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Alabama natives help spread gospel in South Americacomment (0)

April 2, 2009

By Sammie Jo Barstow

After six months on stateside assignment in Alabama, Jim and Evelyn Sexton returned in February to Santiago, Chile, where they serve as Southern Baptist representatives.

The Sextons consider Calvary Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, in Tuscaloosa Baptist Association their home church and enjoyed reuniting with old friends there and speaking at various churches in Alabama. They also were able to visit with their three grown children, all of whom live in the state.

“Getting better acquainted with our 3-year-old grandson has added an indescribable joy to this trip home,” Evelyn Sexton said.

The couple’s love for family has been something that’s helped them better understand the heart of the Chilean people.

“The people of Santiago are very family-oriented,” Evelyn Sexton said. “The women especially love to gather for social times, such as wedding and bridal showers, but prayer is extremely important to them, and we frequently will have gatherings of women just to pray.”

Much of this is facilitated through the Sextons’ church in Chile, organized six years ago with a congregation of almost all new believers.

“There’s not a long Christian heritage in this church, but there is an enthusiasm for God’s Word and for discipleship and mentoring,” Jim Sexton said.

He described it as “not just a Sunday church,” because many of the 80 believers are highly involved in small-group home Bible studies throughout the week.

But this ministry, though vital and thriving, is not the couple’s main work.

As administrative associate for the International Mission Board’s South America (SAM) region under regional leader Dickie Nelson, Jim Sexton assists approximately 550 other Southern Baptist representatives as they cope with such needs as finding adequate housing, transportation, medical care and education for their children.

And life goes on for their families at home in the states, so he counsels representatives as they face illness and death of parents, problems with children who are stateside and a seemingly unending number of other concerns.

“Our missionaries have a tremendous call from the Lord to share the gospel, leading and discipling believers and organizing churches. The Adversary is working hard against our missionary personnel, so we want to support them in the best possible way so they can stay focused on what the Lord has called them to do,” Jim Sexton said.

As SAM region co-prayer advocate, Evelyn Sexton receives and distributes information concerning prayer needs among Baptist representatives and to prayer supporters in the states by e-mail and telephone.

During their 20 years on the missions field, one of the biggest changes for the Sextons has been communication.

When they first arrived in South America, it took weeks or sometimes even months to receive a letter from home. Telephone calls were exorbitantly expensive, and communication with other Baptist representatives was infrequent.

Now the couple receive hundreds of e-mails every day and can respond instantly. Frequent phone calls home via computer are also a fairly new technological change.

And another major change is on the horizon. The Sextons are preparing to transition into a new organizational structure in their missions assignment. In the past, Southern Baptist missions work has been divided into 11 regions, but July 1, that will change to eight affinity groups.

Chile will be included in the Americas affinity group, which will be comprised of South America, Central America and the Caribbean, a geographic area covering about 35 countries.

“At that time, we’ll have a more narrow focus of work but a broader geographic area. We’ll have teams and we’ll relate to these teams by providing personnel support, such as member care — counseling and encouraging — as well as training and team-building supervision. Other teams will deal with other areas of support,” Jim Sexton explained.

Although the couple will then work with about 900 Baptist representatives, he said, “We’ll be able to focus more and give them the encouragement they need in specific areas. During the next few months, we’ll be doing both administrative and personnel work, but we’ll prepare to make a complete shift in July. It’s an exciting time.”

For the Sextons, the faithfulness and encouragement of Southern Baptists are vital.

“Evelyn and I are so grateful for the prayer support of Southern Baptists, Alabama Baptists, and just the ongoing financial support [provided] to missionaries,” he said. “It’s something we never become complacent about or take for granted.

“We know God can support us in a multiplicity of ways, but it’s so encouraging to know that we have a network of churches in our state that sense that God has called them to be a partner in sharing the gospel globally.”

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