Team Connects with SC Field Personnel in Sub-Sahara Africa
A team of South Carolina Baptists from three churches spent two weeks in late July with International Mission Board (IMB) field personnel serving in sub-Sahara Africa. The vision trip included making new connections with units originally from the Palmetto state as part of the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s ongoing South Carolina Global Connections strategy.
“The great part about this trip was it gave the team hands-on experience and allowed them to connect with International Mission Board (IMB) personnel from all over the region. Anytime we take a vision trip to a new area, I like to include hands-on experience. This helps the team connect with local people and prepares team members for partnerships that their churches will establish,” said Tim Rice, Missions Mobilization Director with the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
The IMB organizes personnel serving throughout sub-Sahara Africa in clusters of about four to five countries each. Retreat meetings are routinely held for these clusters and include worship experiences for the entire family. The July vision team led a Vacation Bible School for third culture kids, formerly identified as ‘MK’s,’ during the cluster meeting. The latter part of the trip was spent serving in smaller teams that traveled with some of the families back to their areas of service.
The long-term idea is for teams, like this one, to experience serving with workers in the field and explore the opportunity to form an ongoing partnership between South Carolina Baptist churches and those workers. South Carolina Global Connections specifically targets new relationships with units who have South Carolina ties.
Brad Bessent, executive director of the ministry Church Unleashed Global, served as team leader for the trip. A former pastor, Bessent now works with the convention to connect South Carolina Baptist churches in other mission ministries and is active in ministry to African people groups living in South Carolina.
“Our objective at the retreat was to be a blessing to the field personnel by providing this time for their children. The personnel went out of their way to express thanks and said they could not have experienced what they did without our being there to care for their children. We freed them up for training, equipping, renewal, and other things they needed to be effective in their long-term assignment,” Bessent said.
The July vision team included eleven people who were members of Infinity Church in Fountain Inn, Center Church in Hemingway, and Beulah Church in Hopkins. The group formed relationships with five field personnel units that have ties to South Carolina. Because the retreat drew personnel from a variety of places, the team was able to hear different encounters of how God is at work across Africa.
David Dinkins, pastor of Central Church in Hemingway, went with a group from his church on the vision trip and said he was impressed by the field workers and their attitudes in the face of adversity.
“These families suffer in many ways in order to share the gospel. I was impressed as they shared with us about how God brought them through difficult experiences or what they have faced, yet they count it as a privilege to serve Christ in their area. Their testimonies were so positive. They thanked God for allowing them to be there and for being with them as they have faced troubles,” he said.
Bessent was also touched by the 48 units at the cluster retreat and described a poignant commitment time there. “The field workers made their Lottie Moon Offering commitments at the retreat, and all together pledged $33,000. If South Carolina churches responded in kind, that offering would be phenomenal. These were folks giving sacrificially with their time, but also with their meager income,” he said.
The team from Central Church felt called to serve in Africa after hearing about the opportunities in Africa during meetings with Bessent and Rice. With the exception of Dinkins, none from the group had ever traveled so far from home. The missions-minded church is considering a future partnership, and the group was open to working alongside the field personnel as they were needed.
“We went to be with the children, and to help the IMB workers with their strategy planning. We also scheduled our church’s Vacation Bible School to be finished two weeks prior to the trip, so that we would be better prepared to lead theirs,” Dinkins said. Experiences like Vacation Bible Schools are especially important to third culture kids as they are often isolated from each other because of where their families are serving.
For the second half of the trip, the team served in smaller groups. Some worked with the Maasai people which inhabit areas in Kenya and northern Tanzania. Another served with a South Carolina couple in Nairobi, helping to train nationals to reach their own people groups with materials that address sharing the gospel with Muslims. That team also visited two house churches and helped train the members on how to go into their community to share the gospel in their heart language.
Dinkins said he was glad some of his church members were able to see how IMB workers minister and what they do in the field. He said they are excited about what they experienced in Africa, opening dialogue about partnering with one specific couple.
“It’s good for churches to partner with international field personnel, and being in the field with them helps to quicken hearts to missions. These experiences are then reflected in our church, in our budget, and other ministries we do here. Brad’s ministry is actually to unleash the church to do ministry as God calls them to do it,” Dinkins said.
For his part, Bessent’s ongoing work with churches to strategize about the mission field is also strengthened from experiences like this vision trip. He is in the early stages of planning to launch an African church in the Columbia area and is working to identify people of peace already in the community.
“As you read the Bible, you see that God desires to be glorified by all people. There are about 12,000 ethnic groups in our world; 6,000 remain unreached and 3,000 are identified as un-engaged. A huge number of people in our world have no access to the gospel. I believe that Acts 1:8 reflects that we are to engage across the street and around the world simultaneously. I think every church should be involved in every category that Jesus gave in scripture. We have responsibility to reach all,” Bessent said.
For more information about SC Connections, upcoming vision trips and other missions opportunities, contact Rice directly at (803)227.6179 or by email at [email protected]