RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — Going on mission wasn’t new for members of First Baptist Church in Tifton, Ga. They were already partnering with IMB workers in Peru and were committed to reaching the Andean village of Molinos with the Gospel.
Joy and Craig Matthews were on their second trip when they became concerned with the methods they were using to share the plan of salvation. After praying with a family to receive Christ, Joy thought: “Wait a minute. They said this prayer last year.” Many, who they thought had become believers during past visits, did not seem to have a true understanding of faith.
Fellow team member Margaret Treadway added, “We were racking up numbers of people we thought had been saved, but who were just being polite.”
When IMB workers developed an annual education and training event called Missions College, they invited the Tifton mission team to attend. The four days of concentrated learning at a retreat center near Richmond, Va., helped the team understand missiological principles and apply them in thoughtful strategies and methods. They learned that informed methods increase the likelihood that cross-cultural mission teams successfully communicate the Gospel.
At Missions College, the Matthewses, Treadway and their team learned the difference between oral and literate orientations and how people in each group transfer information differently. They learned about other cultures, including rules of hospitality they had encountered in Peru, such as the desire to please a visitor. They became aware that in Molinos, families were accepting the invitation to accept Christ, but only because guests were asking this of them.
The Matthewses eventually became team leaders and used their Missions College education to shape their approach for future work. The Tifton team continues sharing the Gospel every year in Molinos, but now they use their cultural understanding and common interests to connect to the people.
Tifton, Ga., is home to Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. The University of Georgia has diagnostic laboratories for veterinary, soil and crop sciences in the same town. First Baptist Tifton has a large number of members with degrees in agriculture. Tifton and Molinos share a common orientation around crops and livestock.
These commonalities now inform the mission team’s strategy for connecting with people. It is natural for them to strike up conversations about crops. Before long, they are joining in the farm work. As they work and converse side by side with the farmers of Molinos, team members share Bible stories that resonate with aspects of the Andean worldview. In the process of both work and storying, trust rises and relationships form.
Following a more informed approach to witnessing, the Tifton team has recognized better outcomes. The group is sharing the Gospel more effectively because they tell Bible narratives in a style that fits naturally into conversation. Furthermore, the Tifton team members communicate the Gospel in the context of relationship. They take the time to build rapport, and they establish ongoing friendships.
Treadway says, “Our goal is to find the person of peace.” This person is a gateway for relating to the broader community, sowing the Gospel message more widely, and establishing a local group of seekers and believers. Tifton’s members no longer see the Peruvians who accompany them in ministry as merely translators, but as ministry partners. Together, they are building authentic relationships. Team members take time to listen to personal stories and share in their friends’ joys and difficulties. Local partners continue the work when the U.S. team heads home.