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Church seeks ‘where God wants us to be’


By Erich Bridges

NEW ORLEANS —Hundreds of folks passed through the IMB exhibit at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention meeting, held June 19-20 in New Orleans.

Many lingered to think, pray, even weep as they visited the “prayer tent,” modeled after dwellings of nomadic Bedouin tribes in North Africa and the Middle East. It featured five stations that highlighted Jesus’ commands in Matthew 16:24-25 for believers to deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow Him — no matter the cost. The last station offered people the opportunity to drive a nail into a cross, symbolizing their willingness to lose their very lives for Christ in order to serve Him. 

Individuals, couples, adults and children went though the tent. And then there was a whole church — or eight members of it, at least.

“We put our share of nails in the cross,” said Jim Jeffries, pastor of LaVale (Md.) Baptist Church, who brought seven people from his congregation to participate in the pre-convention Crossover New Orleans evangelistic effort and attend SBC sessions. “Just seeing the nails already there showed me there are a lot of people who have a heart to give themselves to the Lord, because He gave so much for us.”

The group from LaVale also was seeking specific leading from the Lord about how to act on their spiritual commitment.

“We definitely want to do our part as a church with the Great Commission, and we have a heart to commit long-term to taking the Gospel to one of the unengaged, unreached people groups in the world,” Jeffries said of LaVale, which averages about 130 worshippers on Sundays. “We didn’t know where the Lord would have us to go, so we were seeking out further information at the tent, and we really appreciated the [IMB representatives] that we encountered at the tent and how they blessed us with their advice and encouragement.”

Jeffries and LaVale Baptist have been praying about the possibility of embracing a people group since last year’s SBC meeting in Phoenix, where IMB President Tom Elliff and other convention leaders presented the challenge of evangelizing some 3,800 people groups that remain not only unreached by the Gospel but unengaged by any church or mission group with a serious strategy to reach them. About 400 groups have been embraced by churches and other entities in the year since.

“All of them seemed so eager and excited,” said IMB missional church strategist Alan Duncan about the LaVale group during their visit to the prayer tent. “They were just so open” to God’s leading.

Duncan encouraged them to evaluate the specific gifts and abilities of their church members and consider matching them to a people group needing what they have to offer. Folks at LaVale are willing to do that — but obedience comes first.

“I don’t want to pick and choose what feels good to us,” Jeffries explained. “God may be calling us to step out of our comfort zone and go somewhere that’s completely uncomfortable to us. Comfort doesn’t have anything to do with it. I just want to make sure where we end up going is where God wants us to be.”

Before they left, the group prayed with several IMB representatives, including Chris Jenkins, pastor of Unity Baptist Church in Prince George, Va., which embraced an isolated people group in the Sahara three years ago (see story).

“Lord, I thank you that this church already has a people group,” Jenkins prayed. “They just don’t know who it is yet.”

They’ll find out soon.


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