One of the challenges of cross-cultural mission with least reached people groups is the sheer cultural remoteness. A significant reason the least reached are least reached is that they are geographically or culturally hard to reach! Part of the choice to go is to choose a degree of isolation and obscurity. It is a difficult choice to be away from family, from friends, from ministry colleagues, associational networks, from conferences and all kinds of ecclesiastical encouragement. It is easy for cross-cultural missionaries to feel they are toiling away in forgotten corners of the world away from the awareness, partnership and concern of those from which they were sent.
So, this year when the Revive committee made the decision to make the work of Global Interaction South East Asian team the focus of the Revive offering it must be said our NSW/ACT Global Interaction team was excited. We knew what this would mean to our South East Asian team. You see offerings are rarely just offerings. Just as the love offerings collected among the Gentiles churches for the Jerusalem churches (Romans 16:23-29 & 2 Corinthians 8:1-15) were never simply about money but about expressing partnership in the gospel, about belonging to the people of God and acknowledging the work of God; we knew this gift would convey a similar message to our South-East Asia team. Gifts such as this speak of family, of love, of work being seen and valued, and of real partnership. This is specially so when the gift is given in the context of our Baptist family gathering like Revive. We knew that the context in which this gift would be given would be uniquely significant.
Our team in South East Asia work in relative obscurity among two unreached or unseen people groups. They are the SI people who number about 30 million people and according to the Joshua project .04% would call themselves Christian. The statistics among the BI people are even more challenging with only about .001% identifying themselves as followers of Jesus. Our team on the BI island can count the believers they know one hand. (https://joshuaproject.net/) Both groups practice forms of folk Islam, live in situations of profound economic, environmental and social challenge and have limited opportunities for education and employment.
Despite all these obstacles, or perhaps because of them, God has called people from among us to serve as an incarnational presence serving through the vehicle of an Education Foundation. This Foundation seeks to provide educational opportunities to local people from low-socio-economic backgrounds. It provides training focused on upgrading vocational skills in areas such as language acquisition and teaching, practical life skills such as budgeting, computer training, farming, aged care and organisation, to enable individuals and families to wholistically improve their standard of living, benefiting their entire communities.
As our team does all of this training they seek to journey with local people, sharing life together, and sharing the good news of Jesus. As they have persevered in being a presence there some have come to faith in Jesus. It has been a drip, that has now become a trickle, and we pray that it becomes a stream of people coming to faith in Jesus.
All this has bubbled away on the extremities of our Baptist movement, relatively unknown. Each of the team could speak of the difficulties of their calling, their sense of isolation, separation and disconnection. The going can be tough.
So Revive has come and gone for 2017. The story of the work was shared at the conference and a generous offering was collected. Between the Sydney Revive and the Bathurst Revive and the generosity of Baptist Financial Services over $20 000 was collected. But the best moment had to wait until just last week. Dave the team leader from SEA was in the country for just a few days having a meeting with Andrew Palmer our State director. Andrew had the joy of seeing Dave’s face as he shared with him the story of how as our movement gathered together for a weekend of inspiration and equipping we told the story of their ministry and context. Over the full weekend their ministry was on the big screen, we prayed for them and people gave generously. Dave was humbled at the generous giving, at almost in disbelief that they could feature at a Conference where all our people gather. For him to see that we see, was so significant. To them to be so far away but to communicate so tangibly that they are still part of us was so important. All we can say is thank you!