Only a few years ago, I thought this was an empty field. Millions of people moving to the United States, often settling in Bible Belt cities, and no real talk whatsoever of local churches (or even mission agencies) taking advantage of this good gift from the Lord. A seemingly impossible mission given to our church to go and make disciples of all nations, and now God has flipped the script. The nations are doing the going, and they are landing in a cul de sac down the street. And yet, a few years ago, it seemed like an empty field.
Certainly, this was partly my lack of perspective. I was largely ignorant to various attempts that were occurring. Several churches, agencies, and key leaders were already at work. But this past week at Reaching the Nations in North America demonstrated the radical growth that is occurring in diaspora missions here in the United States. The movement is spreading, and it is exciting to see all that has occurred in these few years. This was our second year to hold the summit, and for me, it was a chance to celebrate as I heard stories of all that has happened since last year.
RTN as a Growing Movement
Over the two days of the RTN summit, I heard stories of churches engaging in international student ministry in Kentucky, of new people group discovery initiatives in Arkansas, and of a couple who began their work here in the states among Central Asians only to have it take them to Europe. Only a few years ago, I knew of no ongoing strategies to engage people groups in the US with church planting efforts. This past weekend, we spoke of the ongoing work in New York City, Houston, Atlanta, Raleigh, Charlotte, Nashville, Louisville, Detroit, Dallas, Jacksonville, and many others.
Hundreds were in attendance, and as many joined over the livestream. Over two days, we heard from several key leaders on the main stage. We heard from church pastors, missions leaders, and even a seminary president on the urgency of this issue. These keynotes will all be available soon through the Southeastern website as a resource. However, the real meat of the conference was perhaps the breakout sessions. While the main stage provided key leaders to speak back to their own about the importance of traditional churches being involved in this field, the breakouts were practical training. These sessions were led by an array of people from around the world, men and women from a number of cultural backgrounds, and they served as the focus of equipping for the summit. Foreign born refugees, second generation leaders, and experienced practitioners provided a mosaic of offerings for equipping.
God is opening the eyes of his people, working on their hearts, and putting their hands to the plow. Indeed, a movement is occurring within our local churches. It is exciting to see. As one news article noted, RTN gives a voice to this divine opportunity in front of our churches.
The Conversation Continues
Our prayer has always been that these summits would serve as catalysts for ongoing work. To that end, summit attendees were informed that starting this year, we plan to help facilitate ongoing regional meetings throughout the country. Our hope is that this two day summit is not merely another conference, but one connection point in an ongoing conversation. Over the next few months, conference attendees will be contacted by regional facilitators in their city or region to network efforts and connect people to ongoing initiatives. If you were at RTN2017, I encourage you to get involved in these regional networks. Additionally, if you were on the livestream or simply could not make the conference, I am happy to get you connected to one of these groups.
I am ultimately hopeful that God will do a work here in North America among the least reached peoples of the world. As J.D. Payne reminded us this year, we are now home to the third largest collection of unreached people groups in the world. Furthermore, the face of the American church is changing, and we have new opportunities to engage with Christians from a range of cultures in our own cities. May we see these fresh opportunities for new community and mission and thank God for this season in the North American church.
Photo credit: Maria Estes for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.