Month: September 2009

Port Arthur couple says missionary thinking needed as world settles in Lone Star state

PORT ARTHUR?Brent and Savannah Sorrels moved to Texas in 2005 to work with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention as strategy coordinators in Port Arthur. Having served as IMB missionaries in Costa Rica, the Sorrels expected to put their Spanish language skills to use with the area’s growing Hispanic population. But as they prayer-walked through area neighborhoods, the couple discovered large communities of unreached Vietnamese immigrants in Port Arthur.

“When we first came we tried to reach everyone,” Brent Sorrels said. “We had big maps of the city blocked off. But we kept running into Vietnamese, and it seemed no one was doing anything to reach them.”


There are 5,000 Vietnamese immigrants in Port Arthur, a city totaling 60,000. “We are not big, but we have a lot of diversity,” Sorrels said, noting that among the 5,000 Vietnamese, about 60-65 percent are Catholic and the remainder are Buddhist. Many practice ancestor worship in addition to their official religion.

“We are still learning about them, but I found that Buddhists are more open to studying the Bible than Catholics,” Sorrels said. “Somewhere in the family history they stopped being Buddhists and became Catholic. They feel like they’ve gone as far as they need to, like they’ve made all the conversion in their family history that is necessary. They are much less open to studying the Bible even if they don’t know the Bible or don’t read it.”

While only 10 percent of the worldwide Vietnamese population is Catholic, Sorrels attributed Port Arthur’s high percentage to several factors.

“A lot of these folks were from the same part of South Vietnam?a heavily Catholic part of Vietnam,” he said. “Another factor is Catholic charities helped settle the Vietnamese here.”

Key to the work of a people group missionary is intimate knowledge of the different subgroups comprising a people group. Blanket missions strategies to one people group often fail. The Catholic/Buddhist divide among the Port Arthur Vietnamese is an example.

“We worked on a translation project to have some Bible studies designed for Catholics,” Sorrels said, noting a partner church in Houston translated the studies into Vietnamese. The studies worked well in reaching Catholics, he said.

“You can assume a lot of things with Catholics regarding the Trinity, sin, and who Jesus was and what he did?coming, living, and dying and paying for sin?that helps us as a common point that we don’t share with our Buddhist friends. We tried to use the same Bible studies with the Buddhists but it wasn’t getting past their worldview issues at all?we were assuming too much.”

“So we are currently using Bible stories, beginning in Genesis, and assuming our folks are literate. And in doing so, we have them read the Scriptures together and then have them ask questions,” he said. “We are teaching them the Bible, but we are also teaching them to obey the Bible and what changes should appear in your life as a result. And we are asking them to share their faith at the end of each lesson.”

Currently, Sorrels leads four storying groups with 16 attendees. The groups are facilitated with the help of a few local men, two of whom Sorrels hopes will become leaders for a movement among the Vietnamese. A new study in English recently began for second-generation Vietnamese. During the summer Sorrels utilizes two Vietnamese-speaking interns conducting English classes

The group recently baptized its first disciple, who was kicked out of her home as a result of her decision. But Sorrels has hopes for more baptisms soon.

“We have a 17-year-old atheist who accepted Christ in the last week or so,” he said. “And my hope is we’ll have a few more accept Christ by the end of summ

SBTC-NAMB border project begun in Laredo; church planter says ‘God already at work’

LAREDO?Five weeks into his task in Laredo, Chuy Avila?a church-planting strategist sponsored by the SBTC and NAMB?didn’t characterize his ministry as difficult.

“I think it will be easy because I can feel the Lord’s hands around Laredo,” Avila said. “Not because I’m here, but because the people here are open and friendly and willing to hear the gospel. I can feel the Lord is working in their lives and families and in the city.”

Avila has spent more than 17 years in such ministry, having served as a church-planting strategist for Hispanic work at the Tennessee Baptist Convention for the last decade. He has prior experience with Midland Baptist Association and served on NAMB’s Hispanic Task Force.

Avila’s work in Laredo, whose populace is 95 percent Hispanic, is part of an SBTC/NAMB joint venture called Project Borderlands Reach, the purpose of which is to systematically saturate Laredo as one of many under-evangelized and under-churched borderlands regions with the gospel. The three-year strategy includes an evangelistic ministry focus on planting multiple healthy churches that will replicate themselves.

Having researched local demographics, Avila said the city of about a quarter-million people are segmented linguistically as follows: 20 percent of first-generation Hispanics speaks Spanish only, 60 percent represent the second generation which is bi-lingual, and the remaining 20 percent are the English-only third generation.

Avila said the Spanish-language churches aren’t reaching the second and third generations as well as the first. Add to that the average age of Baptist pastors in the area?65, according to Avila?and the mission field is indeed ripe unto harvest, he said.

“There is a gap in the reality of the community and the age of most ministers here.” That troubles Avila because there are multiplied thousands of young families and singles that he meets every day who are walking, jogging and driving around in Laredo, who are not yet reached with the gospel.

“My priority goal is to reach the second and third generations,” he added, saying there is a need to plant churches to help reach them. There are only 13 Baptist churches in Laredo, Avila said. That’s about one evangelical church for every 3,800 people.

“We don’t want to import church planters from other states,” he said. “I need to discover younger people right here who are willing to be discipled and trained, and then mentor them to start churches. This is my biggest need?to raise up younger pastors to reach the younger generations living in Laredo. My prayer is that the Lord will raise them up from our own backyard.”

One of Avila’s strategies includes mission service projects to assist the local school system maintain its facilities. He prays for groups of Baptists to come to Laredo to help paint public school buildings.

“This will help us build a good relationship with school officials, and will help us to start Bible studies in school facilities,” he said. Avila wants to start two bi-lingual churches as soon as possible.

Avila also prays for those who would come to Laredo for prayer-walking, religious surveys, Vacation Bible Schools, and who could help in other strategic ministries.

Recognizing that Southern Baptists in Texas are already supporting such ministry through the Cooperative Program, Avila reflected upon the role CP giving played in his own conversio

Author offers primer on ‘The Diversity Culture’

A new book recently released by Kregel Publications seeks to dispel evangelical fear of contemporary secular culture in America by outlining a biblical strategy for crossing barriers between the two groups and offering the healing hope of the gospel to the lost.

Matthew Raley, senior pastor of the Orland Evangelical Free Church in northern California, is the author of “The Diversity Culture: Creating Conversations of Faith with Buddhist Baristas, Agnostic Students, Aging Hippies, Political Activists, and Everyone in Between.”

In his book, Raley implores believers to follow the biblical example of Christ by stepping out of their “evangelical bubble,” ignoring stereotypes, and creating relationships with individuals who ascribe to the “diversity culture”?the dominant secular worldview in America characterized by “openness toward all beliefs and spiritual traditions.” This rapidly growing American ethic is described as eastern, urban, new age, and liberated.

“Evangelicals have spent decades in a cultural bubble, trying both to communicate with the outside and to make the inside safer,” Raley writes. “For decades they have seen the outside culture is headed for disaster. But the worse the outside culture has become, the more evangelicals have patched their bubble. Rather than interact meaningfully with people, rather than listen in depth to their painful experiences, evangelicals have continued to transmit ever more irrelevant messages from within their hermetically sealed environment.”

Written for ministers and laypeople alike, Raley purposed to write his book as much for healing a hurting world with the gospel as to mobilize the church to action.

“I constantly analyze how to minister to people across the boundaries of politics and status,” the author writes in his introduction to the book. “I have to. If I do not find ways to cross the boundaries, I worry that in twenty years my church won’t exist.”

To help evangelicals understand the rapidly growing secular culture, Raley outlines four barriers between evangelicals and the diversity culture taken directly from the New York Times “Most E-mailed” list of articles from 2006-2008. These barriers include:

?Stories and stereotypes repeated in the media;

?Mixed signals projected by evangelicals and the diversity culture;

?Attitudes of ‘street postmodernism’ employed by the diversity culture;

?Inability of evangelicals to engage the secular world effectively.

Raley also uses the Samaritan-Jewish impasse recorded in the Gospel of John as a paradigm for understanding similar tension between evangelicals and the diversity culture. Each chapter includes a commentary on John 4 and practical guidelines for imitating Christ’s communication methods as a way to heal broken relationships and share the good news.

But the book also offers a theology for healing hostilities with the gospel and four practical guidelines for demonstrating Christ to a skeptical, secular world.

“As long as [the diversity culture thinks] of Christian spirituality in terms of the group they know as evangelicals, they will not follow Christ,” Raley writes. “But if you show them the power of the risen Jesus in your testimony, the freedom you have found through the Scriptures, and the love you have stirred in members of Christ’s family?I think unbelievers will see the gospel for the first time.”

For more information about the book or to read Raley’s blog, visit

Houston Missionary: ‘We are living on a mission field’

HOUSTON?No other city in Texas is growing faster than Houston. According to the U.S. census, it added 33,063 residents last year. Noticing the change in his own city, one people group missionary approached SBTC Missions Director Terry Coy about the convention’s people group strategy.

“What really captured my interest in it was one too many mission trips,” the missionary said. “Visiting with our International Mission Board missionaries overseas and seeing strategies they were using, I strongly felt like that was greatly needed in Texas. We are living on a mission field.”

“We have around 120,000-130,000 Hindu people in the greater Houston area with very few churches, missionaries, or organizations that are engaging this overarching people group,” said the missionary, who is not named in this story because of security concerns among his assigned people group. “But inside that large umbrella of Hindu, made up of several people groups, the most open group?the best soil we have found?is with refugees.”

Relocated to major Texas cities by the United Nations, there are more than 500 of this distinct people group in Houston, 500 in Dallas, and 300 in Austin. After concentrating on this ethnic group for two years, the missionary has organized 17 groups that meet to hear Bible stories, called “storying groups.”

The UN has plans to relocate another 5,000 of this people group in the next three years to Houston and Dallas each, and another 3,000 to Austin, the missionary said.

“The only way to keep up with growth is for groups we are starting right now to reproduce,” he added. “There is no way the three of us doing storying can reach that many people.”

The first story groups are beginning to reproduce, the missionary said, calling the new groups the “second generation.”

The missionary explained that the strategy to reach a specific people group starts by meeting needs and making relationships. As new believers are discipled, they learn to disciple others.

“By prayer-walking and networking through agencies that are working with refugees, we were able to discover this pocket of refugees that lived in several apartments,” the missionary explained. “We began prayer-walking those complexes and partnering with refugee agencies to meet needs and build relationships to provide furniture, clothes, picking them up from the airport when they arrive and helping them get settled in apartments.”

We teach them what a thermostat is; most of them had never seen one before. Teach them how to use an oven and a microwave. Teach them how to drive so that they can get a license and a job. We are talking about basic needs, and through meeting those needs that we’ve formed relationships and have found persons of peace”?those friendly toward dialoguing about the faith.

The missionary said persons of peace are found and are invited to hear stories from the Bible.

“For those who are open, we schedule a time to come to their apartment and encourage them to invite friends and families and we do the first story?the creation account,” he said. “And those who are interested, we do 30 stories?one story a week with them?basically explaining the story of God from creation to Christ.”

Because most of them have never heard these stories before, the missionary said their reactions are often extreme.

Study of ‘Seven Faith Tribes’ in America enhances understanding of people groups

As a Christian evangelical, well-known researcher George Barna believes “obedience to Jesus Christ is the ultimate solution to all of humankind’s problems.” And yet, he argues in his new book “The Seven Faith Tribes,” that aggressive evangelization of the nation’s majority “tribe” is not the solution to returning America to greatness.

“Should the masses embrace Jesus as their Savior, the nature of our culture could be radically transformed?but as our past experience has shown, having tens of millions simply accept Christ and then live in ways that do not reflect the values Jesus taught gains us little ground,” he explains.

Instead, he helps readers understand the seven dominant faith tribes of the United States in order to show that many of the answers to America’s problems relate to rebuilding a sense of “shared moral values and community.” Barna believes Christians collaborate with non-Christians in order to solve a variety of societal problems, including an unstable economy, strained global relationships, compromised national security, ineffective public education and the redefinition of marriage.

After making a case that America is on a path to self-destruction, Barna explains how the faith of Americans can be categorized into a series of segments he refers to as the seven tribes. He provides an overview of each faith group, noting the values that unite them, subtitling the report to offer research on “who they are, what they believe and why they matter.”


Not only is the book helpful in understanding how to work with fellow Americans from a variety of faith tribes to achieve common goals, it provides an honest recognition that the largest faith tribe?Casual Christians?may contribute the majority of members within a typical Southern Baptist congregation. Recognizing just how casually they regard their faith is eye-opening.

“As their name implies, casual Christians are rather laid-back about their faith practices,” Barna writes. “Most of them have one or two religious behaviors that they strive to practice consistently,” he says, referring to prayer, church service attendance and Bible reading, but fewer than 18 percent regularly engage in all three.

“Rather than allowing the Christian faith to shape their minds and hearts, they have chosen to fit Christianity within the box they have created for it. The outcome is a warm, fuzzy feeling about their faith of choice because it has been redefined according to their needs.”

Therefore, Casual Christians are not necessarily the group from which to draw support for pursuing a different moral course in America.

“Despite their stated discomfort with the current moral condition and direction of the nation, their proposed solution is for people to adopt greater tolerance,” he explains, noting that they are more likely to emphasize liberty and happiness.


While Casual Christians account for 80 percent of Americans who self-identify as Christians, the second tribe, which Barna calls Captive Christians, accounts for just 16 percent of the total adult population. “Captive Christians do not just talk the game, they walk it,” he explains. He credits them with being the tribe that most closely tries to understand and follow biblical teachings, regarding the Bible as their handbook for life.


The additional chapters addressing the other five tribes are particularly helpful in understanding the beliefs and practices of other faith groups. Barna guides readers to understand the extensive redefinition of Judaism in an American context and its enormous influence despite its small number of adherents. Mormons are the focus of another chapter, representing the only major faith group that was birthed in the