When she arrived with the group a little before 10 p.m. the village wasn’t dark and somber like she expected. Lights inside the house were on, and when it came time for worship songs the group of about 30 was anything but quiet.
“I had in my mind we needed to be quiet, to turn the lights off,” said Autumn James.* “But they sing the loudest of anyone I’ve ever met.”
Those gathered for house church that night live every day in the face of an oppressive government and military, all because they are from minority people groups.
“They still praised God,” James said. “I was impressed by the T people living their lives so boldly. It changed my perspective on worship.”
James met many T people this summer in the two weeks she spent helping lead a five-member team of college students from North Carolina to research the people group. The T people are an unreached, unengaged people group in Southeast Asia with less than 1 percent of the population believing in Jesus.
James met a young girl during house church whose smile and joyful countenance immediately captured her attention. But that joy turned to despair as soon as people began sharing prayer requests for friends who recently took jobs on fishing boats.
Fishing boat jobs require working seven days a week with only four hours off each day, if the boat owner allows time off at all. Some workers are treated as slaves and sold from one boat to the next without ever being allowed off the boats.
James and the team saw how even through these trials, the T people remain steadfast in their faith.
IMB photos by Hugh Johnson
After one year of praying, God led Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem to these coastal waters and the T people in Southeast Asia. The church began intense prayer efforts four years ago asking God to show them where to engage an unreached, unengaged people group.
The students focused their research on the T people in an effort to work alongside Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Old Town embraced the people group about four years ago and have focused their time in one Southeast Asian country. Students traveled to cities in a neighboring country, working to find other areas where the T people live.
The trip to Southeast Asia marked the culmination of a three-year training for the students sponsored by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Through the training, known as the Next Generation Missional Journey, the students engaged in hands-on missions locally, nationally and internationally.
Their research will help Old Town, and other churches, continue to advance the gospel among the T people.
But the students discovered they gained a lot more than just research data. See what the students had to say about their experiences:
Autumn James: More than a face
Church planting intern, New York City
Although she helped with the students’ trip last year to research unreached people groups in New York City, graduated from a North Carolina seminary and now serves with a church plant in New York City, Autumn James’ time in Southeast Asia taught her something different.
“You don’t naturally think to find unreached people, or to do anything about it,” James said. “They’re just faces. But behind their faces are people groups who have never heard the gospel.”
James left Southeast Asia resolved to return to New York and notice the people and faces around her who are different – especially T people who may be living in her city.
Those faces represent lives of struggle, yet great joy.
“The fears I have are and void in the power of the gospel,” James said. “The T people truly live in the hope of the gospel.”
Sara Martin*: Obeying the call
College junior, North Carolina State University
Sara Martin thought she had it all figured out. She came into the three-year missions journey ready to serve God as a teacher.
One night during the first year, during a retreat for the students, a speaker shared about unreached people groups. The Holy Spirit’s presence so overwhelmed Martin that she left the meeting room and went to pray. She knew God was calling her to international missions.
“I know the Lord will take me where I need to go as long as I’m working for His purpose,” she said.
For Martin, the next few years in the missions journey, and especially time in Southeast Asia, showed her the importance of basic spiritual disciplines when it comes to reaching people with the gospel.
“You have to build trust,” she said. “I now see the value in a conversation and understanding where people are coming from.”
Martin also saw the need to equip new believers to share their faith among their people group.
“I didn’t really understand discipleship; it was a foreign concept,” she said. “Now, I see the value in investing in others and how they can then be molded. It’s not ‘go and leave.’ It’s so much more.”
Claire Campbell*: A different kind of missionary
College freshman, Gaston Community College
At age 15 Claire Campbell was the youngest of the bunch to start the missions journey. By then she had already participated in several international mission trips—but none like Southeast Asia.
On this trip she met people who had never heard the gospel, and she realized that while the gospel message doesn’t change, the approach must.
“If I hadn’t done the missions journey and come to Southeast Asia I’m not sure what kind of missionary I would have become,” Campbell said. “You can’t approach everyone the same. You can’t effectively approach a Hispanic community the same way you would a T people Buddhist community.”
Campbell also learned from believers in Southeast Asia – who often pay a price for their faith – what it means to truly treasure Jesus.
“Back home we get so caught up in routine. For the people we met, their faith means so much to them,” she said.
Although Campbell has wanted to be a missionary since she was a child, sharing her testimony before a group of people has always made her anxious.
“Too many times in the States I would worry about ‘getting it right;’ doing everything in the right order,” she said. “In Southeast Asia I saw that sharing my testimony is about sharing my heart. I learned to be genuine. I had to put my faith in Him and not myself.”
Kevin Williams*: Lasting impact
College junior, Gardner-Webb University, Youth pastor
One afternoon in Southeast Asia, as he helped her practice during the English as a Second Language class, a young girl quite adamantly told Kevin Williams she wanted to be a missionary. The girl moved from a neighboring country just a few years ago and wants to someday return home and share the gospel.
The bold confession of a child challenged Williams to do more to equip the students in his youth ministry back home.
“Before, I was trying to better the youth ministry for the ministry itself,” Williams said. “Now, I am learning to really invest in the students.”
Williams also learned that while action is important, a verbal gospel witness is a must – especially for unreached people groups.
“Missions is no longer, ‘Let’s go and do something nice and hope it lasts.’ Missions is connecting God and people,” he said. “If we really believe He is the only way, we have to take Jesus to those who have never heard.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – There will be more stories about Old Town Baptist Church in a future issue.)