Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — A team of African-American pastors from Tennessee recently discovered firsthand that spiritual darkness in Italy is real, said Willie McLaurin, special assistant to the executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
The pastors and their spouses began their trip in Rome and interacted with Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionaries before traveling to other areas of the country. Tennessee Baptists have been in a partnership with Southern Baptist International Mission Board personnel on the field in Italy since 2010. The partnership will conclude Dec. 31.
“The partnership has been a great experience and encouragement to those on the field,” said Kim Margrave, volunteer missions specialist for the TBMB. “Tennessee Baptists have learned about doing ministry in a post Christian culture and have worked both with IMB personnel and national partners,” she added.
“The Tennessee Baptist Convention has a strong history of volunteer partnership missions,” McLaurin agreed. “We are a great commandment and great commission people.”
While in Rome the Tennessee volunteers worshiped at Rome Baptist Church where they participated in the English-speaking worship service that had more than 20 different nationalities represented.
McLaurin said the trip represented the first time a team made up of all African-American pastors has ventured to the missions field to represent Tennessee Baptists.
He noted that during the past five years more than 200 African-Americans from across Tennessee have been engaged in international volunteer partnership missions and many more have been involved in missions efforts in Tennessee and across the nation.
“Missions is more than a buzz word. It is a lifestyle,” McLaurin affirmed.
In addition to McLaurin, other pastors on the trip were Brian Carmichael, Holy Temple Baptist Church, Memphis; Lemar Walker, Christ’s Community Church, Memphis; and Ternae Jordan Sr., Mount Canaan Baptist Church, Chattanooga.
“Hearing the missionaries tell of their work made me realize that we have similarities in our ministries,” said Walker, who noted that in the Catholic-dominated country evangelicals make up less than 5 percent of the population.
“The harvest is plentiful but laborers are extremely few,” Walker said. “Satan has a stronghold in the country of Italy. I have come to realize it is very difficult to help people see that they need to know Jesus when they are ‘religious,’ or when they think knowing God is enough,” he continued.
Walker said the trip convinced him of the need to support, pray, and give words of encouragement “to our brothers and sisters there in Italy and throughout the world” including his own city of Memphis.
Jordan said the trip to Italy was “nothing short of phenomenal. Our mission was to understand and encourage those who are sacrificing so much for the cause of Christ.”
Like his counterparts, Jordan was surprised at the large number of people “who call themselves Christians,” but only a half percent are evangelical believers.
“Our hearts, along with our prayers, continue to go out to the churches in Italy for taking a stand for Christ in order to spread the good news of the Great Commission which Christ left for all of us,” Jordan continued.
“May God continue to smile on the mission of speading the gospel to the country of Italy.”
During the trip the pastors and their wives had opportunities to meet and share with nonbelievers, including an atheist in Naples.
“Those type of spiritual encounters marked the summit of this missions endeavor,” McLaurin observed.