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I had the opportunity a few days ago to spend time with a family that is a product of Southern Baptist international missions. As we approach the Week of Prayer for International Missions, I would like to share their story.
Colombian pastor Leonel Pulgarín gave his life to Jesus when he was 23 years old after taking inventory of his life and concluding that if God existed he wanted to serve Him. Three weeks into his initial discipleship, and armed only with his new Bible and a simple guide to preparing a Biblical exposition, he was given the task of going up the mountain to a marginal neighborhood in the city of Medellín, Colombia on Saturdays to help lead Bible studies in a new church plant. Fifteen years later, he now helps coordinate the Colombian Baptist Convention’s efforts to reach several of the unreached indigenous people groups throughout the northwestern part of the country.
He moved to the banana-growing region of the state to help the aging pastor of a small rural church family revitalize its youth ministry. When the pastor died, Leonel was asked to step in and guide the entire church family.
“I did not want to. I could not see myself as a pastor. But a near-by pastor and the members of my church family helped me see that this was the next step in serving God.”
Being isolated from other Baptist work in the country, the three pastors in the region looked for ways to train believers to grow and minister to their communities. They found IMB missionaries in larger cities several hours away who included them in training opportunities every year. These missionaries cast a vision for the unreached and taught them how to share their faith and present Bible stories in simple, narrative ways in order to train others to keep doing the same.
“As those we sent for training came back, we put them to work in reaching out to the surrounding communities that had no Baptist witness.”
This has resulted in Baptist churches in six of the nine main population centers of the banana-growing region. With only three more population centers left to evangelize, God has now led them to focus on smaller rural areas and the five large indigenous habitats.
Leonel is teaming with IMB missionary Brian Massey and others to baptize and train indigenous community leaders to the do same. In January of this year, and for the first time in Colombian history, seven indigenous Baptist churches joined the Colombian Baptist Convention.
Leonel reminded me that two keys in bringing God’s Kingdom to the banana-growing region of Colombia have been:
As we approach the 2016 Week of Prayer for International Missions, let’s prayerfully commit ourselves to join our Southern Baptist Convention family to faithfully support and work together to reach the remaining unreached peoples of the world.