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 Jenifer Martin Siemens
CENTERON, Ark. (BP) – They simply answered “yes” on a Sunday in 2007 and began praying with faith and expectancy. What God did next forever altered the members of a mission-focused church in Arkansas’s northwest corner.
Today, hundreds of lives in remote South Asian villages are being redeemed and baptized, demons are fleeing and bodies healed — just five years after 250 members of First Baptist Church Centerton in Ark. (FBCC) committed to pray daily for the unegaged, unreached Bedia [Baydeeuh] of South Asia.
The church thought a movement of God among the Bedia could take 20 years or more. But His overwhelming response surprised and humbled the people of FBCC and led to the International Mission Board requesting the church to share their story as part of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO) focus this year.
“We never imagined when we decided to embrace the Bedia that anyone else would ever know,” FBCC Pastor Stuart Bell said. “We just made a commitment that [the Bedia] would be one people group in the world who would be loved and prayed for by First Baptist Centerton.”
The church’s miraculous prayer journey began in 2006 after former IMB vice-president, Avery Willis, urged Bell to lead the church to embrace an Unengaged Unreached People Group (UUPG). Currently, there are 3,100 identified around the globe.
Bell traveled to South Asia in 2007 on a “vision trip.” The team ventured over crude jungle roads to preach the Gospel in a Bedia village. The entire population of 80 crowded around to hear.
“It was overwhelming to know these Bedia people were hearing the name of Jesus for the very first time,” Bell said. “Would [FBCC] expect to witness [God’s] power to see the Bedia around the throne of Christ one day?”
Upon his return Bell shared with the church that those who committed, would be praying for the salvation of approximately 142,400 Bedia who practice a religion mixed of Hindu, ancestor and demon worship. Undaunted, 250 teens and adults signed commitment cards on March 4, 2007.
FBCC member Robin Gill was among those who started praying that night for the Bedia. Gill suffers from Cerebral Palsy, yet faithfully hosts a weekly prayer time in her home for their people group.
“I knew God would answer,” Gill said. “We just needed to be obedient and pray.”
Unknown to FBCC, God had already been moving among the Bedia through people such as a teen named Sahaji Bedia* who accepted Christ in 2001 while away at boarding school. Two South Asian men, who are not Bedia, felt God calling them to reach out beyond their own people group. Ramsden Chippada* and Gajbaahu Swamy* didn’t gain any traction in their efforts until 2007— the same year FBCC started praying.
An ill and out-of-control, demon-possessed man named Manohar Bedia* heard Swamy might pray for him. Swamy prayed for 15 days straight and the rice farmer was completely healed. Manohar then surrendered to Christ. Word spread about this miraculous healing and a few others came to Christ in the surrounding villages, including Sahaji’s oldest sister, Amita.*
In another area of South Asia, Bedia village leaders and doctors of black magic were not pleased with the Gospel making it to their people and persecution began in 2008. The few Bedia believers endured threats that their children could not marry and their food supply would be cut off if they professed Jesus through baptism. Some folded and stopped following Christ.
During this time, FBCC heard nothing from the field. They decided it was time to visit South Asia once again in 2009 and reconnect. Bell and Isaac Mims,* youth pastor, found hardened hearts and a true cloud of oppression in the Bedia villages they visited.
By the next year, Bell said persecution increased to the point that national Christians working in Bedia villages left, a FBCC youth mission trip was canceled and all communication with the Bedia ceased. For two years, the church heard nothing, and discouragement set in.
But FBCC members like Ray and Judy Cothern and Robin Gill refused to quit.
“I knew in my heart that it would take a miracle to reach [the Bedia] because of their dark practices,” Judy said. “But we vowed to the Lord that no matter our personal doubts, if our leadership and Brother Stuart said to keep praying, we would keep praying.”
Meanwhile, a young Bedia mother, Shanti Bedia,* had come to faith through seeing her sister-in-law’s life change when she followed Jesus. Shanti was the only believer in her village. She prayed in secret because the persecution by the other women was unbearable. Day after day, she cried out to God in her private prayer room built for her safety by her unbelieving husband, Ashish.*
“Lord, how long will I have to pray alone?” she cried.
Unknown to Shanti, she was not praying alone. FBCC prayed for there to be at least one Bedia believer that could ignite a fire and be the starting point for a church.
Shanti got bolder in her witness in 2010. She talked more to her husband, Ashish,* about God. He heard about God from his youngest brother, Sahaji, and his sister. Soon, Ashish accepted Christ and they turned the prayer room into a meeting place for Bedia believers from five different villages.
All of this was still unknown to FBCC. They continued praying blindly believing God would prevail.
Finally, the silence was broken when Bell contacted the IMB in 2011 seeking any news of the Bedia. He discovered new IMB personnel, Clifton Melek,* served near the Bedia. When Melek shared the story of a church in the USA who prayed for five years for the Bedia, students started calling out, “He’s Bedia! He’s Bedia! He’s Bedia!” Melek reported to FBCC that five baptized Bedia were attending his discipleship training class.
As soon as FBCC heard this, they celebrated and decided to send a team to witness it with their own eyes and bring back first-hand accounts to the entire church. The mission team worshipped and cried with the Bedia, witnessed eight baptisms and went to the first Bedia church. The date of this victory was March 4, 2012 — exactly five years after 250 FBCC members committed to pray.
“It was like we were living out the book of Acts,” Bell said, describing the baptisms and joy of worshiping with an unreached people group.
When they returned, videos and pictures for the first time documented names and faces of the Bedia believers for FBCC. The “silent years,” when they prayed blindly, were finally filled in with stories and testimonies of God revealing Himself. The passion for THEIR Bedia reignited.
Poster-sized photos of the Bedia now hang throughout church buildings as testimony to what God has done, what He is doing, and what He will continue to do as other Southern Baptist churches simply answer the call to pray for those who’ve never heard.
To date, IMB personnel report more than 750 Bedia baptisms with more taking place each month. A centrally-located community center has been constructed where Bedia pastors will receive training. To honor FBCC for their committed prayer support, Bedia leaders asked Bell to name the first Bedia church – Bedia Victory Baptist Church.
Pray for Southern Baptist workers, Centerton’s members, and Bedia believers as they partner to take the Gospel to all Bedia.
Jenifer Martin Siemens is a member of First Baptist Church Centerton in Arkansas. She witnessed this UUPG prayer journey first-hand.
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.