Reaching the ‘Unreached’ Through Refugee Camps
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 happening there and to plan for future team trips.
“Europe is in a critical moment right now because of refugees flooding in from the Middle East and northern Africa,” says 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, some could even represent the last people groups to reach, and 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 SC Baptists to work among unreached people groups. “It is very difficult to send workers to some home countries, because of ongoing conflict and instability. Now, we are seeing the movement of peoples as a way for the unreached to hear the gospel and experience God’s love,” he says.
An estimated 65 million people worldwide have been made to flee their homeland. McAlister’s team worked in a camp on one of the Grecian islands built for 2,000 refugees, but housed 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 had many 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 this ongoing refugee work, McAlister hopes to engage trained Disaster Relief (DR) volunteers in future teams. “There are some construction needs in refugee camps, community centers, and laundry facilities being built there. We made lists of the skills needed for future volunteer teams,” he says.
Dwight Herring, member of Temple Baptist Church in Ninety Six, participated in the October trip. He brings a unique perspective to incorporating DR skills, as he’s a member of the SC DR task force, chairman of the Lakeland Baptist Association’s DR 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,” says 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 an ‘adopted’ 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. They take the Great Commission seriously, and want others to join them to work among the unreached,” Rice says.
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 says.
“We anticipate sending teams to Greece in April and September 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,” Rice says.
For more information about future convention missions opportunities, including 2018 trips aiding refugees in Europe, visit www.scbaptist.org/missions-mobilization or call the Missions Mobilization Team at 803.227.6064.