South Carolina Baptists are working toward the statewide vision to “see a day when ‘unreached people groups’ no longer exist in our world.” In October, volunteers from several churches traveled to key locations in Europe to work in the ongoing refugee crisis there and to plan for future trips.
“Europe is in a critical moment right now because of refugees flooding in from the Middle East and northern Africa,” said trip coordinator Robbie McAlister, pastor of Riverbend Community Church in Lexington. “This is a strategic missional moment of our lifetime. These people are coming from closed places. Many are receptive to the gospel because of what they are experiencing.”
According to Tim Rice, missions mobilization team leader with the South Carolina Baptist Convention, the October trip was the first of many being planned to send South Carolina Baptists to work among unreached people groups. “It is very difficult to send workers to some home countries because of ongoing conflict and instability. We are seeing the movement of people as [an opportunity] for the unreached to hear the gospel and experience God’s love,” he said.
An estimated 65 million people worldwide have been forced to flee their homelands. McAlister’s team worked in a Grecian island camp built for 2,000 refugees but housing roughly 6,000 people. There, they encountered Muslims from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Eritrea, Congo and other countries experiencing war, famine and tragedy. The team assisted site coordinators, set up temporary tents, helped individuals, and engaged in conversations as they shared Jesus’ love.
One Iraqi man pulled McAlister aside and whispered, “I, too, am a follower of Jesus. He is everything to me. I spend my days meeting in small groups, sharing Christ with other Muslims.” The man told McAlister he knew of hundreds of secret Jesus-followers, but he was not afraid to share because of “what Jesus did for me on the cross.” McAlister later saw the Iraqi believer under a tree talking with several men who looked interested in what he was telling them.
In addition to the refugee work, McAlister hopes to engage trained disaster relief volunteers in future teams. “There are some construction needs in refugee camps — community centers and laundry facilities being built there,” he said. “We made lists of the skills needed for future volunteer teams.”
Dwight Herring, a member of Temple Baptist Church in Ninety Six, participated in the October trip. He brings a unique perspective to incorporating disaster relief skills, as he’s a member of the South Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief task force, chairman of the Lakeland Baptist Association’s disaster relief team, and is specially trained to set up camps for displaced people groups.
“This trip was different than any other I have been on, as it wasn’t disaster related. I love when God takes me out of my comfort zone; it makes me rely on him even more,” said Herring, adding that the team led two people to Christ.
The team remains in contact with a few individuals they met, including a young Iraqi believer who asked to continue being discipled online. The goal is to plant native language churches as people groups settle.
McAlister says Riverbend Church has always been missional and that its members have been strengthened through missions. In addition to supporting ministries abroad, the church is active with local internationals, including university students, through English-language classes, and by “adopting” a refugee family.
“I admire Robbie and the people from Riverbend Church who are willing to go to difficult places for the sake of the gospel,” said Rice. “They take the Great Commission seriously and want others to join them to work among the unreached.”
For his part, McAlister’s goal is communicating the vision of reaching all people groups. “I also want other Christ-followers to have the opportunity to be exposed to what’s really going on with the refugee crisis,” he said.
Rice said the state convention anticipates sending teams to Greece in April and September of 2018. “Some may go to refugee camps, but everyone can pray for workers to be sent out and for the gospel to spread among the unreached,” he added.
For more information about future convention missions opportunities, including 2018 trips to aid refugees in Europe, visit www.scbaptist.org/missions-mobilization or call the missions mobilization team at 803-227-6064.
— Julia Bell writes for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.