The world is on the move. Millions of people live far from their homes but are able to stay connected with their family through the use of technology. Because of this, leaders from a number of Southern Baptist agencies, state conventions, local associations and churches believe the time is right for a strategic plan to reach these people on the move.
According to Jeff Palmer, CEO of Baptist Global Response (BGR), there are about 70 million who are displaced in the world today. “This means they can’t go home for some reason. It could be because of a natural disaster, a war, terrorism or even human trafficking,” he said.
Conversations between leaders at the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board and North American Mission Board along with leaders from the Woman’s Missionary Union, BGR, state conventions, local associations and churches led to a gathering on October 31, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky, for a listening session on initiatives to reach displaced people.
The conversations didn’t end there. In fact, they’re stirring a greater desire for collaboration on every level.
“There’s a growing desire among Southern Baptist Convention entities to communicate more and collaborate better when it comes to serving displaced people," said Trent DeLoach, Send Relief coordinator and pastor at Clarkston International Bible Church in Clarkston, Georgia. "We’ve had opportunities at the SBC’s annual meeting to share the stage with other entity leaders and have this conversation,”
“There’s no shortage of great work that’s happening on all of these levels,” said Jeremy Simmons, National Ministry Center director with the North American Mission Board. “I think we’re really working toward communicating the need between each other.”
Leaders with the IMB believe Southern Baptists must recognize they are living in a world where people are connected with people in more than one country; living in one country while maintaining their unique identity from their country of origin.
Terry Sharp, IMB conventions and network relations leader, believes this is an opportunity for a truly global strategy in reaching displaced people. “An exciting thing to me would be to see churches engage with people groups overseas through missionaries, but then also engage those same people who have been displaced and relocated in North America. They can be working with them simultaneously both globally and in North America.”
John Barnett, missions strategist for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, says seeing this opportunity made an impact on him when his family returned to Kentucky after serving overseas with the International Mission Board. “One of the biggest impressions on me when we came back from overseas in 2015 was the internationals who were here. There were refugees in Louisville, Owensboro, Lexington and Bowling Green. We have an opportunity to build pathways here that will connect all the way back to the refugees home country.”
Building the pathway is the challenge, though. While the churches and entities are at work individually, the autonomous structure of Southern Baptist life can prove to be a challenge for collaboration.
Palmer believes, “This is a big enough issue and a big opportunity for the church to be the church in some of the most strategic areas here in the states and across the world. I think there needs to be a voice coming from our convention that would provide a structure for what we’re doing so that our efforts would be unified.”
Sharp echoes the sentiment, “We’re grateful for the Cooperative Program. We want to keep sending missionaries, but we hope Southern Baptists will realize that while we’re going to the nations, God is bringing them to us in the United States.”
Barnett recalls previous strategies to reach those in the “10/40 window. Ten years ago the International Mission Board was talking about engaging people in some of the most difficult places in the world. Now, God is spreading those people out all across the world. This is a wonderful time for the church to care for and to reach those people.”
Conversations aimed at collaboration are continuing as leaders prepare for a second meeting in Atlanta on April 23.
This is the first article in a series of three. The second article will introduce the categories used for displaced people. The final article will share specific ministry taking place to reach displaced people.