Missouri Baptists embark on island adoptions

Adopting an island sounds like something a millionaire or movie star might do, but that’s exactly what nine Southern Baptist Associations in Missouri did. In partnership with Filipino Southern Baptist churches in North America, the associations adopted the island of Camiguin in the Philippines in a commitment to seeing the gospel permeate the island.  

Three years after the associations adopted Camiguin, new believers meet regularly to study the Bible, a Filipino missionary catalyst is living among the people, local schools welcome volunteers to host ministry programs and volunteers from the U.S. and the Philippines regularly travel to minister on the island. 

Nine Southern Baptist associations in Missouri adopted an island in the Philippines. The Philippines is home to thousands of island, some with minimal gospel witness. IMB Photo

And, the first church plant appears to be on the horizon. 

Island adoption 

Former IMB missionary Roger Graham, who now serves as the Director of Missions for the Charleston Baptist Association in southeast Missouri, felt the Lord leading him and his association to increase their involvement in international missions by ministering to a people group.  

He shared his vision with the directors of missions from eight other associations, and all quickly jumped on board. Several of the directors of missions were former IMB missionaries, one having served in the Philippines for 30 years.  

The nine Southern Baptist associations in Missouri: Black River, Cane Creek Stoddard, Cape Girardeau, Charleston, Mineral Area, Reynolds County, Southeast Missouri, St. Francois and Wayne County committed to an Acts 1:8 partnership involving ministry to Filipinos in North America and the Philippines. An Acts 1:8 strategy is a comprehensive strategy, based on Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would empower His disciples to share the gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world.  

Volunteers from Baptist associations in Missouri eat dinner with Filipino ministers and IMB missionary Jess Jennings. Nine Southern Baptist associations in Missouri adopted an island in the Philippines and frequently send volunteer teams. IMB Photo

The Missouri associations’ involvement and commitment include ministering to Filipinos in southeast Missouri through partnerships with a Filipino-American church planter in the area. They also partner with Filipino churches across the U.S. and Canada, the IMB, the Southern Baptist Convention, the North American Mission Board, the Filipino International Mission Board and the Northern Mindanao Baptist Association. These partnerships focus on reaching Filipinos in North America and on the island of Camiguin, an island province in the Philippines.  

Jess and Wendy Jennings serve in the Philippines as IMB missionaries. One of their ministry focuses includes reaching what they call “pockets of lostness” in the Philippines. Many small islands have small populations without a consistent gospel presence. 

“We’ve been focusing on a few islands for the last few years, sending a lot of short-term teams, both American and Filipino,” Jess said. 

Reaching the more than 7,000 islands is no small task, which is why partners like the Missouri associations are so crucial.  

When Graham asked Jennings how they could partner with them, Jennings suggested adopting an island to develop and implement a strategy to plant churches, and Camiguin rose to the surface.  

Camiguin’s population is 92,808 making it the second-smallest province in the Philippines. Camiguin’s evangelical population is 1.3%, and the island has four Baptist churches and around 1,500 Christians.  

Since travel in 2021 was not an option due to COVID-19, that year became one of prayer and partnership building. The associations are now in their third year of adoption. September 2022 and this past February, Graham traveled with pastors and directors of mission to Camiguin. 

Roger Graham, second from right, stands with his wife, Delores, far right, and two Filipino pastors in front of a Baptist church on the island of Camiguin. Graham is the director of missions for the Charleston Baptist Association in southeast Missouri. IMB Photo

On their trips, they prayer walked, hosted biblical programs in local schools, shared the gospel and preached in the four Baptist churches. The trip also provided an opportunity to strategically plan for ministry with their Filipino partners. 

In addition to churches and associations in the U.S. adopting islands, churches in the Philippines are also committed to adopting unreached islands. A Baptist association on the island of Mindanao came alongside the Missouri associations and identified a missionary catalyst to place on the island who will be a local missionary presence. Graham said they hope to place a second person on the island soon.  

Graham said they are close to seeing their first church plant formed on the island.  

Their vision is to establish a church-planting movement on the island that results in three to four healthy, multiplying churches in every municipality, which represents a minimum of 18 villages. The long-term goal is healthy, reproducing churches in the other villages on the island. 

Spiritual sight 

As they prayer walked, Graham and Jennings noticed an older man standing by his front gate. The 83-year-old man had vision problems and couldn’t see well. As they began sharing the gospel with him, they noticed a change in his eyes. 

“When we really got into the gospel, and sharing the heart of the gospel, you could see a literal physical change in his eyes, and it was just so interesting to see that change that took place in his eyes for the time we were sharing the gospel until the time we quit,” Graham said.  

Though he had trouble physically seeing, the gospel changed both his physical and spiritual blindness. 

“You could literally see it in his eyes — the impact the gospel was having on him,” Graham said.  

Roger Graham, right, poses for a photo with Filipino pastor Cleto Bacarro, center, and Phil Brewster, left, a director of missions from Missouri. Graham and Brewster traveled to the island of Camiguin in the Philippines for a volunteer trip. Graham is the director of missions for the Charleston Baptist Association in southeast Missouri. IMB Photo

On their September trip, several people committed their lives to Christ. They are waiting to hear whether they were baptized — in a Catholic country, and in a culture that wants to please, baptism is a sign someone has truly decided to follow Christ. 

Nehemiah Teams invested their summer in Camiguin last summer and saw people commit their lives to Christ, and the new believers were baptized.  

Nehemiah Teams offer summer missions opportunities for students to serve among unreached people groups. 

This summer Graham hopes several teams will continue the work the Nehemiah Teams furthered. Graham said he also hopes a NT4 Teens team — a summer program for teenagers — will also join.  

Additional teams from the Missouri associations will head to Camiguin in May and September and will do more prayer walking, provide values training in schools and, hopefully, pursue holding Vacation Bible Schools on the island.  

Is your church or association ready to adopt a people group? Write us at info@imb.org.