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Texas Baptists engage in partnerships at global meetings in Colombia

December 15th, 2009 at 2:26 pm

BOGOTA, Colombia – The gospel is traveling around the globe like no other time in history, but 6,000 of the 16,000 people groups on earth – more than one-fourth of the world’s population – still remain without a native church.

To increase their involvement in this movement, a handful of Texas Baptists traveled to Colombia to take part in Ethnê, a tri-annual meeting that brings Christian mission organizations and churches from across the world together to testify about God’s movement, discuss methods of spreading the gospel among unreached people groups and rally continued movements of the gospel around the globe.

“We intentionally went to make new connections in parts of the world where we don’t have experience and to foster existing relationships,” said Karen Hatley, Texas Baptists director of global connections. “My hope is that Texas Baptists will be very strategic to choose a region, country or people group to mobilize Texas to reach those groups. The opportunity for Texans to make an impact is phenomenal.”

Ethnê, which is the Greek word Jesus used to describe nations in the sense of tribe, ethnic group or people, is the official unreached people group (UPG) network or intersection for global Christian movements. During the four-day collaboration time at the Ethnê gathering, more than 363 individuals from 52 countries gathered to celebrate global gospel progress among least reached peoples, assess current ministry opportunities and resources and accelerate gospel movement among all peoples of the earth.

Ethnê participants attended daily worship sessions in a variety of languages such as English, Spanish, Arabic, Malay, Swahili, Turkish, Russian, Tagalog and French. Each day, multinational-collaboration strategy groups were held with focuses on prayer, ethno-arts, church planting movements, crisis response, member and pastoral care, information and research, young leaders and missionary training.

The gathering intentionally followed the Ibero-American Missionary Cooperation (COMIBAM) general assembly held during Oct. 28-31, a meeting of the grassroots network of churches and organizations in 24 Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries in Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula.

“They were very natural connections because they both talked about unreached people groups,” said Julio Guarneri, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Getsemani in Fort Worth, as he mentioned the timing of the Ethnê and COMIBAM meetings. “There is a predisposition for partnerships.”

The COMIBAM “network of networks” began in 1987 across denominational lines as Christians in the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world gathered to encourage a commitment, collaboration, mobilization, intercession, guidance and focus to share the gospel with the unreached peoples of the world beginning with those in Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula.

“The focus of the network is to mobilize churches in Ibero-America to be a missionary force to send missionaries to other parts of the world,” Guarneri said. “It is across denominations so there are no large institutions to support and send and train. The missionary sending is done mostly through loose networks.”

Guarneri attended the 2009 meeting as a way to see how Texas Baptists, especially Hispanic Baptists, can learn from the collaboration of resources and ideas to further the gospel and grow strong disciples in the process.

“As a pastor, I wanted to learn how my church, which is predominantly Hispanic, can do a better work in reaching our people,” Guarneri said. “As we look at networks to explore how Hispanics in Texas can be mobilized for global missions, I wanted to see how a successful network is working and to look at the changing landscape of missions globally.”

After attending the two meetings, Guarneri and Hatley agree that Texas Baptists must become aware of the opportunity for cooperation with believers in the Southern hemisphere who are now in the forefront of missions leadership to get the gospel to all unreached peoples.

“We understand the call to the Great Commission and can’t do it alone,” Guarneri said. “When you read Philip Jenkins that the center of Christianity is moving south, you see that COMIBAM is demonstrating that. We need to learn how to network. Our paradigm of denominational office may not always be the most effective way of working, and we need to value cross-denominational cooperation here in our context and globally.”

Because of the rich resources in agriculture, business, education, energy, health care, sports and technology that exist in the state, Texas Baptists have abundant opportunities to form strategic partnerships to work with believers across the world with additional resources, knowledge and direction to share the gospel where it has not been shared before, Hatley said.

“Partnership is about identifying existing organizations that share objectives and synergy,” Guarneri said. “That doesn’t mean you have to share every value or doctrine. Strategic partnerships are relationships that realize there are other resources than financial. The global majority world (formally called third world) may not have lots of money, but it has people, experience and cultural resources.”

To move Texas Baptists to action, Guarneri said believers must become aware of the needs and opportunities to serve, being willing to sacrifice credit for the greater good of spreading the gospel.

“It’s a willingness to live with messiness,” Guarneri said. “These partnerships are based on relationships and that gets messy. Our old hierarchical thinking won’t work anymore. And it will begin with an attitude of realizing you don’t have all the answers.”

Hatley agrees, also stating that pride and position cannot have any place in a partnership but that collaboration to provide comprehensive ministry is needed.

“It doesn’t need to be perceived as a competition but to ask where are the holes and how can we work together to fill those needs,” Hatley said.

Guarneri suggests that partnerships first start in local communities, assessing resources, needs and connections that currently exist in the Christian realm so that the gospel reaches everyone in the area. Then this strategy can be broadened to greater areas of lostness.

“It needs to start locally, but we need to think outside the box,” Guarneri said. “Start where you are for mobilization and begin to connect. From the Texas Baptists perspective, we need to focus energy and resources in mobilizing Hispanics in Texas for missions. Some of the believers through COMIBAM are doing great things with little resources.”

To learn more about Ethnê and COMIBAM, visit www.ethne.net and www.COMIBAM.org. To learn about ways Texas Baptists can be involved with global partnerships, contact Karen Hatley at karen.hatley [at] texasbaptists.org or at 1-800-244-9400.

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