Arkansas church celebrates first Bedia baptized believer after 5 years of prayingcomment (0)
December 19, 2013
By Pastor Stuart Bell
FBC Centerton, Ark.
He was so small, so quiet and so humble. He didn’t even come up to my shoulder. Yet to me, Sahaji was larger than life.
“Here he is,” International Mission Board (IMB) representative Clifton Melek exclaimed, patting Sahaji on the back. “Here is the first baptized believer since you began praying for the Bedia five years ago.”
Tears flowed down the faces of our missions team from First Baptist Church, Centerton, Ark. This young 20-something Indian man from an unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG) represented so much to us — the Spirit broke through the Bedia’s resistance to the gospel in South Asia.
When our church adopted the Bedia in 2007, there were no known believers. Now I stand watching eight being baptized.
The road to get here has been long, but when Avery Willis, an Arkansas native who had served as a missionary in Southeast Asia and a senior vice president with IMB, told our church in 2006 that 639 people groups with a population of at least 100,000 are considered “unreached” (less than 2 percent Christian) and “unengaged” (no ongoing evangelical effort underway to reach them with the gospel) — I knew where we were heading. I had no idea what adopting or embracing UUPGs entailed, but I knew our church would never be the same.
Picking an area of the world to engage was easy for us. A family from our congregation served in South Asia. Selecting a people group though was much harder. How do you choose when so many need to hear?
Willis recommended the Bedia, so I immediately began researching this people group numbering more than 100,000. I learned that the Bedia people kept small farms. I knew our Arkansas church would relate to this, but from there, the similarities ended. The Bedia practice a form of religion that mixes Hindu practices with ancestor and demon worship.
We prayed as a church for the Bedia. I felt God at work. He knit our hearts to these people before we ever met them.
In 2007, I went to India on a vision trip. I met with an Indian pastor who also wanted to reach the Bedia. I discovered that he met his first Bedia within weeks of when our church started praying for them.
The Indian pastor mapped out 70 Bedia villages in the surrounding jungles. We went to meet some of his coworkers living among this people. The travel was grueling — bumpy roads and hiking jungle paths.
It was on one of these paths that I met my first Bedia. I was so excited that I took his picture (and he became the “face” of the Bedia for our church).
I’ll never forget that first night sharing the gospel there. The entire village of 80 came to hear. It was overwhelming to stand there and know that they were hearing the name of Jesus for the very first time.
We left that village and hiked back out to our car. And there stretched out across the road was a large black snake. Our driver was terrified. The dead snake was a warning. Some did not appreciate our presence.
It was a real reminder that the Bedia are among the last people groups on earth to hear the gospel for a reason.
When I returned to our church, I recounted the joy of sharing Christ and explained that we were up against demonic oppression and persecution. On March 4, 2007, 250 people committed to pray daily for the Bedia until the first baptism and first church was planted.
We had no idea how long it would take, 20 or 25 years. All we knew was that no other group in the world was focusing on the Bedia of South Asia. It was our responsibility to do whatever it takes.
Correspondence with our ministry partner, the Indian pastor, proved to be frustrating at times. There were long periods of no communication. There was little word on the advancement of the gospel there, yet our church continued to pray.
One time, we learned of two Bedia families contemplating baptism. We prayed but it never happened. The village elders exerted pressure, saying if these couples converted, they would not be allowed to marry off their children or benefit from the community rice fields. One couple completely backed out. The husband of the second insisted that he would follow Christ in baptism until his wife scooped up their children and threatened to jump into the community well.
It was a discouraging time. We prayed but did not really know what was happening.
I consulted with an IMB administrator from South Asia about our stalemate. He said a new missionary family had begun serving in the same geographic area. What a blessing and an answer to our prayers. We could partner with some of our own missionaries supported by our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
There was very little Bedia news from January 2010 until September 2011. Then God moved in mighty ways — or at least, that’s when our church saw God moving.
When I connected with Melek, we heard a side of this story we didn’t know. The IMB representative told his discipleship training students about our church praying for the Bedia for five years. Immediately, everyone pointed to other students and said, “He’s Bedia! He’s Bedia! He’s Bedia!”
We found out that not only were there five baptized Bedia believers in Melek’s class, they were training to become pastors and missionaries. We were stunned. God had been at work the whole time. We prayed the gospel would reach them and it did.
Our journey continues. Will your church join us by embracing a UUPG? There are more than 3,000 people groups still waiting to hear His name. Through IMB’s Embrace initiative, you and your church can take the gospel to one of these groups. To learn more, go to call2embrace.org.
Melek is serving in South Asia through gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Cooperative Program, which fund the work of nearly 5,000 Southern Baptist workers internationally. For more information, visit imb.org/offering.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Some names have been changed for security reasons.