Published January 1, 2009
MARIETTA (BP) — Set against the scuff-marked walls of a church racquetball court, Ken Hemphill paused before dozens of sepia-toned photographs of people from Central Asia. On the floor a candle flickered among hundreds of unlit tea lights.
“This represents the lost of Central Asia,” said Hemphill, the Southern Baptist Convention’s national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Grove, in leading a tour of the displays filling the rooms of Eastside Baptist Church.
Pastors, lay leaders, and businessmen from as far away as Kansas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Louisiana, Virginia, and South Carolina were among 500 people who gathered for a Central Asia Summit to learn how they could help impact the least gospel-reached area of the world. International Mission Board field personnel, SBC President Johnny Hunt, and Hemphill also were on hand for the Nov. 12-14 conference in Marietta.
Attendees learned how to better focus their time, efforts, and talents on Central Asia through prayer, stronger partnerships with churches, and through strategies by which businessmen can take their expertise overseas.
“What the people of Central Asia need is a marriage of businessmen who are totally devoted to economic growth and church planters who are totally devoted to starting and sustaining new work,” a former IMB worker in Central Asia said. “In the past we’ve worked and worked and worked until the work was simply exhausted. Now we want to create a sustaining work, and the key now is to go through the business people who are struggling to stay in business in a very unstable region.”
Conference attendees with business experience learned of the violence and other conditions in Central Asia that have suppressed the economy and of the needs for Christians to commit their skills to a region less than one percent evangelized.
Hemphill, in his presentation at the conference, talked about “providing the resources for the reaching of the nations.”
“We are foolish to believe we can complete the Acts 1:8 imperative without allowing God to use us to provide the resources – both people and finances,” Hemphill said. He noted that the series of Empowering Kingdom Growth studies designed for churches concludes with a 40-day “Making Change” study, which sets forth “biblical principles of money management with stewardship principles to demonstrate how God wants His resources managed with the goal of reaching the nations.”
Women at the conference learned of the oppression women face in Central Asia. While they sipped tea on traditional rugs from the region, they learned from missionaries the cruel realities women face in an area known for impermeable social classes.
Between presentations from Paula Hemphill, women’s mobilization consultant for the IMB, who told the story of one oppressed woman from the servant classes, women gathered in groups to pray for the women of the region.
Attendees experienced a little of life among the nomadic peoples of Central Asia. Yurts, nomadic tents made of wool and wood, punctuated spaces in the family life center. Displays of images from the region filled gymnasium rooms. And a prayer room, where shoeless visitors knelt to intercede, took people on a journey through a region mostly known through National Geographic and movies.
“It’s a rather obscure place,” one regional leader said. “It is not possible to do traditional missionary work in Central Asia,” he added. “The governments of these countries do not grant missionary visas, nor do these societies welcome an overt missionary presence. However, business professionals are welcome just about everywhere. The gospel will penetrate this region of the world only through real business people doing real business, who also happen to be solid followers of Christ who know how to share the Good News and disciple new believers.”
Known as the Silk Road, Central Asia once was important to commercial traders passing from Europe to East Asia with silk, wool, spices, and other goods. And once again the road into the region, especially for the gospel, will be through commerce.
“We need workers who have genuine secular professional or business skills,” the regional leader said, “and who also are spiritually mature believers who know how to make disciples.”
In addition, attendees of the summit learned about sharing their faith with Muslims, how to deal with persecution, how to participate in house church projects, and how to mobilize teams for work in Central Asia.
The prayer room designed for this summit will go on tour throughout churches in North America for one year, bringing awareness and an opportunity for congregations to focus their prayer efforts on needs specific to the region.
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