Matt Woodard recently participated in a mission trip to South Asia — his first — as part of Temple Baptist Church’s ongoing effort to minister in that part of the world and to better equip pastors who live there to do their work. Matt wrote the following commentary about his experience and provided the accompanying photographs.
What is the Heart of South Asia?
This was my first trip to South Asia. It was actually my first mission trip that extended beyond the borders of Louisiana. So to say that I entered this experience a little “wet behind the ears” would not be an understatement. But then, in another way of looking at the trip, I wasn’t so naïve. You see, when I first heard about Temple’s partnership in South Asia, something hooked me. I couldn’t explain what it was. But I prayed about it and have been praying over Temple’s strategic focus region for nearly two years. I slowly came to realize what “it” was. The Holy Spirit had opened my heart to the people of South Asia. What is the Heart of South Asia? It’s God’s heart (His will). His will is for people from every tribe, tongue, and nation to gather around His throne in Heaven and worship Him (Revelation 7:9-10). When we follow the direction of the Holy Spirit as we submit to Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8, our heart begins to beat in step with God’s heart. Only then do we truly understand the Heart of South Asia.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the sacrifices made by others which allowed me to go on the trip. I could not have gone without the prayers and loving support of my family, my close friends, and of course my church! My parents (Jerry and Marcia) and Garson’s parents (John and Liz) were such a great help by taking some of the burden of handling three children with a combined age of 6! Garson was such an inspiration to me as well. When I told her that I wanted to begin praying about whether I should go on the trip, she didn’t hesitate to pray about it with me. And when I told her that I felt God was calling me to go on the trip, she immediately validated my desire and supported me 100%. Before the trip, we were having a conversation with someone who asked why I had decided to go. I said, “We have South Asian brothers who are trying to reach the lost with the Gospel … they need help.” Garson said, without pause, “Someone has to help them.” I am thankful for a wife who knows and understands Romans 10:14!
I’d like to share with you just a few of my recollections from the trip. Nothing that anyone tells you can prepare you for the differences in culture between the US and South Asia. As soon as we landed, I realized that there is no concept of “personal space” in South Asia. People walk where they want and they are not afraid of walking right up to you and listening in on your conversation. That took some adjustment! Second, you must be flexible! The principle of punctuality is not prized there. 9:30 might mean 9:15, or it might also mean 10:00. Furthermore, you might have a set of plans and have everything lined out only to learn that you will be doing something completely different. Flexibility is a must! Last, and then I’ll get to the mission there, the roads and travel in South Asia are … exciting! In a one-mile stretch of road, you might see the following modes of transportation: Car, Rickshaw, Auto-rickshaw, Tractor, Cargo Truck, Bus, Bicycle, Motorcycle, Horse and Buggy, or the good, old-fashioned two feet. Traffic “lanes” are a suggestion as people weave and travel where they please; and people honking horns are the rule, rather than the exception. I had a blast just being in the middle of it!
The Mission. What is God doing in the Heart of South Asia? How can we partner in His movement there? You will recall that Temple connected with some Southern Baptist Christian workers in South Asia who plugged us in to our strategic focus region. There are over 70 million people in this state. 0.3% of them are Christian. If that weren’t enough reason for us (for you) to get involved, there are 685 known people groups and the overwhelming majority of them have NO known Christian population. These people groups are not only unreached, but are unengaged. No one is known to be working among these people! Every day, people there are dying without a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ!
How do we participate in spreading the Gospel? There are many ways we could approach it. We might have an outreach; and in doing so, we might reach a few people with the Gospel. But what happens after we leave? Where do people go for their spiritual needs to be met? They need a church! For us to reach these groups, the best way is to plant churches that will plant other churches that will plant other churches. We could try to plant churches on our own, but we don’t fully know the culture. Our best hope to reach the most people with the Gospel is to train up local leaders who will plant healthy churches. In these churches, disciples will be nurtured. From these churches, disciples will lead out and plant other churches. The Gospel will expand exponentially!
During this past trip, we participated in training existing South Asian pastors who are actively planting or trying to plant churches in our strategic focus region. We presented certain parts of our Southern Baptist partners’ training module to these men who are on the frontier of the Gospel. This training was to help them understand how best to plant churches, how to diagnose existing churches, how to train up leadership in these churches, and how to encourage disciples from these churches to go out and plant new churches to keep the process going!
Going forward, Temple’s involvement will be along the same lines. Working in partnership with our field personnel and their vision for the region, we will take part in helping to further train certain pastors who have shown commitment and dedication to seeing God’s kingdom grow and expand in the Heart of South Asia.
You may ask, “Why me? What can I do? Train pastors? How could I do that? I didn’t go to seminary.” I asked the same questions. Do not worry. If God calls you to go, He will prepare you to go. You will be given material to study before the trip and will be asked to meet regularly with the rest of the team. By the time you depart, if you have committed yourself to the mission, God will prepare your mind. You might also ask, “Why don’t the Southern Baptist personnel just train everyone?” Well, that would be great if we had an unlimited supply of long-term mission teams there … but we don’t! There are about 3-4 families working among 70 million people in an area about the size of New Mexico; furthermore, it takes about 8-10 hours to travel across our strategic focus region. Our partners need help!
One word of encouragement and advice for you: immerse yourself in the Word. In order for the words of God to flow from you into others, the Word must first be in you. This may sound trite. But think of it from the South Asian perspective. These new believers don’t have much in terms of material possessions. When they come to know Jesus, they take to heart the promise in Matthew 6:33 (“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”) I noticed this while spending time with these pastors. They have the words of Jesus at the tips of their tongue. They are prepared “in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). We watched them in the context of interacting with the believers in their churches/assemblies. In each situation, they seemed ready to share a word from the Bible that “fit” the situation. These are ordinary men with no seminary training and no formal Christian education. They just love the Lord with all their heart and obviously spend a great deal of time reading, studying, and applying His Word. It was such a challenge to me in my daily walk.