Hundreds of thousands of boys sleep on the streets in Kenya. These children are marginalized, beaten, sexually abused and arrested. Many Kenyans regard these children as worthless and not to be trusted. Kenyans call these boys “trash eaters.”
International Mission Board missionary Kristen Lowry and the staff at the Naivasha Children’s Shelter in Naivasha, Kenya, see the value and worth in the life of each boy. They seek out these boys and bring restoration to families and rehabilitation to broken lives.
Kristen’s first interactions with the street boys of Kenya took place in 2009 while she was on a photo assignment with IMB. Throughout the assignment she followed Eunice Murage, a Kenyan woman, as Eunice worked in the streets with the boys. As Kristen witnessed the boys’ living conditions and the way they were treated, she prayed for God to send someone to help them. Six months later, God called Kristen to work with the boys in Nairobi, Kenya.
Once Kristen moved to Nairobi, she moved in with Eunice. If the boys needed a safe place to stay or recover from wounds they sustained on the streets, the two women took them into their home. Eunice and Kristen began to make plans to start a rehabilitation and reunification center but had no means to purchase one.
On Christmas Day 2013, their prayers for a facility were answered. An orphanage in Naivasha had opened in 1999. Kristen’s mom, a real estate agent in the U.S., met a man through her work who served on the board of directors for the orphanage. When he learned that Kristen was looking for a facility, he and other trustees voted to appoint Eunice and Kristen as co-directors of the Naivasha Children’s Shelter in January 2014.
When a boy wants to be rescued, one of the social workers from the shelter will schedule a time to pick up the boy from the street and bring him to the shelter. Once at the shelter the boy learns skills, participates in counseling, catches up on education, takes responsibility for chores and ultimately, experiences love and a stable environment.
“Before I had my own children, I had street children,” said Kristen. This sentiment rings true with the staff at the shelter; their care for the boys goes beyond the walls of the shelter. Once the boys are reunited with their families, the social workers continually visit the boys and their families to make sure all is running smoothly and provide counseling to both boys and families if necessary.
The shelter is not an orphanage, but a place where each individual child receives personal attention and encouragement, all building to the goal of being reunited with their families. Much like the prodigal son in the parable Jesus told in the New Testament, these boys are ashamed to return home because they think their time on the streets has made them “less than” or “dirty,” Kristen said. As they receive counseling and experience God’s love and kindness through the shelter’s staff, their confidence in who they are and their desire to reunite with their families increases daily.
“If I could tell a friend on the streets one thing about the shelter,” said Frances, a boy living at the shelter, “I would tell him, ‘Come to shelter and change your life and find your family.’”
After living in Croatia for more than 22 years, missionary Eric Maroney understands why some people describe life and ministry as difficult in this part of Europe. He has witnessed the reluctance of people to believe the Truth of the gospel and has endured the skepticism toward evangelical churches. Only one Baptist church stands in western Zagreb—an area of 250,000 people—where Eric’s team lives and works.
As a church planter, Maroney, who serves with his wife, Julie, looks for new strategies to share the gospel. Giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supports his efforts. In 2014, when a Brazilian ministry partner pitched the idea of a radio ministry, Maroney saw it as a part of a larger strategy to spread the gospel and connect seekers with local congregations.
“We approached the local radio station, Radio Martin, and they were willing to host us, despite the fact that the station is affiliated with the Catholic church,” explains Maroney. “The first contract was for two 15-minute programs Monday and Wednesday afternoons. Over the years, as we’ve developed a relationship with the station director, we’ve been able to negotiate for lower fees and have moved to a live 45-minute program on Wednesday and Friday evening recorded at the radio station.”
Their ministry team now includes nine local partners who serve as speakers, translators and technical support. The group fills the airwaves twice a week with a sermon, spiritual songs, interviews with believers and questions from callers. Ratings reported from the radio station’s director show that more than 40,000 people listen to each broadcast. In a country with only 7,000 evangelicals in total, the number of listeners is significant.
Maroney says he knows that not all listeners are intent on hearing the gospel when they tune in, but they are still opening themselves to a message of Truth. Maroney and his team trust that the “broad seed sowing” of the broadcasts touch people’s hearts and offer an alternative to those living without the hope of Christ. He says they have already seen a key impact of the radio ministry.
“A year after we began broadcasting, a man visited the Dugo Selo [church] plant. After several months of visiting he invited us to start meeting on Tuesday evenings in an empty storefront that he owned in [another city]. Six months later he casually mentioned that the reason he had first visited the Dugo Selo church was that he had been listening to our radio broadcast from the beginning,” Maroney says.
Though it takes Maroney 20-30 hours to prepare a radio sermon in Croatian, he is willing to put in the time to reach the multitudes. In addition to the broadcasts, Maroney and his partners work with the local church to distribute Christian literature, provide a monthly article for the town magazine and host evangelistic events and public concerts. They teach ESL classes and host summer camps.
The gospel is reaching the airwaves and the streets of Croatia, thanks to the faithful giving of Southern Baptists.
Doug Derbyshire goes to many places in Thailand with no Christians and no churches, and it troubles him deeply. But the lack of a gospel witness in Baan Po troubled him the most. Derbyshire is a medical doctor with the International Mission Board who serves in Thailand with his wife, Cheryl. He’s doing what Jesus did: taking care of the sick and preaching the gospel.
For the past six years, Derbyshire has faithfully and persistently visited Baan Po—trying every method and means for sharing the gospel. He’s brought medical teams from the U.S. to host mobile clinics. He’s tried every evangelism technique he knows. He’s knocked on doors, asking if people are interested in hearing the gospel. The message is either ignored, rejected or accepted initially and then abandoned.
“Baan Po probably affects me, burdens me, more than the other places, because after all the times I’ve been there, the time I’ve invested in them, there’s still no church there. No one honors God. No one gives Him glory. No one praises Him. There’s no group of believers that gives Him glory,” Derbyshire said, closing his eyes and clasping his hands together in a praying position.
“I can’t let that rest. I just have to see God raise up a church in Baan Po,” Derbyshire said.
Derbyshire decided to host another mobile medical team to take the gospel one more time to Baan Po.
God used that “one more time” to work in mighty ways. In January 2020, Derbyshire, other IMB missionaries, Thai Christians and doctors from the U.S. traveled to Baan Po to host a mobile medical clinic.
Derbyshire says after he and the other doctors meet with their patients, one of the Thai staff will sit down with the patient and say, “This is medicine for your body. Now let’s talk about what you need for your soul.”
He said the transition from taking care of physical needs to meeting spiritual needs is natural—and it’s well-received.
Until this mobile clinic, Thais in Baan Po never achieved or maintained spiritual health.
However, on the first day of the mobile clinic, three people committed their lives to Christ. Others indicated they wanted to hear more. It was a glorious day, Derbyshire says—there are now people praising the Lord in Baan Po.
Derbyshire shares the gospel every day and is usually able to share with seven to eight people a day. He has to talk to 100, sometimes 200, people before finding someone who is interested. When teams come from the U.S., they see between 200 and 300 patients each day. Everyone who comes hears the gospel and people come to faith, one after another, in unprecedented numbers.
“Volunteers, for us, are indispensable to what we do. I can’t do what I do without God’s people coming from America and helping me,” Derbyshire said.
Derbyshire and Thai Christians make return trips to disciple the Christians in Baan Po and follow up with those interested in hearing more.
The small group of men boards a single-engine Cessna. After a little more than a two-hour flight, they land on a small airstrip deep in the Amazon rainforest. From there they board a boat and settle in for the ride. Their destination, an isolated village of a tribe called the Akawa*, is still more than seven hours away.
If this conjures memories of Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn battling mosquitoes and heat in the 1951 film “The African Queen,” you wouldn’t be too far off. Four times a year a group of IMB missionaries and their local partners board a small plane, then a small boat that will take them to the Akawa, an unreached tribe the team began working among in 2018.
Like many tribal people groups, the Akawa are animists who live in fear of the spirits that inhabit the world around them, said Joe Brewster, an IMB missionary who works with the small tribe.
“As animists, they tend to be pragmatic and go with what works as opposed to what may be right or wrong,” Brewster said. “They live far up an Amazonian tributary, just a step removed from the Stone Age.”
The Akawa are oral learners. They have some exposure to the outside world, but very little understanding of it, Brewster said. The Joshua Project, a research initiative that highlights unreached people groups, numbers the Akawa at about 400 people in Peru.
Edwin Blanco* is a church planter who lives in the Amazon basin. As the administrator of an indigenous mission organization, he has a burden to reach the Akawa with the good news of Jesus. He and Brewster have been friends for more than 10 years. The men, along with their respective teams, are partnering together to reach isolated tribes like the Akawa.
Blanco understands the importance of the gospel; it transformed his family. In the 1950s missionaries contacted Blanco’s tribe, and his grandfather chose to follow Jesus. Today, the church on Blanco’s river is firmly established, and the gospel has taken root among his people.
Blanco doesn’t want to limit the gospel to himself and his tribe. But he faces a problem. The organization he runs was founded with foreign funds and is dependent on ever-decreasing donations. He wants to focus on evangelism and church planting, but he and his colaborers must feed their families.
Blanco reached out to his friend Joe. Through hours of conversation, Brewster’s team helped Blanco and his team expand their vision for missions in a way that did not depend on foreign funds.
With help from the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and other donations, the team has constructed nine working fishponds, with a goal to build up to 15 ponds. To date, the group has sold nearly 10,000 pounds of fish, Brewster said.
Brewster believes God will use tribal believers like Blanco to reach the lost in the Amazon. The team is already seeing gospel fruit among the Akawa. In the past two years, a number of people have come to faith in Jesus, been baptized and are meeting together regularly for discipleship.
“I am hesitant to call them a church; they rely heavily on outside discipleship and don’t yet have a strong local leader,” Brewster said. “But they are close. … We pray Edwin’s organization will (continue to) play a key role in getting the gospel to the places where it has not been preached.”
“Fulfilling the Great Commission is difficult work, much like carrying a heavy log out of the jungle,” Blanco said. “One man may be able to do it, but if we work together and help each other, the work is much easier!”
*Names changed for security
Throughout its 175-year history, Southern Baptists have maintained an uninterrupted witness among the nations, in spite of famine, war and civil unrest. This commitment has not come without sacrifice.
Approximately 60 missionaries and children have died due to violent circumstances while serving with the International Mission Board (formerly the Foreign Mission Board) since the organization’s founding in 1845. The causes include accidents such as drowning, automobile and aircraft crashes, and ships lost at sea. They also include deaths as a result of war and criminal or terrorist acts. In some cases, the missionaries were targeted specifically because of their faith or missionary service.
Of those 60, more than 20 FMB/IMB missionaries lost their lives “as a result of human hostility in a cross-cultural setting,” said Scott Peterson of IMB’s global research team.
The first was J. Landrum Holmes who served in China. Holmes and his wife, Sallie, were appointed by the Foreign Mission Board in 1858 and arrived in China in 1859. Less than three years later, Taiping rebels murdered Holmes and Episcopal missionary Henry M. Parker. Although family members encouraged Sallie Holmes to return to the U.S., the young mother chose to stay in China with her newborn son, Peterson wrote in a 2017 article.
Writing home, Sallie said at the time, “I think I might probably be instrumental in the conversion of more persons at home than here, but if I went home for that and other missionaries acted upon the same principle I doubt if there would be a missionary left in China.”
Sallie Holmes went on to mentor one of IMB’s most famous missionaries, Charlotte Digges “Lottie” Moon, for whom IMB’s annual missions offering is named. Lottie Moon also died while in active service aboard a ship docked in Kobe Harbor, Japan, on December 24, 1912.
Although both Landrum Holmes and Lottie Moon died while in active service, neither is necessarily considered a “martyr.”
“The IMB does not typically refer to or describe our personnel who have died in active service as martyrs,” Peterson said. “In many cases, it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine if our personnel (who died due to violence) were targeted because they were missionaries or Christians.”
Terminology notwithstanding, the sacrifice of those who died while serving cross-culturally — regardless of the means or cause of death — is no less significant than those who were targeted specifically for their faith.
“The fact that we do not use the term [martyr] does not minimize the significance of the lives and sacrifice of those who died while serving cross-culturally,” Peterson said. “We memorialize all of our personnel who die in active service regardless of the cause of death. Each of those is a sacrifice because of a life lived in obedience to Christ.”
The Worthy family recognizes the importance of investing in relationships in the Italian culture. For more than 17 years, Charlie and Shannon Worthy have invested their lives and ministry in Italy as IMB missionaries.
They describe the spiritual climate of Italy as ambivalent. Italians are warm, loving and open people; however, they don’t know they need a Savior. Evangelical Christians in Italy number roughly 1%, and most Italians are nominal Catholics at best.
By immersing themselves fully in Italian culture, the Worthy family has made connections on a deep, personal level. As they live life as an American-Italian family in Italy, the Worthys are pushing back the darkness and bringing the hope of the gospel to those who don’t yet know Jesus.
As church planters, the Worthys’ work bridges the two worlds of local Italian pastors and U.S. churches. Working alongside local and U.S. partners, they leverage their roles to make strategic connections that bring the gospel to areas of Italy with little to no evangelical witness. Whether leading a group of students, a group of Baptist state convention executives or a church group, they strategically place these partnering groups in areas of Italy where the church does not exist. These partners engage with the people of Italy and create relationships that impact the kingdom for eternity.
Additionally, finding opportunities for volunteers to serve through their local partners is key in developing long-term partnerships both locally and globally. Charlie explained that they have seen much fruit over the years through these partnerships.
“Partnering alongside nationals is the bedrock of our ministry here,” said Charlie. “Coming alongside these fellow laborers will get the gospel to those who need to hear it faster than if we went at it alone.”
“These local believers are the ones who will be here long after we're gone. The Lord has called us to be a guest in their home. Partnering with them will always be the best method to plant churches and disciple believers.”
Ultimately, because of Charlie and Shannon’s connection to Southern Baptists in the U.S. and because of their deep understanding of Italian culture, they are able to understand how to best utilize both partnerships in advancing the gospel. They are essential to the ministry of the Worthy family in Italy.
“The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® is critical to what we do,” said Charlie. “The offering supports us so we can focus on the local work here in Italy and not have to be encumbered with consistently raising funds back in the United States. The LMCO allows us to have a house to live in, a car to drive, and our healthcare provided so that we can concentrate on the ministry and our local partners.”
“We are grateful for Southern Baptists, and we are grateful and honored to be Southern Baptists.”
Twenty years is a long time. That’s how long it took to establish a gospel presence among a Muslim unreached people group of 10 million in South Asia.
Ministry among the people group stalled for a number of reasons. IMB workers attempted to move to the region but were unsuccessful. Other families moved to the area, but they too had to leave for various reasons.
After years of setbacks, Luciano and Sofia Serrano*, a Christian couple from Brazil, moved to the region. The Serranos are partnering with Ralph and Lovie Adair*, IMB workers who live in a neighboring region.
Shortly after the Serranos’ arrival, Sofia and a local Christian led several women to the Lord and are discipling them.
The region where the people groups live is known for its large Christian population. Despite the presence of Christ-followers in the area, many Christians are afraid to share the gospel with Muslims. Many have doubts about whether Muslims will choose to follow Christ because they have historically been resistant to the gospel.
Ministry efforts seek to embolden and equip local Christians to share the gospel with their Muslim neighbors. The Adairs and the Serranos diligently look for Christians who speak the same language as the people group and who are willing to learn how to effectively share the gospel with Muslims. During ministry training events, the couples model evangelism and one-on-one discipleship. Participants have a chance to put into practice what they learn by going out into the community to share.
“Make no mistake, the Spirit of Christ has always left Himself a witness among the [people group], even if we haven't seen it. But the time has come, and is coming when bold national partners rise up,” Ralph said.
Saalim* is a national partner who has risen to the challenge. Saalim is from the people group. He became a Christian 10 years ago but he recently made the commitment to be intentional in sharing his faith. Ralph, Luciano and Saalim share the gospel in neighborhoods, and Saalim faithfully follows up with the men and women they meet.
The Adairs believe serving alongside the body of Christ is crucial to reaching the people group.
Pastors and volunteers from two churches in the U.S. have traveled to South Asia to learn how their churches can partner with the Adairs. Ralph and Lovie pray more churches will join them both in prayer and by coming on short-term trips to sow seeds of the gospel that lead to the establishment of churches.
“Churches and pastors don't have to have international missions all figured out,” Ralph said. “They just need to be willing to follow Christ and serve; they can learn and grow in the details of the task as they move forward in trust.”
The Adairs’ desire is for the next 20 years to be a revolutionary and transformational chapter in the history of the gospel work among this people group.
*Names changed for security
Every day is appropriate to say “thank you” to Southern Baptists who give generously so that the gospel spreads to all nations. In this season of giving — the Lottie Moon season in many churches — showing appreciation seems especially meaningful. This year missionaries have met unique challenges, as you also have, from the global pandemic caused by the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Even as the world continues to find a new normal, our missionaries want to say a special word of thanks to you for remembering them, for praying concertedly, for giving sacrificially.
In March 2020, IMB missionary Reid Karr’s church was unable to meet as the Italian government had already restricted gatherings. A baptism planned at Karr’s church took place in a bathtub and was shown online to the rejoicing church. Because of your giving, Karr and his family have been able to stay in Rome and continue ministry.
“I would like to take this occasion to thank our many faithful Southern Baptists who continue to give faithfully to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering,” says Karr. “You will never know the full extent to which your generosity is having on the kingdom of God in many places around the world. It is times like these that remind us of the importance of what Southern Baptists are doing around the world as they work alongside their partners and the local church to see the gospel spread and transform hearts and lives.”
In the midst of a citywide shutdown, David and Sarah McNeill looked for new opportunities to spread the hope of Christ in their apartment building. Their children wrote notes with Bible verses to neighbors, leaving colorful pictures and small treats at every door.
“We cannot adequately express our thankfulness for the support we receive through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering,” say the McNeills. “Because of the sacrifice and generous giving of Southern Baptists, our family has received all we need to serve as missionaries in Bogota, Colombia. This year, because of your generosity, we were able to build relationships with national partners, share the gospel, teach the Bible and even begin a new church!”
From Japan, missionaries Daniel and Tara Rice add their thanks. This has been a challenging year for them as they were leading the IMB’s 2020 Olympic ministries.
“We are deeply grateful for your prayer and financial support of the IMB and our ministry efforts. As you undoubtedly have heard, the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed until summer 2021 due to the current global health crisis. We see this postponement as a blessing and an opportunity given to us by the Lord, not only to minister to our neighbors in this unique time in history but also to fine-tune our ministry plans and to steward even more wisely the generous gifts we have received. Thank you for your continued prayer and support as we utilize this special opportunity to reach Japanese unbelievers and to encourage Japanese believers!”
“Because of our partnership with IMB missionaries, our church is involved in God’s global mission in ways that we never imagined. What a joy and privilege it is to work together and see disciples made, churches planted, and lives changed for eternity!“
“Gateway has had the privilege to partner with the Harrell family’s ministry in Mozambique (featured on IMB’s website) for over 15 years and see the gospel spread in ways we could never have imagined. Give financially, but don’t stop there; connect with one of the IMB missionaries and get involved with their ministry.”
“Partnering with the IMB gives Houston’s First Baptist Church a tremendous connection to the world beyond what we could do ourselves. Every day we pray, support, send, and go with the IMB we are impacting the least reached nations with the Good News of Jesus. In this we are fellow workers for the truth (3 John 8)!”
“As a biblically faithful Christian you are either going to the nations, sending others to the nations, or simply being disobedient. The Lottie Moon Christmas offering with the IMB allows Southern Baptists to display their generosity and be faithful to the Lord in reaching the nations. I am thankful!!”
“The Cooperative Program and the IMB was the reason my wife and I chose to be Southern Baptists when we were first married. Being partners with the International Mission Board has allowed us to fulfill our family’s commitment to the Lord to engage with Him in going to all the world.”
“Partnering with other believers to make disciples among the nations is a humbling privilege and a joy-filled act of obedience.”