LEWISVILLE—The Great Commission commands believers to “go and make disciples of all nations.” But in many nations that command seems impossible because mission work and Christianity are outlawed.
Lakeland Baptist Church in Lewisville is breaking through those barriers, using conversational English in East Asia to make inroads in places where Christianity is outlawed and mission work is illegal. Ken Abbot, a church leader at Lakeland, is leading teams into schools, building relationships and opening the door to the gospel.
“What we normally consider as ‘mission work’ is not permitted,” Abbot said. “That does not mean that there are not effective and legal ways to share our faith.”
One advantage for Christian workers is that school children are required to learn English in many parts of Asia. “By the time students reach late middle school and high school, their reading and writing skills are fairly good,” Abbot said. But he notes that the students’ conversational skills are poor due to a lack of native English speakers.
That’s where the Lakeland group steps in, working as conversational English teachers in local schools. “Our teams go into public and sometimes private schools to assist them in this area. Our group commits to come back for three consecutive years if we are happy and the school is happy.”
The method is simple.
“We ‘teach’ 3-4 classes each morning for one week,” Abbot said. “In return, we request that we can do daily outings or field trips along with the teachers with whom we have been paired.” The group also requests to have lunch and dinner with the teachers from the English department.
“This gives us a lot of time to meet with and develop friendships with the teachers. Essentially, we are with them every waking moment of every day for one entire week.”
The goal is singular.
“Our purpose in this is to win teachers and administrators to the Lord. We are very intentional in our prayers and train our people how to take advantage of conversations and opportunities that arise during our time together,” Abbot said. He notes that teachers are fascinated with western culture and eager to ask questions.
“While we are very evangelistic and intentional in our efforts to win teachers to Christ, we also recognize that many of our initial trips are relationship and trust building,” Abbot said. “Over the past few years, I have seen several of our people who like to return to certain cities because of relationships they have established.
This makes our return much more meaningful to the teachers. They generally remember all our names.”
In addition to using English as an inroad to the gospel, Abbot also tries to continue to foster relationships with missions personnel and nationals to whom he’s previously ministered.
Lakeland keeps an eye out for International Mission Board personnel while there, but they rarely have an opportunity to work with them, Abbot said. “We are very evangelistic. Our missionaries have to be a bit more discreet due to the nature of their work. We have, however, worked very closely with some.”
One IMB couple was new to the mission field and due to his ongoing relationships in the area, Abbot was able open doors for them.
“The people are very slow to warm up to new people—especially foreigners,” Abbot said. “My recommendation of this couple broke through a lot of barriers that would have taken months to accomplish.”
Abbot also makes it a point to arrive early and stay late while on the field.
“My purpose is to travel back to cities where we have worked in the past and schedule time to meet with believers in the areas.”
On a recent trip, Abbot was booked in meetings from morning until night, making the most of opportunities to share the gospel.
“I met with some pre-med and law students for four hours one afternoon. None were believers. We spoke for about an hour just getting to know one another. I then began asking them what was important to them as young adults. This gave me the opportunity to tell them about what is more important in my life as well.”
The importance of the gospel continues to drive Abbot and the people of Lakeland to reach out to Asia through the English language, promoting not only cultural exchange, but also fulfilling the Great Commission along the way.