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Church emphasizes global missionscomment (0)

January 3, 2002

By Sarah E. Pavlik

Before there was TIME, Dick Thomassian, pastor of missions at Huntsville’s Whitesburg Baptist Church, was constantly looking for new ways to reach the lost with the gospel. The 5,900-member church caught on quickly to Thomassian’s missions-oriented goals, but for him, a few missions trips here and there weren’t enough. He wanted to make a global impact, so in partnership with Whitesburg, he began a non-profit organization called TIME (training in missions evangelism) in 1996.

The energetic New York City native drew on his 35 years of ministry experiences and the time he spent as a trustee of middle-eastern affairs for the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) to create a unique missions ministry. TIME combines street evangelism, evangelistic music and dramas, puppet shows and lots of free food to attract seekers. Thomassian calls them street festivals or block parties, and people from Germany to Kenya to New Orleans attend them by the hundreds.

“Evangelism has changed,” said Thomassian. “It used to be that 15–20 percent of people attending a church evangelistic gathering were unsaved; now it’s about one percent.”

“We have to go to them with great entertainment, good food and then preach the gospel if we’re going to reach them,” he said.

Children can’t resist the peppy puppet shows, and the adults are drawn to compelling gospel dramas. Since TIME’s inception, Thomassian reported that 35,788 people from across the world have been saved during the course of about 50 missions trips.

Thomassian is quick to point out, however, that this brand of evangelism is foreign to many missionaries and pastors accustomed to the more traditional revivals. That is why his teams not only evangelize but also train local church leaders and missionaries wherever they go.

“I realized that we needed to spend more time training missionaries to win their nations for Christ,” Thomassian said.

“For example, when we went to Africa, these precious pastors had no training and no resources, Thomassian said. “They came by the masses to our training sessions and soaked the information up like sponges.”

Doug Seaver, a music evangelist who has attended 30 TIME missions trips, has witnessed firsthand the effectiveness of the TIME approach.

“At first [local church leaders and missionaries] are a little tentative about taking the gospel outside the four walls of the church, but gradually throughout the week, they get plugged in until they can actually do the program themselves,” Seaver said.

Thomassian reported that local churches have expressed great interest in the TIME training philosophy as well. That is why he encourages members of other churches to attend a TIME missions trip with him. He has also started offering one-day training sessions to local church groups who want to start similar ministries. TIME will visit nine countries, including several cities in the United States, in 2002.

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