Travel restrictions and a worldwide pandemic haven’t kept Southern Baptists from engaging in the work God is doing in East Asia, though churches and IMB workers have certainly had to get creative at finding ways to fellowship.
When COVID-19 led to the postponement or cancellation of all planned mobilization and short-term mission opportunities for churches in the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention (HPBC), Craig Webb was intrigued by the idea of a virtual mission experience suggested at a meeting. Webb, who serves on staff for the HPBC, was hopeful several dozen pastors might want to participate.
Ultimately, 160 Hawaii Pacific Baptists joined 40 IMB personnel online for the two-hour event last September.
“The participation nearly quadrupled our expectations,” Webb said.
Two of the most impactful parts of the event, according to Webb, were virtual prayer walks through different cities in East Asia and a chance for IMB workers and Hawaii Pacific Baptists to talk directly in breakout rooms.
“Our participants were inspired as they imagined themselves walking the streets [of East Asia] asking God to do what only He can do. They also developed closer connections as they lingered in breakout rooms,” Webb said.
The IMB East Asian Peoples Affinity has hosted three Discover East Asia Virtual Experiences for churches in the U.S. and supporters since September 2020, and they are planning to hold more in 2021.
A typical virtual event includes time for those gathered to learn about and pray for the countries and peoples in East Asia, time to hear from specific IMB workers and local believers in East Asia, and time to learn about strategic partnership opportunities.
Randy Adams, executive director-treasurer for the Northwest Baptist Convention, said he was thankful for the virtual event their convention was part of in February. The convention began an official partnership with East Asia six years ago, but this flexible event format allowed many of the several hundred believers who attended to connect with the work there personally, some for the first time.
“We are in the sixth year of what has been a great partnership, [and] we saw this as an opportunity to reconnect our churches with the work so that they could hear updates and be reminded to pray,” said Adams. “I am grateful to all of those who conceived of this event and put it together.”
The flexibility of the virtual event also makes it possible for workers from all over East Asia to participate, giving participants a glimpse not just of one city or country but of the region as a whole. Past virtual events have included Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia and more.
One particularly meaningful part of the virtual experiences has been the chance for supporters to pray directly with workers for their ministries in breakout rooms at the end of each event. Starting this month, the affinity will begin opening a virtual prayer room on the second Tuesday of each month.
Adams said he was particularly looking forward to the prayer rooms opening.
“I think connecting in this way and being helped to know how to pray specifically for our colleagues on the field is a really good thing,” he said.
Another opportunity the event offers is the chance for those considering overseas work to learn and hear about many different opportunities to be involved at once.
South Carolina Baptists participated in a virtual event in December. Tim Rice, of South Carolina, is currently working with his wife to mentor a young woman who is pursuing a call to missions, potentially in East Asia. She was able to meet and talk with IMB workers, and Rice said she was encouraged to learn more about God at work there.
“She was very excited to interact with IMB workers, [and] we felt great joy in connecting her,” he said.
The East Asia affinity has also recently launched a monthly newsletter, Loving East Asian Peoples (LEAP) News. LEAP News provides updates and information about upcoming opportunities to pray for and partner with workers in East Asia.
The next virtual event, in partnership with the California Southern Baptist Convention, is scheduled for April 22, 7 p.m. PDT. A Korean-language virtual tour is also scheduled for May 13 at 6 p.m. PDT.
These events are open for anyone to attend. More information about Discover East Asia Virtual Events, virtual prayer rooms, and LEAP News can be found at www.eastasianpeoples.com/virtual.