AUSTIN?The landscape and location of international missions is changing, said Texas Southern Baptist leaders speaking at the Acts 1:8 SENT Conference April 21-22 at Great Hills Baptist Church. With a rising immigrant population in urban centers and growing interest in world religions, the international mission field has moved to Texas.
“Missions doesn’t stop when we return home from mission trips. Why do we go into a different mode when we leave the borders of the U.S.?” asked SBTC Director of Missions Robby Partain. “Some of the great1:PersonName w:st=”on”>test opportunities for mission work are here in the state of Texas?in our own backyards.”
Designed to help Texas churches develop a heart and action plan for missions, the Acts 1:8 SENT Conference equips Christians to make missions an everyday part of their life and purpose.
“The conference gives feet to the last words of Christ and practical know-how to Southern Baptists desiring to be Acts 1:8 churches,” said Tiffany Smith, SBTC missions mobilization associate. “The local church can empower their members to grow in practical training to help them minister to others locally, statewide, nationally, and internationally, as the Acts 1:8 Challenge envisions.”
But for some Texas congregations, the Acts 1:8 Challenge?a North American Mission Board endeavor adopted by the SBTC?is migrating closer to home.
“Christianity is growing on every continent except North America,” said Texas pastor and conference speaker Tim Ahlen. “We are living in a lost country. Most of the studies by research organizations will say that at best, we have 33 percent of our nation going to church on a regular basis.”
Faced with this startling statistic, Ahlen and his church, Forest Meadow Baptist, began looking at overseas missions to see if it could be incorporated for ministry at home.
In searching the Great Commission in the Gospels and Acts for clues to ministry for his church, Ahlen found the answer in the Greek word for nation, ethne.
“The word ‘nation’ does not refer to the world’s geopolitical entities or nation states,” said Ahlen, adding that ethne designated language and culture of a particular group of people. “When Jesus said, ‘Go and make disciples,’ he wasn’t talking about Russia or the United States. He was telling us to make disciples of all the people groups?ta ethne. It had nothing to do with locality; it was wherever they were.”
“For years our missiological strategies were designed around nation states, but when you look in the Bible the only time ‘nation’ is used it is ethne. So when we are told to make disciples of all nations, we are being told to make disciples of all people groups. Within any given city you could have any number of different ethne that lived there. For example, in Jerusalem there were all sorts of ethne.”
New demographic and spiritual trends in America make reaching the unreached ethne of the world inside the continental borders of the U.S. easier. During the 19th and 20th centuries, immigrants to the U.S. were mostly European. Their desire to assimilate into American culture resulted in a ‘melting pot’ of cultural identities, Ahlen said.
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