The New Orleans church planter had never been so intimidated to share his faith.
As he walked the streets in Asia, he knew the cost of evangelizing in the country he was visiting. It might mean he’d be kicked out of the country. For the man sitting on the bench beside him, looking at John 3:16 on his phone with James Thomas, it could mean imprisonment.
Still, Thomas, planter/pastor at Epic Church, New Orleans — and student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary — knew that the gospel was worth any cost. He continued to share of God’s love for the stranger and the cost Christ paid for salvation.
Suddenly, a man on a motorcycle drove past, turned around and came back to the unlikely pair on the sidewalk.
“What are you doing?” the man inquired suspiciously.
Thomas knew better than to push his luck. He greeted the motorcyclist, stood up and walked away. Thomas’s team leader and faculty at the seminary, Chase Gabriel, stood a little way off watching and praying.
Gabriel was thankful to return the favor, because just a few days prior on an airplane, Thomas — along with the whole missions team from NOBTS — had done the same thing for him.
Gabriel spent three years as an International Mission Board worker in Asia before teaching at NOBTS, so he knew the local language. He struck up a conversation with the man beside him who was reading a Quran. As Gabriel shared the gospel, his team noticed and silently bathed the conversation in prayer.
Though he shared the gospel and gave a chance for the man in the middle seat to respond, the man was a Muslim and set in his beliefs. Still, “We know God’s Word never returns void,” Gabriel recounted.
Gabriel and Thomas, along with 11 other students from a World Religions class at New Orleans Seminary’s Leavell College, embarked on this Asian missions trip in early July to experience the missionary task firsthand. Most days, the group was out on the streets doing broad seed sowing evangelism.
Gabriel really wanted his students to grasp that sharing the gospel, at home and on a missions trip, should be a natural part of their everyday lives.
“Your assignment is as you are going, make disciples,” he said. “So, as you are going, whether we’re at the morning breakfast spot, on the trains, taking a break, sitting in a park or at the religious site, your responsibility is to try to share. Have a conversation and be bold about bringing it into a gospel conversation.”
Learning the landscape
Another goal was getting to know the culture better by visiting different temples, mosques and other religious sites. The team also spent time with IMB missionaries in the area. The missionaries shared with the students some of the nuances of the culture, like the differences between the religious landscape of the cities and the more conservative villages.
The team witnessed the religion firsthand, as they looked for a restaurant open on the country’s holy day to eat before hitting the streets to share the gospel. Most of the restaurants and businesses were closed on their holy day.
Connecting with the IMB workers on the trip was a priority, since working together to reach the nations with the IMB is a priority across the campus at NOBTS. In fact, NOBTS’s Global Missions Center is a true partnership between NOBTS and the IMB.
As the team spent time with the IMB missionary family, they not only heard testimony of all God is doing in their ministry, but they spent two days on an island retreat in fellowship. The missionaries shared how the entire group could partner with them in prayer, and how that was a critical way to partner.
Thomas made lasting connections with the missionaries and plans to lead Epic Church into a greater partnership with the IMB in Asia. While on the trip, he didn’t just sit in the church services. In one, Thomas led music, one of his favorite things to do. Gabriel shared that experiences like these are the whole purpose of the trip, so his students can see where they fit in the mission.
Thomas said even though sharing the gospel in a deeply Islamic context was difficult and potentially dangerous, it was emboldening.
The streets of New Orleans look different than this Asian culture, but “the opportunity to share the gospel in that type of scenario made me bolder to come back to America and share the gospel in my context.”
To learn more, go to IMB.org/trips.
*Some names may have been changed for security purposes.