Monday, October 20, 2014

8 Ways to Redeem That Mission Trip

  1. Reflect – Take time to reflect on your experience, the people you met, the lessons you learned, the insights God granted, and how you are changed as a result. Too much of our lives is spent racing from event to event and we seldom take the time to reflect on what God is teaching us. If you kept a journal, took pictures, or received notes from people related to the trip, spend some time reviewing them. Ask yourself what God taught you about Himself, His Word, His promises, and His people. Notice all the ways that He provided all you needed and protected you and the team. Ask yourself how you can be better prepared for the next mission trip the Lord allows you to take, or how you can better prepare others to go.
  2. Follow up – After reflecting on your trip send a note of thanks and encouragement to those the Lord impresses upon your heart. If someone stands out in your memory as one who helped you along the way, take the time to thank them, letting them know that their “cup of cold water” has not been forgotten, and that you gave thanks for them today. Most importantly, try to recall whether you promised something to someone you met along the way. Team members often tell national believers that they will send an email, friend them on Facebook, or send a copy of a picture, but these promises are quickly forgotten in the excitement of the trip. Sadly, the nationals do not take the promises so lightly. After waiting in vain for the promised follow-up, they wonder what else that the team told them is not true. Take a few minutes and follow up. I remember telling the homeowner of a humble adobe house church in the Peruvian Andes that we would be back the next year. When went back and I knocked on the door, she opened it with a startled look and wonderingly said, “You DID come back!” It makes a difference. Take the time to follow up.
  3. Plan – If you noticed on your trip that a better evangelism or discipleship method is needed, begin research to locate better materials. If your team lacked wisdom culturally or missiologically, seek counsel from someone who knows the area and has experience. Sometimes we see the need for Bibles or devices with recorded audio Scriptures. Planning the next steps will help you get needed items donated or provided way before time to pack for the next trip. If you will need to raise support for your next trip, consider opening a savings account to deposit money over the next months as God provides. Begin casting vision to others who could join your support team. And plan your vacation time to make sure that you will be able to go. 
  4. Pray – Pray that God would continue to teach you through the experience, that He would do the same for the other team members, and that He would bless the national church where you worked. Some say that the best thing about prayer-walking trips is that you can pray on-site with insight. You have that as a result of your trip. Lay it all before the Lord and walk through each day mentioning each place, person, need, and opportunity. Pray for the country, its government, peace for the church, blessing for the members, and for specific needs you learned about while there.
  5. Continue – Don’t stop the fellowship with those you went with if at all possible. It is amazing how God knits hearts together on mission trips. You can feel closer to fellow team members after one week of international travel and ministry than to people you have gone to church with for years. Get together occasionally to pray for the ministry site, to share food made from recipes of that country, to remember the experience, and to plan future ministry. Don’t waste that miracle of fellowship that God has given.
  6. Read – As a result of your new and expanded worldview, you should be reading your Bible and the newspaper with different eyes. Someone said that God cannot lead you based on information you don’t have. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” The missions education you received on that trip should expand and enhance the way you understand the Bible and global events. Let your life’s experiences color your continuing journey Home.
  7. Build – I love having former missionaries in my classrooms. Many times newer students aren’t really sure what they need to learn. Some think they pretty much know it all, or at least all they need to know. Those who have been on the field come to classroom with a keen awareness of what they need to learn. They build on the experiences gained on the field with all the education they can get. Now that you have been to the field, read or re-read missionary biographies and stories related to that area or ministry. Let your mind soak in their lives and imagine yourself walking in their steps. Use your experience in the places where they lived to help you apply to your own life the lessons God taught them.
  8. Recruit – One of the great blessings for missionaries who work with short-term teams is that those returning church members can help them recruit career missionaries, more team members, and both prayer and financial supporters for their ministries. You can be an advocate for the missionaries you met. While they must remain to do the work God called them to do, you can be their boots on the ground back home to promote and recruit.

Being a good steward of the blessings God gives us includes that we reflect on and treasure them. The wise steward will ponder the steps taken on paths he’s traveled and consider how he could have done better, purposing in his heart to learn from all of this and be more prepared the next time. Someone asked me recently whether short-term mission trips were worth the time and expense, and whether they resulted in more good than harm. I responded that the difference depends on pre-trip orientation, good on-field team leadership, and debriefing afterwards. These eight steps are essential parts of the debriefing that can help us redeem the days and make us wise stewards of grace gifts like participation on a mission trips. The resulting wisdom can be invested in future ministry for global good and God’s glory.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ten Reasons Why You Can’t be a Missionary

I travel and speak in a lot of churches, conferences, and countries, preaching and teaching about missions or taking teams on mission trips. I lead orientation for mission agencies and serve on their boards. In the process of all of this I talk to a lot of people who are passionate about missions. Some of them are relatively young and in college, seminary, or ministry, others are middle-aged or nearing retirement. I hear a lot of “reasons” that disappointed people believe exclude them from serving in missions. Here’s a collection of the top-ten most-cited reasons why some say they cannot answer a missionary call, and my usual counsel.

1. I don’t have the training I need to be a missionary.

            Don’t be so sure; it all depends on what you are going to do. If you are going to do evangelism, discipleship, church planting, or theological education, of course you need to get training. You wouldn’t go to be a medical doctor without going to medical school. For certain kinds of ministry, I would agree that it would be wise to pause and obtain the necessary training. But don’t consider your time at seminary to be wasted months or simply treading water. At seminary you are digging a well that you and your hearers will drink from for the rest of your life. However, if your missionary service will be through medical ministry, community development, or using skills and education you already have, a solid church background may serve you well enough, at least to begin. Further training is increasingly available via online programs through some of the best seminaries in the world or at home during your furloughs. Many missionaries are self-taught, constantly reading recommended texts to enhance their preparation for missions service. I am a strong proponent of getting all the education you possibly can, but if the door to the field is open and God is calling, then obey Him and trust Him to provide what you need.

2. I couldn’t raise the kind of support I would need.

            This is sometimes a self-fulfilling prophecy for those wavering and wondering why anyone would want to support their family. The understanding that you are not asking others to pay your bills for you, but rather are giving them the opportunity to join your mission team and participate in the advance of the Gospel provides boldness to share your passion, vision, and call. When others see your zeal and excitement about God’s call on your life it is contagious and they become your greatest prayer supporters, cheerleaders, and are eager participants on your mission team. Remember Hudson Taylor’s axiom, “God’s work done God’s way will never lack for God’s provision.” If missionary service is God’s will for your life, He will provide all you need. Don’t despair when financial support is slow is coming. One mission agency president reminded me, “God is never late. He is seldom early, but He’s never late!”

3. I’ve been divorced.

            Again, it depends on what you are going to do and where you are going to do it. Some cultures have strong opinions against divorced people being involved in ministry. Evangelicals in the Deep South are such a culture. Yet, a number of ministers have found places of service in biblical churches there after they have been divorced and restored, even in ministry. Some missionaries testify that they have had a similar experience. But remember, not everyone is going to plant or pastor churches. Some serving in support ministries or community development find that a divorce before they were believers or after abandonment does not preclude a fruitful ministry as a missionary. Talk to several mission agencies that are working where and how you want to serve before you excuse yourself from service. There is nothing in your past that will keep God from using you as He ordains. David Brainerd was dismissed from Yale and thus unable to get the training and ordination he needed to pastor, yet God used him powerfully among the New England indigenous people, and continues to use his “Life and Diary” to this very day. Some disqualify themselves with guilt over the past, saying, “You don’t know what I’ve done.” I don’t have to; I know what He’s done.

4. I have some medical issues.

            What one person calls a medical issue may be a challenge but not necessarily insurmountable. Perhaps your blood pressure is a bit too high, but is manageable with medicine and regular check-ups, or your cholesterol, or a host of other ailments. Some medical conditions may keep you from serving in a high altitude city such as La Paz or Cusco, but be perfectly fine at sea level in Lima or Buenos Aires, where medical care is as modern as in the USA.

5. I have student loans.

            This is arguably one of the most powerful missionary service dream killers—for us, but not for God. One of my students shared in class a few years ago that he and his wife were called to missions. Unfortunately, they had over $50,000 in student loans that they knew would take them decades to pay off. We prayed that God would make a way, but only half-heartedly as it seemed unrealistic to expect. I never saw him again. The next week when he did not come to class, the other students told me that he had shared his missions vision at a local church. A Christian businessman heard his plight and offered to pay off his loans so he and his wife could go to the field. God has His people in many places and He is able.

6. I’m not a preacher/theologian/church planter.

            Moses gave several excuses in Exodus 3 when God called him; among them was the fact that he was not a good speaker. I have talked to some candidates who confess they are not theologians—and I heartily agree with them! But God calls people to a host of ministries and avenues of service. Some of the more introverted types may translate Bibles, repair missionary airplanes, or serve behind the scenes in some other capacity, but the work of missions would not advance as it does without their crucial work.

7. I can’t learn languages.

            I used to say that (and people who hear me speak may still say that about me). One person who would agree quickly with such an assessment would be my high school German teacher. I was terrible and German grammar just would not sink in, but that was all before I was saved and called to missions. When God called me, He gave me the ability to do what He wanted me to do. I love languages now and try my best to communicate clearly and effectively. I have seen people learn a second or third language in their forties, fifties, and sixties. God enables us to do what He wants us to do. He is more concerned with our availability than our ability.

8. Our children are too old/young.

            As President of Reaching & Teaching International Ministries, I am very concerned about the health and well-being of our missionary kids. I know that their parents are as well. MKs are sometimes overlooked in their parents’ excitement when answering God’s call. A baby in good health is no reason to delay following God’s call to the field; in fact, young children are often effective door openers. Your new neighbors see your family as an equalizer that removes a sense of suspicion or even threat that may otherwise exist. Additionally, almost everyone loves babies. They won’t hesitate to give cultural parenting advice that develops relationships faster than anything else. Older children may be legitimate cause for pause and waiting a few years until they are in college, but a teenaged child does not have to be a deal breaker for missions service. Some teenagers have their own sense of calling and are as eager as the parents. Yet, teenage years are often difficult ones. Teens are going through enough changes without having to deal with moving to another culture, learning a new language, leaving friends, girlfriends or boyfriends, and being the new kid on an uneven playing field. Sometimes the ages of our children are legitimate considerations, but give your older kids some credit. Talk with them about your desire to serve as missionaries before deciding you are disqualified because of them. If they sense that they are the reason that you cannot follow God’s call, this could create false and long-lasting guilt for them.

9. I’m too old.

            We knew a missionary in her 70s who had served in Uganda. She came to visit us in Ecuador to discern God’s will about her next country of service since she was sure He was moving her. She decided on Guyana where she could speak English, but earned my admiration and respect for her selfless zeal at an age when many begin to coast. Former IMB President, Jerry Rankin told the story of a man who answered the call to go to an East Asian country at that government’s request to teach English. His kind Christian demeanor and faithful service opened the door for others to follow in his steps. The interesting part of the story is that he was in his 70s when he first went to serve. Moses was in his 80s when God called him to his life’s greatest work. Ralph Winter said that a man’s most effective years of work are after he has reached his 50s. Indeed, by that age you have learned relational skills they never taught you in college. You can read people and situations and suggest wise solutions or strategies to address problems that only the wisdom of experience would know. Do not stop serving God, or stop following His leading, simply because you have a few decades behind you.

10. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to adjust to the food, dirt, heat, traffic, crime . . .

            The first couple of words in this phrase are really what this reason is all about. In fact, it is more of a fearful excuse than a reason. Very few believers would give the excuse of not wanting to obey God because it is inconvenient, but we will allow fear to paralyze us without feeling any conviction. God has said repeatedly in His Word, “Do not fear . . . be not afraid . . . peace be with you.” I ask people regularly, “When God calls, how will you respond?” You can say No, and you can say Lord, but you cannot say No, Lord! Because when you do, He’s not, you are.  Jesus asked, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) In the flesh, certainly there are many things to fear, and there are many inconveniences outside of your comfort zone, but don’t let fear or the bother make the decision for you. Do not waste your life on you; it’s not yours. You were bought at a price.

Final Thoughts

It is possible that you have a really good reason that is sufficient for not obeying a missionary call; but I doubt it. If you do have a reason for not going, still the zeal of the most passionate “goer” should be seen in you as a “sender.”

If you hear Him calling, just surrender and say, “Here am I, Lord. Send me.” Let Him be the One to say No if a no needs to be said. He may not, and that’s a thought that could move you right around the world.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Theology & the Great Commission

Guest post by Reaching & Teaching staff member, Jon Deedrick 
Is theology necessary to your life as a Christian? Beyond that, is teaching, understanding, and loving theology a vital component of the mission that Christ gave each one of us – to go into all the world and make disciples?
Working toward a definition
At its most basic level, theology is simply defined from its etymology: a study of God. But, in order to answer my question above, we have go deeper than that. If we stop at the etymological definition, we’re in danger of giving an entirely wrong impression of the importance of good theology. You see, God is not a subject to be sterilely analyzed, like some sort of cosmic lab rat. Nor do we study God to learn facts about him, as if life is a big game of theological Jeopardy and the one who knows the most facts wins. No, we study God to know him personally, to love him personally, and to obey him personally.
Because he is the Lord, Creator of heaven and earth and the Redeemer of his people, God is worthy of our highest worship. God’s Word broadcasts his matchless character and mighty deeds, and so our worship must be be informed by the knowledge of God as he has revealed himself to us. We study God in his Word so that we might better glorify him with our lives.
Therefore, a proper definition of theology connects the knowledge of God in the Scripture to its application in our lives. John Frame’s definition of theology is brief, but helpful:
“Theology is the application of Scripture, by persons, to every area of life” (Systematic Theology, Loc 1241 on Kindle)

Frame continues,
Why then do we need theology in addition to Scripture? The only answer, I believe, is ‘because we need to apply Scripture to life’ (Systematic Theology, ibid).

If this is true, any time we study or teach the Scripture in order to apply it, we are doing theology. When we interpret the Bible verse-by-verse, we are doing exegetical theology. When we trace the Biblical story as a history of God’s dealings with us, we are doing biblical theology. When we summarize what the Bible says about a certain subject (i.e. what the Bible says about redemption), we are doing systematic theology. When we carefully seek how to communicate God’s Word, we are doing practical theology. When we study how others throughout the church’s history have understood the Scripture, we are doing historical theology. In other words, whether you realize it or not, each one of us that studies the Bible is doing theology.

Answering the question
Now that we understand what theology is, we’re ready to answer my question. Is teaching, understanding, and loving theology a vital component of the Christian mission?
When King Jesus ascended into heaven, his marching orders for our mission on earth were clear:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  Matt 28:19-20

The Great Commission clearly includes teaching. We cannot fulfill our mission unless we teach in order to develop mature disciples of Jesus. That is why the Apostle Paul speaks of pastoral ministry being aimed at “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). He exhorts pastors to teach sound (healthy) doctrine because healthy doctrine rightly applied produces healthy churches (1 Tim 1:10; 6:3; Tit 1:9; 2:1). The church cannot maximally glorify God without a sturdy grasp and application of sound doctrine. Any time we teach and apply the doctrine of the Scripture, we are doing theology.
Of course, I’ve tipped off the answer to my question several times. “Yes!” Teaching, understanding, and loving theology is an absolutely necessary component of the Christian mission. Yet, we must embrace what theology actually is. It is not a study of God in the abstract. It is the application of the Bible to every area of our life. That is why theology is vitally, eternally important.
So friend, let’s go into all the world and preach the gospel. Let’s boldly announce that Jesus Christ is the King who has died to pay sin’s price and rose to conquer sin’s curse. Let’s urge sinners to repent of their rebellion and invite them to trust in Christ. But let’s also be about the business of teaching, understanding, and loving theology in order to make mature disciples of Jesus Christ.
If you find yourself neglecting theology, you might soon find yourself neglecting your mission from the King. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Report from Panama

Guest Post by Reaching & Teaching staff member, Jason Wright:

“If the Bible truly is the word of God, then we need to seek to understand and interpret it rightly.”

This was the premise that guided our week of training in Panama early in August. About 45 students, split between a morning class in the small town of Capira, and an evening class just a short walk from the Panama Canal, gathered to learn solid principles for interpreting the Bible.

The makeup of these classes varies from pastors serving or desiring to serve in remote places, to faithful women seeking to share Christ in their neighborhoods, to young professionals who want to learn how to study the Bible faithfully. One man, who attended the morning class in Capira, has only been a believer for two months. Yet, here he was, learning to interpret Scripture faithfully and apply it rightly. I was struck by the consideration that if every new believer learned these principles, how healthy our churches would be!

We began each day by teaching biblical interpretive principles and why they are important. However, from the beginning, we reminded the participants that we were there for more than just teaching head knowledge. We wanted them to practice what they were learning and by applying it we prayed their hearts would be drawn closer to God. Each day we assigned the class a text from the Bible and asked them to apply the principles we were teaching. This was truly encouraging to witness! Here were Christians from various backgrounds and education levels studying the Scriptures deeply and seeking to understand them rightly. There were times when this was a struggle. But, as their understanding grew, you could sense a renewed passion to study and apply the Scriptures.

In addition to biblical interpretation, one of our teaching team members, Andres, taught on the spiritual discipline of evangelism, specifically the biblical motivation for evangelism and some practical things to consider. Here again our goal was not just to give head knowledge about evangelism but to see that knowledge lead to action. On the final day students were able to share stories of opportunities they’d had to share the gospel recently. Praise God for their faithfulness!

Panama is a country made up of various indigenous tribes. Some of these tribes extend into other countries where those groups remain unreached with the gospel. At least two of these tribes were represented in the training sessions. Our hope is that not only will they take what they are learning back to their own communities, but also that God will use them to take his truth into neighboring countries and into unreached tribes.

We are reminded then, of the vision of Reaching and Teaching Ministries that comes from 2 Timothy 2:2 where Paul writes this to Timothy, “ . . . What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” We pray that God will allow the principles taught this week to be repeated and taught over and over again and that the church in Panama, and beyond, will be strengthened.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Training Pastors in Belize: Lessons from a Missionary

Guest post from Reaching & Teaching staff member, Cohen Ezelle:

I remember when the Lord first started giving me the desire to train pastors and church leaders. I was in my mid twenties, in Bible College, and working in landscaping full-time. Needless to say I would come home physically drained after sweating in the hot sun all day. But school was great and I was enjoying my studies and growing from them. Yet, sitting in my chair at night, doing my homework, I couldn’t help but think about the average bi-vocational pastor in Central or South America who had to work just as hard as I did, but wasn’t receiving any such education as I had the privilege of receiving. It was then that the Lord made clear to me that if someone didn’t take them the training these pastors wouldn’t be trained. They would continue on in their inaccuracies or possibly even their heresies. I knew there must be pastors and church leaders out there who longed to be trained in the Scriptures, but their lack of funds, facilities, or adequate transportation kept them from getting it. I wanted to take it to them . . . badly.

My wife and I had already been on three short-term mission trips to Belize at that point, but our ministry approach was broad and diverse. This zeroing in on teaching and training pastors and church leaders made perfect sense. Healthy shepherds make healthy sheep, which makes healthy churches. Healthy churches make healthier communities and villages, and thus the nation is gradually changed for the glory of God. In this way His Kingdom will come and His will be done. It was so clear and seemed so obviously simple.

After Bible College I had another privilege afforded to me . . . seminary. And what a privilege it was. My focus was clear and I was determined to gather as much Bible knowledge as I could for my own personal holiness and for the good of my future students. It was almost like a Macedonian call was ringing in my head, but it was Belizean of course. “Come to Belize and help us” was the imagined plea from my students I had yet to meet. Yet, it drove me on. I would make theologians out of those Belizeans and they would turn that little country upside down, so I thought.

Years later after language school, more children, and two international moves we finally arrived in Belize as full-time missionaries on July 31st, 2009. I remember almost thinking, “Now, we’ll see some changes in Belize.” What humility. I thought I had the key to fix all of Belize’s problems. And I actually did because I was armed with the powerful gospel of Jesus Christ. But as a new missionary I didn’t realize that there were many unknown obstacles waiting to show themselves over the next 4+ years.

First, there was the obstacle of overcoming the stereotypes that previous missionaries had left behind. Missionaries aren’t perfect and some can even exhibit down right shocking behavior. It takes time to show you’re different from those who’ve erred on one side or the other. Months passed before one gentleman in our church trusted me enough to even have a short conversation with me. Or on the opposite side, one man told me that I wasn’t a Christian and shouldn’t even go to church all because I wouldn’t give him the money for which he incessantly begged.

Second was the obstacle of cultural norms. Where we served in Belize it was common to only receive the information the person wanted you to have, especially if being full transparent would show him to be uneducated or guilty of sin. Understanding how to listen and what questions to ask took time and skill. Most Belizeans really wanted to please us, so we were often told what they thought we wanted to hear. This made it especially difficult to truly diagnose a person’s spiritual health and know where, or what, to begin teaching them.

Third was the obstacle of the lack of literacy. Thankfully, the education system in Belize has improved from what it was many years ago, but the nationals are only required to go through 8th grade. High School must be paid for out of pocket. Therefore, not everyone can go, especially not many of the indigenous Mayan Indians who have managed to find themselves toward the bottom of socioeconomic levels. But the indigenous people made up the bulk of the population where we served in Southern Belize. So as far as averages go, literacy was low.

My original plan of entering the country with Bible guns blazin’ quickly found me shooting blanks. People weren’t lining up to be trained. Finding the ones who really wanted it was hard. Overcoming the misunderstandings about who a missionary really is and what they’re actually supposed to do took time. And learning to teach at their level took great care and finesse. For example, when making the point for a literal six-day interpretation of creation and that dinosaurs must have lived alongside humans, one of my students asked, “What’s a dinosaur?” Granted, this extreme lack of education was not the norm, but it did happen, and taught me that I could not assume anything in my teaching.

My experience of training and later graduating the thirteen students God gave me was more than rewarding. They learned so much and many of them grew beyond my expectations. But it all went much differently then I thought it would years ago sitting in my sweaty work shirt in my chair doing homework. It was a much smaller, harder, and slower work than I originally planned. But, when I flew away from Belize on March 11th, 2014 no longer a full-time missionary, I was confident that I had taught the ones whom the Lord had put on my heart, those who had called in my ear so many years before.

Many people in the world today will not receive the proper Bible training they need in order to be faithful pastors or church leaders unless we take it to them. That’s simply the truth.

Monday, June 23, 2014


I'm writing this while flying from Belém to São Paulo for a few days of meetings with IMB missionaries and Brazilian Baptist leaders after spending two weeks in the Brazilian Amazon with a team of students from Southern Seminary and the College at Southern. We joined International Mission Board missionaries Rob and Jenny Patterson and Clyde and Carol Schulz to assist them with Chronological Bible Storying among the Quilombolas.

The trip was twice as long as most of my trips, required sleeping in a hammock most nights, and carrying everything you will need from village to village. The most challenging part of the trip for me was that Brazil uses Portuguese rather than Spanish, thus rendering my communication skills to understanding only 3-4 of every ten words and a speaking ability of even less. But our IMB missionaries and Brazilian translators were gracious and patient to help us at every turn.

We traveled by plane, car, bus, and boat over hundreds of miles of this vast, green wilderness. We slogged through mud and rain, wearied under the scorching sun and smothering humidity, and fell into our hammocks at the end of long days, but it was a wonderful experience—not simply because of the jungle paradise of monkeys, parrots, macaws, sloths, pink-footed tarantulas, and a thousand shades of
green. Rather, it was a wonderful experience because we saw how God is working among our Brazilian brothers and sisters. We loved meeting Quilombolas and working with them to reach others. We were thankful to see how our IMB missionaries are working among them.

Our SBTS team of seven students and one professor joined IMB missionaries to begin the work of Bible storying in two unreached areas, and helped in another area where storying had already begun. We divided into teams and went to the scattered homes throughout the jungle telling the story of creation and then following up with the story of the fall on subsequent days. We traveled to three different communities for storying, and I had the privilege of preaching the Gospel in a fourth town. Brazilian Baptists welcomed us as family, opened their home for us to sleep at times, to watch the World Cup games (when Brazil was playing!), and graciously prepared meals. Many of those with whom we worked share a passion to reach these Quilombola areas for Christ.

Quilombolas are the descendants of African slaves who escaped from harsh slavery through the centuries. The people group is referred to as Quilombola, but each settlement is a quilombo. When Quilombolas finally received official freedom from slavery, that was about all they received; they did
not receive guarantees of rights or property. They are petitioning now for the legal ownership and rights of their land, and the government has established a process for them to follow. After initially enslaving indigenous people, land-owners began bringing Africans as slaves to Brazil. While many African religions and customs continue among the Quilombolas, a syncretism of Catholicism, indigenous animism, and West African spiritism is most common in these areas.

In the mammoth Brazilian state of Pará, twice the size of Texas, there are almost 500 quilombo communities. IMB missionaries Rob and Jenny are currently working in about twelve of these after four years of efforts. The very name quilombo is virtually synonymous with isolation in Brazil, so much so that many Brazilians believe that Quilombolas are more a part of their history rather than significant numbers of peoples today. Some Quilombolas shared that they feel that they were thrown away and forgotten. However, running throughout Brazil are between 5,000 and 6,000 quilombo communities. The name quilombo is a Bantu word from the West African slaves that means refuge. A quilombo is a city of refuge.

Free men and women were kidnapped from West Africa and brought to the Americas as slaves. Some eventually escaped their harsh conditions, and sought and found refuge in the Amazon region. They not only had to escape and survive, they had to defend their quilombos from attacks and efforts to recapture them--time and time again. Defending themselves was not enough, many of these communities courageously went on raids to deliver more slaves and bring them to freedom in these refuge communities. Anyone who came seeking freedom was welcomed.

Like many people in Central and South America, Quilombolas have mixed Catholicism with West Africa spiritism and the animism of the indigenous peoples among whom they lived and very often married. Sadly, there is no legacy of the deep spiritual traditions of Christian belief expressed through
music. Evangelical Christianity was never proclaimed and embraced among them, and so they never knew a profound belief in Christian truths that holds tenaciously to the hope Christ offers. There is no legacy of Christian stories, powerful preachers, faithful churches, or the powerful inspirational music that epitomizes fervent faith in a rescuing Redeemer.

I am intrigued by the Bantu word that they chose and used for the name of their communities: quilombo, "refuge." I think it was providential. I believe that God will open the eyes of these people whose ancestors sought refuge for centuries, scratched out a living and survived in the wilds of Amazonia, who are still striving today and they will see their spiritual oppression and bondage to Satan, and turn to Jesus Christ as their Deliverer. O may each of these communities become Cities of True Refuge and may they join Jesus to seek and to save that which is lost! Amen.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Introduction to Global Missions

I am pleased to announce the release of a new missions resource, Introduction to Global Missions. I have been teaching missions in the local church, college, and seminary settings in the USA and Latin America for almost thirty years. I have read and taught from some phenomenal books and articles on the biblical basis, theology, history, philosophy, methodology, and practice of missions through the years. However, one of the challenges that professors have is finding books that cover everything they think should be included. I have tried to meet the need for my class’s required reading with a hodgepodge collection of chapters, articles, and books since no one book covered it all. That is not a harsh critique; other books I have written also address niche areas of missions such as the missionary call, missionary strategies and methodologies, and Andean cultures. Therefore you can imagine my joy to be able to address the need for a contemporary textbook for college and seminary students.

I recently joined two of my colleagues, Zane Pratt and Jeff Walters, to write a new textbook that has been published by our friends at B&H Academic. This book covers the discipline of missions for modern readers in a constantly changing world. 

We are excited to announce that this book is the subject of a Southern Seminary Alumni Academy where we will be presenting the book’s teaching and application. I am thrilled to join Zane and Jeff to show how all believers can and should live in obedience to the Great Commission, whether that is across the ocean, across the street, or across the breakfast table. I love helping people find their place in God’s plan for the world. If you are eager to know what God is doing around the world, the current state of evangelical expansion, how you can be involved in short- or long-term missions, or how your church can develop a healthier and better informed missions program, join us! The Alumni Academy is July 31-August 1 and is free for alumni and prospective students. Check it out here.

I hope to see you there! 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Reaching & Teaching in Chazuta, Peru

Guest Post by Jon Deedrick:

During the week of April 21-25, a Reaching & Teaching team trained pastors and church leaders in Chazuta, Peru. Chazuta is a small town nestled along the Huallaga River in the heart of Peru. As Dr. Sills has mentioned in previous posts, this location has been called the ‘eyebrow of the jungle.’  On this particular trip, Dr. Sills led a team of five, comprised of four men from Kentucky in “Gringo-Landia” (a classic Sills-ism) and one brother from the Dominican Republic. Besides Dr. Sills, the Kentuckians were Chris Holmes, Luke Barnhard, and Jon Deedrick. Enrique Crespo joined us from Santo Domingo, D.R., and along with Dr. Sills, helped translate for us gringos. It was an honor to minister with these brothers! Their teaching was effective, their joy infectious, and their love for God evident. Since this was the third of nine training modules in Chazuta, we taught systematic theology throughout the week. We also had the opportunity to preach in the evening to women, men, and youth on separate nights. The Lord seemed to be at work among us, and we pray that our ministry in Peru will bear lasting spiritual fruit.

Chazuta sits in a uniquely beautiful part of the world. It’s a tropical, mountain-jungle setting. Green mountain peaks form the backdrop for the town, and the Huallaga winds its way through the jungle at the edge of the Amazon basin. Lush, colorful scenery is available at every turn – flora produced by the river and the ample rainfall in that region. In fact, it rained every day that we were there! Even though there were chunks of the day that were bright and sunny, at some point the rain would move in. This constant moisture turned the town’s roads and walkways into a muddy bog. Yet, as Dr. Sills reminded us, the conditions gave us better understanding of the “rhythm of life” in that part of the world. When the clouds parted, the sun would bake intensely, and combined with the thick humidity, it created quite a ‘basting’ experience. However, I never heard any of the team members complain, and I truly believe that each one of us enjoyed living for a week in that beautiful, sunny, and wet part of our Father’s world.

All of the training modules in Chazuta are held at the Iglesia Evangelica Central de Chazuta. The pastor there is Jairo Sangama, a man with a gregarious personality and a voice built for preaching or radio…or both! Pastor Jairo has a radio ministry in which he broadcasts Christian programming in several languages throughout the jungle. All of us grew to admire Jairo’s character and dedication, as he rises at 3:30 AM each morning in order to conduct the broadcast. It seems that Jairo is clearly the indigenous evangelical leader of that part of the Peruvian jungle. In addition to the Reaching & Teaching modules, Jairo hosts other regular pastoral training sessions at the church. He also leads services for churches from several villages that gather at a central location in the jungle. On our last night in Chazuta, I asked Jairo how we could pray for him. He said that his greatest desire is that the Lord would continue to unify and strengthen his church so that they can be more effective in their evangelism and discipleship efforts throughout the jungle. According to Jairo, God is doing quite a work in that region! The gospel is bringing peace and harmony to tribes that have hated each other for generations. Jairo’s vision for his ministry is large, and it was a privilege to plug into that vision for a week and be a part of what God is doing in Chazuta.

The pastors who attended the training module came from both near and far. Some were pastors near Chazuta, while others traveled up to five days by boat just to sit under God’s Word for a week. Their evident hunger to learn the Scripture was at the same time both invigorating and convicting. It was easy to get up in the morning to teach these men, while at the same time I often asked myself if I am as passionate as they to know God and his Word. As Enrique mentioned to me, we may have learned more from these men than they did from us. We in the modern West have a glut of biblical and theological resources that these men simply do not have. I wish you could have been there to see certain pastors beaming with a sense of accomplishment when they were presented a Holman Bible Dictionary for their attendance of all three training modules. Whereas resources like this are a point and click away for us, they are a luxury to these men. I praise God for their deep desire to learn God’s Word and to grow in their ability to communicate it. 

It also became evident throughout the week that the type of training that we are doing at Reaching & Teaching fills a great need in the lives of the pastors and the churches that they shepherd. While the biblical knowledge of the participants varied, certain aspects of what we taught seemed entirely new to them. Also, the majority of the questions they asked us were based on pastoral predicaments that they are facing in the life of their church. Not only does a right understanding of the truth provide the solution to these pastoral situations, it also would have prevented many of them in the first place. I had a profound sense of privilege and joy to watch these men ‘connect biblical dots’ and start to piece together aspects of the Scripture that had previously eluded them. Pray with us that the things we taught would stick for years to come!

I praise God for the opportunity that we had to minister in Chazuta, Peru. This was my first Reaching & Teaching trip, but I do not expect it to be my last. Pray with us that the training attendees will continue to faithfully preach the gospel and equip the saints for the work of ministry in the jungle region of Peru. Consider, also, joining a trip this summer. There are still some slots open and need for teachers. Don't miss the opportunity to meet some incredibly faithful servants and be used by God to deepen their knowledge of Him!

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Reaching & Teaching in Altamira, Brazil with the IMB

Guest post by team member Eric Sams:

This April God blessed our team with an opportunity to train pastors and leaders in Brazil. Supply and demand is a concept that drives the business industry, and this is true also for missions and theological education. In Brazil, there is a concentration of supply that is geographically distant from the demand. Between April 1-8, we saw this gap close in Altamira, Brazil.

I am thankful to share about God’s grace during this trip. A group of three men from the US, Matthew Gilpin, Bobby Braswell, and myself, traveled to Northern Brazil. Upon arrival, we found a growing metropolis that had grown up after a hydroelectric dam was built. Our task was to lead the first of nine one-week trips to this area to train local leaders. Our team had the honor of covering the topics of Leadership and Pastoral Ministry, the Personal Spiritual Discipline of Bible intake, and a Survey of the Old Testament. The following eight trips will cover the rest of the theological encyclopedia along with other valuable topics for godly leadership.

Travel to and from Altamira, Brazil required around 24 hours each way. We were joined by career missionaries who shared our passion for this ministry. The work remaining in Brazil is vast and multifaceted. The country is comparable in size to the continental United States. However, many portions of the country require days of travel to arrive at your destination. In these remote locations, unreached people groups (UPGs) abound. The people our team found were such an encouragement to us.

Our contacts were a combination of the local Baptist association and the Baptist seminary, which is located several hours away in Belém. The association’s relationship with the local churches and leaders was impressive. Representatives from the IMB were present, giving assistance in translation and identifying opportunities to reach the nearby indigenous peoples.

God demonstrated His goodness on this trip. We met many brothers and sisters who are hungry for the Word of God and are seeking to reach their communities for Christ. Altamira has grown from less than 10,000 in population to nearly 100,000 in a few short years. This growth has brought opportunities for outreach. The churches desire a strong foundation in order to reach this increasing population. The cooperation of four entities made this trip happen: Reaching and Teaching International Ministries, The International Mission Board of the SBC, the Equatorial Baptist Theological Seminary in Belem, Brazil, and the Altamira Baptist Association.

The local association provided good training facilities and invited the church leaders to attend. The relationship between the association and the churches was an encouragement to witness. The President of the association was a kind brother who demonstrated the love of God time and time again. The facilities composed of rows of wooden desks in an air conditioned room with tile floors. The A/C was a treat in the rain forest-like weather of Altamira’s rainy season.

The daily schedule was composed of four training sessions. Two typically fell in the morning while the other two were in the evening. Each session was followed by a time of questions. Matt Gilpin from Millen Baptist Church in Millen, GA opened the morning sessions with teaching about Leadership and Pastoral Ministry. He covered the characteristics of a pastor and the calling of a pastor. The students responded well with good discussion after each session, which was an encouraging sign that they were listening.

Bobby Braswell of the Middle Baptist Association in Georgia finished up the evening sessions covering the Personal Spiritual Discipline of Bible Intake. This focused on the theology and practical skills behind the daily study of the Bible. Bobby brought a good punctuation to each day by looking at the goodness of Scripture and how to ingest it. In between these two sessions were two sessions on the Old Testament Survey. These sessions covered the text and themes of Scripture from Genesis to Malachi. I taught most of the books, but I was assisted by two IMB Hands On missionaries, Austin Blansett and Jensen Woodie. These men are giving a semester to international missions in Brazil, and they helped out greatly. I am thankful for these four men for the time and teaching they devoted.

One struggle with short-term trips is that time is a limited resource. But God was gracious to us, giving stamina not only for the teachers but also the students and translators. IMB missionary Mark Johnson and another IMB family, joined us in Altamira. Mark and Jonathan translated the teaching with passion. God blessed these men greatly and blessed us all through them. The pastors and leaders in attendance were sweet brothers and sisters in Christ. With only four days of teaching, we had to pack a lot into the time we had. The students responded with even greater hunger. Long days of teaching were welcomed with eagerness. The attendees' questions following the teaching sessions were thoughtful and demonstrated a digestion of the material.

God blessed our team through the study of His Word and its application, the building of relationships with a great group of Christian brothers and sisters, and the hope of future work that will come. Our prayers are:

  • for the IMB family who is praying about moving to Altamira, Brazil to be better located for ministry among their people group
  • for the growth of these Brazilian leaders in knowledge and discernment
  • for reaching the people of Altamira and the surrounding peoples for Christ

I am thankful for the ministry of Reaching and Teaching and the opportunity to serve with great brothers and sisters in Christ. I look forward to hearing of the continued work that will come from future trips as the Lord allows.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Reaching & Teaching in Panama

Guest post by Reaching & Teaching missionary, Cody Whittaker:

“A special people called out by God, living under His covenant of grace, being preserved, protected, and redeemed by Him and for the glory of His name...this is what the history of the church is all about.”  This was a repeated statement of mine throughout the week of teaching.  The training session for the week was on Church History.  We began with a focus on the sovereignty of God so that the Panamanian people could clearly see throughout the week that they are part of God's redemptive history...a story that is still unfolding today that portrays the grace and glory of God.  Our week was met with much enthusiasm as the people compared some of the events of church history with the events of their own lives and churches.  It was a humbling time for all of us to see that God has always used an imperfect people to accomplish His glorious and perfect will.  Our desire for the week was not just to communicate facts and knowledge, but rather to connect God's people of Panama with all of God's people who have gone before them who have been used by Him to unfold His plan of salvation and redemption.  I am thankful for God's grace that enabled us to accomplish that goal.

The special part about the week was seeing that these Gospel truths that were shared were not only reaching other latinos, but also reaching some indigenous people groups that were represented at the training . . . indigenous groups like the Embera who don't even yet have all the Scriptures in their own language.  To see some of these indigenous people with their Bibles open and rigorously taking notes all throughout the week was quite a highlight.  To know that what we were imparting to them through Reaching and Teaching will be used by God to be taken back to reach their own tribes with the saving message of the Gospel is something that brings overwhelming joy.

The team consisted of three of us from Reaching & Teaching.  Since we were teaching at two different locations each day, our time was extremely busy and the workload was quite heavy. But God's grace was sufficient and we are thankful to have been used by Him to share with the two different groups.  The close of each session involved a time of Q&A which truthfully could have opened up doors for more hours of teaching if there had been time.  There were many questions, but all of their questions showed that they were understanding what we were teaching them as well as showed us a hunger that they have to truly learn.

We are also thankful to Kenny Morris, the IMB missionary in Panama who organized and hosted us for the week.  It was great to hear how the Lord is using him to reach the indigenous people of Panama.  Each morning in the rural setting, he would have one of the indigenous people whom he has been working with stand up and share a story from the Bible. He has been teaching Bible Storying to them since many of the indigenous peoples are not literate.  So, each morning, somebody would start our session by sharing a specific story from the Bible.  Again, what a joy to know that the mighty works of our great God and Savior are being communicated even in story form for those who will never be able to read the Scriptures themselves.

It was such a blessing to teach along side of Trey and Mike, of whom both are excellent teachers.  I myself learned a lot from listening in on their sessions.  Although, I don't think they can say the same for me however since I was teaching in Spanish!

This was my first trip with Reaching and Teaching, but certainly will not be my last since I am a missionary with Reaching and Teaching.  I am so excited for the continued opportunities that the Lord is giving Reaching and Teaching in so many parts of Latin America to help train and equip local pastors and leaders so that they can be more effective in reaching their own people.  It is a humble privilege for me to serve with such a great mission family.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Fifteen and the Fifteen

Fifteen trip members from the USA joined me for a week in Tambo, Ecuador where we taught Highland Quichua pastors and leaders from fifteen different communities in five different Ecuadorian provinces missions, evangelism, church planting, and discipleship. This was one of our most fruitful Reaching & Teaching trips yet. During our sessions on church planting, students committed to reach out to unchurched communities in their areas to evangelize and plant churches. The twenty students in our classes completed the sixth of nine one-week modules. This was by far the most immediately applicable of our classes. Pray for these twenty brothers who are already asking for future training institutes in their home areas. We committed to helping them take the training they are receiving to their areas rather than us being the teachers. This idea was met with humbled silence, but then rejoicing when they realized that we would help them to do it. Indeed, the next intensive module will be Homiletics, which will teach them to preach biblically faithful sermons in culturally appropriate ways. Part of that week’s instruction will include them practice preaching and instructing each other through helpful critiques.
Subsequent weeks will require them to practice teach for more hands-on instruction as we continue to teach teachers to teach future teachers. 2 Timothy 2:2

We also had several from the team building tables and bunk beds for the training center.  Team members also painted the dining room and two dormitory areas. The new tables were put to use in the dining hall before the week was even finished. The training center is really coming together as we put on the finishing touches. A young married couple from Kentucky will be living in the center over the summer. These school teachers will be spending their summer helping Reaching & Teaching in local ministries and surveying surrounding areas. We need this information to enable us to reach and teach the unreached unengaged communities through evangelism and planting doctrinally sound New Testament churches.

God opened the door for us to reach out to an unreached unengaged community that has always been Gospel-hostile. We began building bridges there on previous trips but had our most hopeful interaction there on this last trip as Reaching & Teaching board member and Medical Director, Dr. Jeff Love,
along with Teach to Transform’s Dr. Tom McKechnie led in our medical ministry in this Andean community. One of our Tambo training center students, Francisco, is seeking to plant a church in this area. He was so thankful for this medical ministry to supplement his work, which he said gives the Gospel credibility and opens hearts to receive an evangelical witness.

Francisco would know the importance of open ears and arms. A drunken crowd beat him with fists and sticks just a few years ago, simply for being an evangelical pastor. Unless you have been the lone witness in a hostile community, you cannot imagine the joy that comes from seeing the smiles of neighbors where sneers once were. Reaching & Teaching is partnering with Teach to Transform since we share the same desire and vision to teach teachers and train trainers in the ministry goals God has given each of us wherever we serve. Rather than have Westerners do everything, we long to see solid Christian leaders ministering to their own people with the best training possible in culturally appropriate ways. 

Since we were blessed with so many teachers on this trip, we added evening classes in two different locations. One location hosted a study of 1 John on Thursday evening and the other was held in a believing home where we divided up the 1 John teaching over four evenings. This home is in a community that is hundreds of years old but not only is it without any evangelical church, it has historically been very hostile to evangelicals. On the last evening, Reaching & Teaching staff member, Ben Stafford, led in the study of 1 John 5 while his wife, Marissa, taught children outside so the adults could focus on the teaching. Afterward, a young 22-year-old lady indicated great interest in the Gospel and I had the opportunity to share with her further and lead her to Christ. As I was emphasizing the
importance of the essential first steps to grow in the Christian life and just about to stress the importance of joining a Bible teaching church and being baptized, I stopped short. My heart hurt as it dawned on me that there is no church for her to join. No church exists in her language, culture, and area of the country. This is inexcusable and we are committed to changing that if the Lord allows.

Pray for our efforts to reach and teach in the areas where there is no church, and to train godly men who can pastor these churches and train future generations to rightly divide the Word of Truth. We have invitations from over 100 areas asking for our ministry in places where we are not able to go without your support. Please pray about giving and going to join us in glorifying Christ among the nations, and share this ministry opportunity with other missions minded believers. God is using your prayers, financial gifts, and participation to enable this ministry. Thank you!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


I returned from Ukraine Sunday night. At least my body returned; my thoughts continue to swirl around all I saw and experienced in the last eight days. My flight out of Chicago was delayed due to snow and I missed my Warsaw connection to Lviv, resulting in being rerouted through Kyiv before continuing on to Lviv. As I walked out of the airport upon finally arriving in Lviv, my host and a ministry partner met me with a look of great relief. They said they were so glad to see me walk through that arrival door. When I wondered why, they pointed to the huge television screen behind me that was broadcasting downtown Kyiv in flames. I knew that the date of my arrival was the deadline for some resolution from the government. Needless to say, the desired decision had not come and the manifestations began, and defined my time in Ukraine. 

I knew very little about the country before I arrived, whether they spoke Russian or Ukrainian, or even whether it was “Ukraine” or “the Ukraine.”  My time in the beautiful city of Lviv was a steep learning curve for me. I loved that place and being there in spite of the turmoil. I learned that all Ukrainians understand Russian, but many Russians do not return the favor. Only about 40% of the languages are in common and the other 60% is a modern-day shibboleth for the two countries. This fact kept me in check from using the little bits of Russian I learned years ago. In fact, one of the restaurants we went to was built with a small door within the door. When you knocked to go in, the smaller door opened and you had to say, “I’m not Russian!” A voice from inside would then say, “Glory to Ukraine!” to which you were to respond, “Glory to Ukraine!” to gain entrance. I think it was more of a gimmick to make a point than truly serious, but that became a symbol to me of my time and all I learned there. I also learned that their preference is to refer to their country without the definite article, as it is a country and not just a territory. Being in the western end of the country, I was in the pro-European area and those around me all day everyday were very much in favor of the EU and on the side of the protestors.

Lviv is beautiful and very much like the center of Vienna, having been designed and built by the same creative minds in the same era. I wished all week long that times were more peaceful so I could have spent more time getting to know it well. Even though the government building in the next block from me, and all the local police stations were all broken into and burned on my first night there, the general population was quite peaceful on the days following. The mayor even came on TV and announced that the remaining police and military in that part of the country were in favor of the people, “so please do not burn any more buildings.”

I was impressed with one thing repeatedly: this was not mob-mentality or ungoverned, rampant, destructive violence as we normally think of in such times of demonstration. The people preferred peace, but wanted to stand for what was right. They saw themselves being sold to powerful forces as they had been years before, and their desire for freedom was stronger than a desire for peace at any cost. Yet even in their very effective show of force, they demonstrated restraint. The night after the police were neutralized, the people organized themselves to patrol the streets, and citizens had to register to be able to participate. There was no looting or increase of opportunistic crime such as we often see in other countries following natural or man-made disasters. After the government’s snipers mercilessly shot down protesters who were trying to retake their positions on the barricades, the rage and growing indignation of the people yielded no ground, and resulted in apparent victory. When the protestors took the presidential compound, instead of destroying the premises in unmitigated rage, they guarded the home and offices. One man wept to see the wealth of the place, but it belonged to the people. It is almost comical that a protestor-turned-guard told a CNN reporter to stay off the grass.

So much happened in my short time there that I feel I must have been there for much longer. Yet in the 24 hours since I left just as much seems to have happened . . .  and much is happening still. These are dangerous and tentative times for Ukraine. Pray for them and for peace. Pray for peace with men, but pray mostly for peace with God. Only then will they know true and lasting peace.