New initiative teaches students to be leaders in missionsby BSCNC Communications
The Holy Spirit’s presence so overwhelmed Hannah Davidson that she left the meeting and went to pray. On this night, she knew God was calling her to devote her life to full time international missions.
“I felt God was saying, ‘You are a missionary. You have to go. You have to do this,’” she said.
Davidson, a freshman at North Carolina State University, thought she had her life figured out. But that changed when she heard Tom Billings, executive director of Union Baptist Association in Houston, Texas, speak about giving God control.
“I had it all planned out. I wanted to become a teacher, get married and have kids. But Tom said that control is an illusion, and God is the only one in control. That really opened me up. I felt like Tom was talking right to me, ” she said.
Davidson heard from Billings during a recent retreat at Caraway Conference Center in Asheboro, when she joined four other high school and college students for a week of missions leadership training and hands-on missions. The week marked the culmination of year one for students in the inaugural Next Generation Missional Journey (NGMJ) class.
NGMJ, sponsored by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSCNC) Office of Great Commission Partnerships, is a three-year initiative to help raise up passionate mission leaders. In addition to the summer missions experience, students read assigned texts and attend three, one-day training sessions throughout the year when they learn from pastors, missionaries and missions strategists.
As year one of NGMJ is focused on underserved and unreached areas of North Carolina, the students spent two days in training at Caraway and three days serving in North Carolina. They worked alongside BSCNC Asian, Hispanic and African-American church planting consultants to identify people groups, survey people about needs in their community, and share the gospel throughout Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem.
These three cities are included in the Triad metro area, one of the state’s top eight metro areas. About 75 percent of North Carolina’s population lives in one of the eight metro areas.
During the week students met people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, such as Sikhs and Muslims. They had opportunity to share their faith, one day in an Asian market, another day in a mosque.
“I had never even seen a mosque before,” Davidson said. “We were able to witness just by asking different questions.”
Strategy is crucial
NGMJ students are learning how to develop strategies to reach different ethnic groups with the gospel, and how those strategies will vary depending on people and context.
“We usually just have events at our church, or we pass out flyers about one of our events. Churches often think that’s all they have to do to get people to come to church. We don’t try to go to them,” Davidson said.
As students visited neighborhoods and apartment complexes in the Triad, church planters taught them to observe the culture around them and to always be ready when God provides opportunities for spiritual conversations.
Students said they learned they don’t have to take a trip somewhere to engage in missions – God is bringing people from nations all over the world to North Carolina. They also learned that if a church isn’t willing to change and do whatever it takes to reach the people in their community, it will eventually die.
The students shared that their week of hands-on missions in the Triad helped them realize the importance of listening to people, building relationships and moving beyond traditions and prejudices.
“We have to get over ourselves and get out of our comfort zones,” said NGMJ student Rebecca Nivens. “It’s not just a one-time conversation. You have to invest time.”
The students are already working on creating a strategy to reach people in one of the Triad communities they visited. At the end of the three years, they will have developed a strategy to reach an unengaged, unreached people group with the gospel.
“I hope the NGMJ helps her focus and learn how to work with people of other religious beliefs,” said Rebecca’s mother, Jean. “I want her to understand her own beliefs and to be able to explain it and express it in a way that brings others to Christ.”
Investing in the future
Each NGMJ class will spend the first year learning about church planting in North Carolina and their responsibility to help fulfill the Great Commission.
In year two of the journey, students focus on North America and spend three weeks in the summer serving in New York City. In their final year they learn about reaching the ends of the earth and serve in Southeast Asia.
“I pray that by the time these students complete the Next Generation Missional Journey they will have a renewed burden for the lost and a strong biblical missiology that will allow them to help lead their church to engage a people group that has never heard the gospel,” said Michael Sowers, BSCNC senior consultant for Great Commission Partnerships.
Sowers started NGMJ out of burden to help train students to be strategic missions leaders.
“Instead of focusing on the masses, we need to model this after Jesus and focus on a few and really pour into their lives and their missiology,” he said. “We can enhance what a small group can do by investing in them and coming alongside them as they go and serve where God calls them.”
“A lot of people are unwilling to dig in unplanted soil. But if they see a small group dig up the hard ground, work the field, plant the seed and water it, then they can see how God is producing fruit. Then they are able to see that it can be done, that God really can work through them to bring about fruit in peoples’ lives,” Sowers said.
“These students can lead the way. If they are willing to do the hard work, others will see that they can do it, too.”