By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
Louisiana Baptists have a golden opportunity – bring the Gospel to a former Soviet founding republic whose population is just 1 percent evangelical.
Although Belarus has few believers among the population of 9.6 million, it does not mean the people are closed to the message of Jesus Christ, those behind this Gospel movement contend.
Jeff Ingram, senior adult strategist for Louisiana Baptists, has participated in previous mission trips to Belarus and plans on going again in May. He said once a person travels to the country, the people find a place in your heart.
“After going twice, I see a real open field for the Gospel,” said Jeff Ingram, adult ministry strategist for Louisiana Baptists. “People have lived without hope for so long that they are desperate for Christ.
“Belarus’ people and pastors feel like they have been forgotten by the rest of the world,” he continued. “Just our presence is a huge encouragement for the pastors and church members. The government and the people are more open to the Gospel than they have been in 100 years.”
Since 2015, Louisiana Baptist churches have participated in mission teams in the country, in partnership with Byelorussian Mission. By 2018, plans are to have visited all six provinces in Belarus, at a rate of two per year.
Once in Belarus, the mission teams will train pastors and distribute the Word.
Pastors will learn how to disciple their members and effectively lead small groups.
Ingram and Andrew Ryzhkov, founder of Byelorussian Mission, Inc., is working with LifeWay Christian Resources and Blackaby Ministries to secure the copyright to print Experiencing God in the Russian language.
Teams also will give out copies of a Good & Evil illustrated Bible story. Next year is the 500-year anniversary of the printing of the Bible in the Belarusian language.
Wayne Sheppard, executive assistant to the executive director, and, also the partnerships coordinator for Louisiana Baptists, said this is an effective way to present the Gospel to the people, at a cost of $10 a Bible. He is hoping Louisiana Baptists, even if they aren’t participating in a mission trip there, will consider purchasing one or more of the Bibles for distribution in the country.
“The Bibles tell a story, from creation to Christ,” Sheppard said. “Forty percent of those who read this Bible will give their lives to Christ. We are challenging churches in Louisiana to step up and purchase these Bibles.”
After the vision trips are complete, Sheppard hopes Louisiana Baptist churches will continue sending mission teams into the country. Ryzhkov, the the son of a Belarussian pastor, hopes by 2020 a church will have started in 50 cities in the country that have no evangelical presence.
David Maxwell, pastor of Red Bluff Baptist Church in Folsom, has attended mission trips in 2012, 2013 and 2014, before the partnership officially was formed.
Calling the trips to Belarus the most rewarding ones of his life, he has seen hundreds saved during his time there.
He said he has shared the Gospel in schools, nursing homes, orphanages, a children’s eye hospital and in homes, Maxwell said, and that it is a joy to be a Louisiana Baptist and play a part in this effort.
“I would like to challenge my fellow pastors and sister churches in Louisiana to seek God’s will concerning Belarus,” Maxwell said. “Your prayers for the Byelorussian people and this cooperative effort are needed.
“We know everyone can’t go but if you can go, come join us,” he added. “If you can’t go but can financially support with Bibles or Educational materials you will be a part of something bigger than all of us. You will be a part of God’s will being accomplished, as found in Matthew 28:19-20 … “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
To contribute to the purchase of the Bibles, email Andrew@byelorussianmission.org. For more information on going on a mission trip there, email Wayne.Sheppard@louisianabaptists.org.
Trips to Belarus for 2016 are scheduled for May 4-13 and Sept. 7-16.