They are called the “poorest of the poor” and shunned by society, yet North Carolina Baptists are embracing the Roma people with compassion as they extend the love of Christ.
Through North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM) volunteer teams, the Roma (or Gypsy people) in Romania and Hungary are receiving medical care, food, clothing and, most importantly, the gospel.
“They are so persecuted and despised, but God is working among them in a great way,” said Richard Brunson, NCBM executive director-treasurer. “They show their emotions so much; their church services are so vibrant.”
This year has been a banner year for NCBM (men, women, students), with thousands of volunteers involved in missions and ministry. Outreach among the Roma people expanded with the launch of the Roma Bible School in January.
Craig Hamlin, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Apex, directs the school, which completed its third semester in September.
Working with the Roma, along with other ministry opportunities, through North Carolina Baptist Men gets N.C. Baptists out of the pews and onto the mission field.
“I got involved with the school simply by taking a mission trip to serve among the Roma people,” Hamlin said. “Through that, God just opened my heart to the need for these pastors to be educated.”
About 30 pastors from Romania, Hungary and Ukraine have committed to completing the three-year course of study.
Hamlin and other North Carolina Baptist pastors are volunteering their time to travel and teach courses such as Old Testament, pastoral ministry, biblical interpretation, church history and apologetics.
“These pastors are taking everything we are teaching them and taking it back to their people and teaching them. Most of the people in the Gypsy camps can’t read or write very well, so the pastors are the primary leaders in their village or camp,” Hamlin said. “They live very difficult, mundane lives. This school gives the pastor something to look forward to; something to hope in.”
Romania is just one of many opportunities to serve internationally through NCBM. Paul Langston, director of missions for Eastern Baptist Association, has participated in four mission trips to Haiti in the last three years following the January 2010 earthquake.
“What caught my attention is the tremendous poverty in Haiti, and the awareness the earthquake created …,” he said. “The Haitians are reaching and grasping for hope, and we can help. We can help make an eternal impact.”
Langston’s work in Haiti led Brunson to ask him to lead a new ministry team called “Least of These,” focusing on providing financial support for ministries led by locals in Haiti, Kenya, India, Armenia and Gaza.
“We want to support nationals as they do ministry and encourage them,” Langston said.
Internationally, NCBM volunteers also served this year in Honduras, Cuba and Guatemala.
Teams led Vacation Bible Schools, sports camps and medical/dental clinics; helped with construction projects; and shared the gospel door-to-door in villages. In Guatemala, teams are helping build a community health clinic and leadership training center, and renovating a children’s home.
From January 2010 through the end of September, NCBM volunteers have served 187,854 patients in medical clinics in Haiti. The more than 1,400 volunteers have seen 1,752 people profess faith in Jesus Christ.
This year volunteers continued helping with disaster relief needs in Pamlico County related to Hurricane Irene. Since 2011, 122 homes have been rebuilt.
Although North Carolina Baptists stepped up to serve New York and New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy, volunteers are still needed to help with construction projects such as installing insulation and sheetrock, painting and trim work.
In addition to serving through disaster relief, men, women and student volunteers participated in 13 ministries sponsored by NCBM, including medical/dental, aviation, church renewal and agricultural ministry.
A popular ministry opportunity each year is Deep Impact – a weeklong mission camp for middle and high school students.
This year 1,606 students and adult leaders served in mission projects in 13 locations, from Cuba and Honduras to New York and Charlotte.
Tracey Ford, a leader with Good News Baptist Church in Greensboro, has served four years with Deep Impact.
“To see the students’ excitement is incredible,” she said. “They could be doing anything else in the summer, but they come year after year. You can tell that some are being stretched outside their comfort zones. It’s inspirational.”
Through Transform122, about 150 college students served in missions this year.
Students served across the state and internationally in Cuba and Ethiopia.
College students also served in the communities surrounding Red Springs and Shelby, where NCBM sponsor mission camps.
“The purpose of the camps is to reach others through Christ through missions and to get the churches involved in missions,” said Eddie Williams, Shelby camp coordinator.
In addition to local and international missions, NCBM volunteers served this year in national ministry efforts in Vermont, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, the Appalachian Coalfields and the Rocky Mountain region.
Brunson said he is grateful for the support of North Carolina Baptists this year in ministry projects, and he prays that individuals and churches will begin thinking about involvement in 2014.
“I pray that more people would be willing to go and to step out of their comfort zone; to take a risk for God,” he said.
“There are so many people in the pew who don’t think they can do anything. We want them to see that they have things in their hands God can use. We pray that they will be open to release what they have so God can take it and use it.”
To learn more about NCBM, visit www.baptistsonmission.org or contact Richard Brunson at [email protected] or (800) 395-5102 ext. 5597. NCBM ministries are supported through the North Carolina Missions Offering.