In the area known as the outskirts live the tribal groups, who
tend to be animistic and somewhat open to the gospel.
The majority of the population, which practices Buddhism and
is highly resistant to the gospel, lives in the central plains and river valley
Mark Harrison moved his fingers across the map, pointing out
each region. Colored stones outline the different areas. The map is a gift from
friends living in Southeast Asia.
Old Town Baptist Church, where Harrison has served as
missions pastor for three years, is considering adopting an unengaged, unreached
people group (UUPG) living in Southeast Asia. The specific people group they
are praying about lives in a country that is 89 percent Buddhist; less than .07
percent of this people group is evangelical.
Whereas an unreached people group (UPG) has a negligible
percentage of Christian believers, the UUPG is essentially void of any
evangelical witness and is less than two percent evangelical. About 3,800 UUPGs
live throughout the world.
Harrison believes the church is close
to selecting the people group they will adopt. He is praying that their vision
trip next month to Southeast Asia will bring even more
“We’re praying that if this is what God wants us to do He
will affirm that while we’re there,” Harrison said. “I
don’t know what that affirmation will look like. But I do know that God will
affirm His will through the body. It needs to be the church body taking
responsibility for this.”
is already further along on their journey than they were just a few months ago.
If there’s one thing Harrison has learned in recent
months about how to adopt an unreached people group, it’s to start at home.
“This process starts where you already are. You don’t have
to go out and look for something else. Just look at the connections God has
already established for you,” he said.
Several years ago during an International Mission Board
(IMB) regional meeting Harrison met a missionary from Southeast Asia,
from the country where Old Town
is praying about adopting a people group. Since Harrison
already had planned a mission trip to that region, he extended his trip in
order to visit the missionary and learn more about the work being done in that
Harrison and the missionary continued to keep in touch. Last
year, Harrison and Jason Ledford, pastor of families and discipleship, traveled
overseas to help the missionary lead evangelism training.
As the partnership continued, conversations turned to
adopting a people group. And as it turns out, one of the UUPGs in the
missionary’s country has refugees from a related people group living in
Winston-Salem. Through a local refugee ministry, members of Old
Town have already been ministering
to these refugees.
Harrison said whichever people group
they adopt, their goal is to create local, national and international points of
connection. While they want to minister to members of this people group living
in their homeland overseas, they also want to minister to refugees living in North
Carolina, North America and
throughout the world.
Harrison is helping the congregation
start to think more in terms of “engaging” a people group and not just
“We want to be hands-on involved in making sure that this
people group hears the gospel and that there are sufficient opportunities for
them to respond to the gospel,” he said. “For us, missions is demonstrating and
verbalizing the gospel so that people can respond to Jesus’ invitation to
follow Him. We want to be very intentional.”
Reaching an UUPG of any size is going to require cooperation
among churches. “I don’t have any illusions we’re going to reach them alone,”
Harrison said. He prays that however God leads, whether to this country in Southeast
Asia or somewhere else, that Old
Town would help bring together
other churches for the sake of reaching an UUPG.
is ready to follow Paul’s example in Romans 15:17 of “going into that unbroken
ground where the light has not penetrated,” Harrison
said. They want their efforts of serving among unreached people to result in
new believers who are discipled and trained to reach their own people.
Although Old Town
is still in the process of selecting an UUPG, excitement about what is to come
is already building, due in large part to efforts from church leaders to keep
this a priority before the congregation.
From worship services to Sunday School classes to small
groups, repetition is key.
Harrison joked that whenever he
speaks to the congregation they already know he’s going to say something about
“If they don’t know what you’re going to say, you probably
haven’t said it enough,” he said. “You have to oversaturate people.”
While adopting a people group is a good thing, Harrison
doesn’t want Old Town’s
missions efforts to end there. He sees this as a way to help build a stronger missions
mindset into the congregation.
“Our church has a long history of mission involvement, which
has grown through Pastor Rick’s leadership. Yet, on this continuing journey, we
are still growing in our understanding of and obedience to God’s call,” Harrison
Rick Speas, Old Town’s
pastor, is excited about all God is allowing the church to be part of for His
“As I see more and more of our church members becoming
active in going, praying and giving to God’s mission, I am extremely humbled,” Speas
“We are eagerly anticipating whatever God is going to do
next, and we are excited to be on this journey with Him for the heart of the
nations. I sense that God is doing here what He did in Antioch
when He placed a burden for the nations upon the leaders, and then they sent a
team out to go and preach the gospel.”
Harrison didn’t expect the stronger
missionary mindset to blossom as quickly as it has. Take, for example,
dedicated deacon and Sunday School teacher Ray Grantham.
Grantham is a faithful missions supporter. He supported
calling a missions pastor instead of an associate pastor because he wanted to
see the church focus turn more outward.
He always encourages others to go and serve in missions, but
in his 19 years at Old Town,
never really thought about going himself. “I was a great missionary spectator,”
he said. “I was comfortable that I was doing my fair share.”
In helping the church prepare for this people group
engagement process, the church staff encouraged small groups to read David
“You shouldn’t read it … but you should,” Grantham said.
It’s a book that asks the hard questions and makes readers
seriously evaluate life’s priorities.
The book talks about not just raising money and encouraging
others to go so we don’t have to — which Grantham said hit close to home.
Grantham is excited about Old
Town adopting a people group
because it’s an opportunity for the entire church body to participate in one
way or another.
This year Grantham will join the Southeast Asia
team for his first ever mission trip.
This year, beginning next month, this lawyer is committing
to take time off from the law firm every Friday so he can be involved in
missions in the community.
“I’m going to put my stake in the ground in 2011 and just go
do it,” Grantham said. “We’re called to make ourselves available.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the second article in a series
following Old Town Baptist’s journey in adopting a people group. Visit imb.org
to learn more about people groups that need to hear the gospel.)