. And so while I’m not over there, our influence is still over there through those people.”
What I’m going to do with my life
Gentry also got to know a new believer led to Christ by the church formed by Southern Baptist workers.
“I asked him what he was going to do now that he had finished his master’s degree in engineering. And he asked me if I had ever read Matthew 28 (the Great Commission),” Gentry said.
“I laughed, and I don’t think he understood why I was laughing because that’s one of those texts that we often use in getting our people (believers) to live to make disciples. And I told him, ‘Yeah, I’ve read that text.’ And he said, ‘Well, that’s what I’m going to do with my life.'”
The believer has begun inviting people from his work to go to church with him.
“It was an inspiring story to understand how simple that living for the Gospel and giving your life to the Gospel was to this young man in a context where people don’t readily have the Gospel available to them,” Gentry said. “Not only can we give (to LMCO) and have an impact overseas, but those people’s faith should influence how we live here in the United States.
“It’s exciting for our people (at church) to be a part of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, as well as giving toward the Cooperative Program, because we’re able to give tangibly toward something that’s going on all over the world, where missionaries are on the ground through what we’re giving. They’re fulltime, able to start churches, able to form relationships, able to get the Gospel to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to have it. That wouldn’t happen without that type of influence and without that type of support.”
In every part of the globe
Village Church’s decision to jump right into missions involvement didn’t mean that leap of faith didn’t come without fear. When the church first considered a missions partnership with the couple serving in East Asia, “I think our fear and trepidation was that we were going to go into a culture that we didn’t know anything about … but what we found were the same types of people struggling with the same types of things that we’re struggling with all the way on the other side of the globe.”
Though the ethnic and religious cultures of the area have been different for them to experience, the missions teams have realized they share a similar sub-culture with their East Asian people group — living amid a city of young professionals.
What young professionals often find themselves seeking after and being a slave to, no matter where they live, is the pursuit of materialism, Gentry said. That connection point has led to conversations about setting other, spiritual priorities that will enrich their families’ lives.
A staggering difference the missions teams have encountered is the sheer number of people contained within the same land area as their county in Virginia. “Rather than the 400,000 people we have here, there are 6 million people in the same amount of land that we encompass,” Gentry said.
Because of the challenge of reaching so many people with the Gospel, the church has decided that “rather than just taking mission trips, we want to be a part of seeing God plant churches,” Gentry said. “So, we don’t want to just take one trip to an area and then go somewhere else.
Instead, we want to commit to a specific area so that over the years we can partner with the same people and see churches planted.
“Without that type of relationship, we would just simply be having to do guess work as to what God is doing there, but we get updates frequently and we’re able to communicate often with them so that we can continue to prepare and focus on what God wants to do next in East Asia.”