In 2013, Southern Baptists celebrate 125 years of annual giving to support international missionaries. Every penny you give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions is used to support nearly 5,000 Southern Baptist workers as they share the Gospel overseas. To learn more about the offering, go to imb.org/offering.
2013 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal: $175 million
The Bedia of South Asia and IMB worker Clifton Melek*, are featured in Week of Prayer for International Missions: Dec. 1-8, 2013.
By Stuart Bell
CENTERTON, Ark. (BP) – He was so small, so quiet and so humble. He didn’t even come up to my shoulder. And yet to me, Sahaji Bedia* was larger than life.
“Here he is!” 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 mission team from First Baptist Church Centerton in Arkansas. This young 20-something Indian man from an unengaged, unreached people group represented so much to us … God prevailed and the Spirit broke through the Bedia’s resistance to the Gospel in South Asia.
Sahaji was now one of us! When our church adopted the Bedia, in 2007, there were no known believers. Now, I stand watching eight baptized from our UUPG. Amazing!
The road to get here has been long but when Avery Willis, former vice-president of the IMB, told our church in 2006 that 639 people groups with a population of at least 100,000 are considered “unreached,” or less than two percent Christian, and “unengaged,” no effort to reach them with the Gospel — I knew where we were heading. I had no idea what adopting or embracing UUPGs entailed at the time, but I knew our church would never be the same …
The Beginning Years (2006-2007)
Picking a geographic area of the world to engage was easy for us. A family from our congregation served in South Asia. Adopting a people group, though, was much harder. How do you choose when so many need to hear?
Willis recommended the Bedia and I immediately dove into the discovery process about this people group numbering over 100,000. I learned that the Bedia people kept small farms. I knew our 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. I learned there were no known baptized believers, no church, no Bible in their language and no one trying to win them to Christ.
Then, 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 up 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 workers living among this people. The travel to get there was grueling – bumpy roads and then 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. The entire village of 80 came to hear the Good News. 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 would focus on the Bedia of South Asia. It was our responsibility to do “whatever it takes.”
So, FBC Centerton began praying for a people group on the other side of the world.
The lean years (2008-2011)
Correspondence with our partner, the Indian pastor, proved to be frustrating at times. There were long periods of no communication. There was little encouragement as to the advancement of the Gospel, yet our church continued to pray. It’s all we could do.
One time, we learned of two Bedia families contemplating baptism. We prayed but it never happened. The village elders exerted pressure, saying that if these couples converted to Christianity, 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, so I decided it was important to go back. Our church needed first-hand accounts to spur their prayer efforts. We needed to re-connect.
There was an ever-present sense of spiritual bondage during this 2009 visit. We heard story after story about “demons” and no one seemed open to the Gospel. Two years after we adopted the Bedia, there were still no professions of faith, no baptisms and no churches.
We returned home, not sure what to do. It did not appear we were moving forward. There was a lot of persecution in 2010 and our partners had to leave the Bedia villages. The church continued praying. We committed to this and we trusted God, even if we didn’t know where to go from here.
I consulted with an IMB administrator from South Asia about our stalemate. He said a new missionary family now serves in the same geographic area where we worked. 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.
Celebration Years (2011-2012)
There was very little Bedia news from January 2010 until September 2011. And then God moved in mighty ways — or at least, that’s when our church saw God moving.
When I connected with Clifton 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 and said, “He’s Bedia! He’s Bedia! He’s Bedia!”
We found out that not only were there five baptized Bedia believers in Malek’s class but they were training to become pastors and missionaries.
We were stunned! God had been working this entire time. We prayed for years that the Gospel would reach our people and it did.
We had to go back to India and see this for ourselves. That’s when we met Sahaji and a host of other Bedia believers. Sahaji took us to his village for church. Around 100 people crowded into a small 10’ x 20’ room, while more spilled out the door and peeked in the window.
We worshipped with OUR people for the first time. As we heard the first Bedia praise and worship song performed, we cried. I preached and then Clifton offered an invitation and eight professed a new faith in Jesus. I was given the honor of naming the very first Bedia church, “Bedia Victory Baptist Church.”
This service was on March 4, 2012 — exactly five years from our church’s commitment to pray for the Bedia.
While we see the unmistakable hand of the Lord in this celebration, we know there’s still a lot of work to be done. There is no Bible or even scripture in their language. Only a handful of the Bedia population, just over 750 or less than 1 percent, has come to Christ. They are still considered unreached and live in one of the top 40 persecuted countries in the world.
The road for “embracing” an UUPG is a long and rocky one, but one that is worth taking. FBC Centerton must diligently continue our prayers and minister alongside the Bedia believers so that 100 percent of our people come to know Him.
Our journey continues … will your church join us by embracing a different UUPG? There are 3,100 people groups still waiting to hear His name.
* Name Changed
Stuart Bell is pastor of First Baptist Church Centerton in Arkansas. Join in this journey as his church shares their first-hand accounts of embracing an UUPG since 2006. For more stories by the church, go to www.commissionstories.com/asia
Want to hear more about what God is doing among the Bedia? Check out the videos at http://southasianpeoples.imb.org/video.
—Explore ways to pray for South Asia at southasianpeoples.imb.org and keep up with God’s work in South Asia with the free South Asian Peoples App (Apple and Android devices). Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
—Explore ways to give to missionaries, human needs, strategic projects and special gifts at the Give section of the IMB Web site.
—Face2Face — a program that mobilizes students to serve overseas with a team for eight to ten weeks. To learn more, visit the Face2Face Web site.
—Hands On — a program that mobilizes students ages 18 to 29 to serve overseas for four months to one year while receiving college credit. To learn more, visit the Hands On Web site.
—Journeyman — a program that mobilizes young adults ages 21 to 26 to serve overseas for two to three years. To learn more, visit the Journeyman Web site.
—Embrace — a program that mobilizes churches to serve overseas by being responsible to reach a specific unengaged unreached people group. To learn more, visit the Embrace Web site.
—Volunteers to career — Visit going.imb.org.