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Fishers of men: N.C. church tackles unreached
Alan James, Baptist Press
June 20, 2011
8 MIN READ TIME

Fishers of men: N.C. church tackles unreached

Fishers of men: N.C. church tackles unreached
Alan James, Baptist Press
June 20, 2011

It hangs from the ceiling near the auditorium of Englewood

Baptist Church

like an overgrown spider web. It’s frayed and tattered in spots, with blue

netting where it has been repaired multiple times through the years.

Pastor Michael Cloer runs his fingers along the fishing net,

admiring the craftsmanship. As he inspects the net, he voices an impromptu

object lesson.

“You look at the individual pieces and they don’t look like

much, but together they are strong. … It’s a great picture of the church,” said

Cloer, who received the net from a fisherman in South Asia when Englewood

Baptist Church in Rocky Mount took its first overseas missions trip to reach

the Koli people for Christ.

That Koli fisherman is now a follower of Jesus.

A couple of months after the initial mission trip in

February 2011, a second Englewood

team returned to the same spot where Cloer had met the fisherman. By the end of

2011, the church will have sent four teams to engage the Koli people with the

Good News.

At last year’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist

Convention (SBC) in Orlando, Cloer said he

became convicted that the congregation had not done enough to help reach people

groups like the Koli — those unreached with less than a 2 percent evangelical

presence and unengaged with no church-planting strategy among them.

“The Spirit of God just spoke to my heart and said, ‘What

are we doing about unreached people?’” Cloer said.

“God told us to be fishers of men,” said Michael Cloer, pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Rocky Mount. He stands beside a fishing net given to the church by a Koli fisherman in South Asia. The fisherman is now a follower of Jesus. See related video here. It was shown during the Southern Baptist Convention June 14-15 in Phoenix.

“We had been praying for them, just as a whole, but that’s

as far as we were going. I came back and … began to pray, ‘God, where do you

want us to go?’”

The church soon was committed to ministering to the Koli

people.

Amidst a backdrop of modern conveniences and technological

advances, the Koli people — with their colorful boats and waving flags —

represent an old way of life committed to hard work, tradition and idol

worship. Fishermen struggle to make a living in polluted waters in a time when

modern life seems to have passed them by.

Most of the younger Koli generations hunt for new

opportunities to escape the old way of life, while clinging to the worship of

more than 300,000 gods.

Of the 283,000-plus Koli people whom Englewood

is engaging, fewer than half of 1 percent are evangelical.

“We saw a people group who were mainly fishermen, and the

Lord immediately struck in my heart,” Cloer said. “God told us to be fishers of

men … fishers of men among the fishermen.”

In the summer of 2010, the International Mission Board (IMB)

challenged Southern Baptists to adopt 6,426 unreached people groups based on

that year’s research. At this year’s SBC

annual meeting, IMB President Tom Elliff plans to narrow that focus to the

approximately 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups. Englewood

Baptist Church’s

partnership also will be featured at this year’s SBC

meeting.

The Koli are now engaged with a church-planting strategy —

and the work has just begun.

Church members venturing among the Koli in South

Asia won’t have to look far to find challenges. On the streets

they’ll find a variety of idols — ones surrounded in fresh flowers on cab

dashboards or those swinging from the rearview mirror. Some will be displayed

on posters along shop walls and encased in concrete shrines. In some homes

they’ll find a cross, a statue or even a picture of Jesus, but locals view

these as mere additions to their idol worship.

Koli fishermen prepare their boats along the coast of South Asia. For centuries the Koli have been unengaged by any known Southern Baptist work, and less than half a percent of them are evangelical. Members of Englewood Baptist Church in Rocky Mount have sent teams since February 2011 to share Jesus with them.

“To the Koli, Jesus is just another god,” said Claude*, an Englewood

member the church is supporting to lead follow-up work among the Koli. Claude

and his wife Lynne* plan to live in South Asia until the

end of 2011.

“These people who live in these Koli villages along the

coast are in total spiritual darkness,” Claude said.

But there has been some progress.

Since the Englewood

team first set foot in the Koli villages, nearly 20 people have made a

profession of faith in Jesus Christ.

“We had men and women pray out loud in front of other

people: ‘I want Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Savior; I renounce all other

gods but Jesus,’” Cloer recounted.

“We’d go back the next day; that individual had thrown out

all of their idols into the street.”

The response has been an encouragement, but it also has

served as a reminder of the follow-up work the church still has to do.

During the first trip, one Koli fisherman made a profession

of faith. He agreed to have a Bible study at his home. But when Claude and a

team returned a couple months later, the fisherman had changed his mind. He

told the team another villager had attacked his wife for her faith and she had

been prevented from using the well.

It’s slow work, said Kaleb*, an IMB representative among the

people of South Asia.

“This (people group) has existed for thousands of years, but

Satan has had a hold on (them),” Kaleb said. “When we go into these areas and

make these big pushes just to get the gospel out, we see Satan’s attack.”

The level of commitment needed to make a dent among people

groups like the Koli is high, Kaleb said.

“I know lots of people back home who say they want to reach

the nations,” he said, “but they’re not praying for the nations. They’re not

going to the nations. They’re not sending others to the nations.

“Until we become doers of the Word of God and take this

message to the nations, then nothing is going to change.”

Kaleb admits being pleasantly surprised when he first spoke

to Cloer about Englewood Baptist

Church working among the Koli.

Cloer asked Kaleb how many teams he could handle and what it would take to get

the job done.

“When I heard that, I realized they are in it,” Kaleb said.

“Their hearts were committed. Knowing that churches like Englewood

are out there … makes me feel like I’m not out here alone.”

‘Whatever it takes’

In the coming months Cloer hopes to mentor fellow pastors in

the U.S. in how

to begin work among other unengaged, unreached people groups.

Though Englewood

is larger than the average church, Cloer knows his congregation — and most

other churches — can’t do it alone.

“I was led by the Lord, ‘Why don’t you ask other pastors to

join you in this?’” he said.

“We hear it from the national platform … but it’s another

thing for a brother to look you face to face and say, ‘Brother, why don’t you

get involved?’”

Cloer said after his time on earth is done, he hopes he will

have helped reach 1 percent of those people groups unreached with the gospel.

Just like that old net hanging from the church ceiling,

together Southern Baptists are stronger than they are separate, Cloer contends.

“I believe there will be someone from every people group

standing around the throne of Jesus,” he said.

“To think that we could have (that) opportunity … it’s going

to be worth it all. It’s going to be worth whatever it takes.”

*Names changed.

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