During the seminary's annual Global Missions Day, NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said everyone shares the call and responsibility to participate in global missions.
"Every one of us, regardless of what your ministry calling may be, has a responsibility in the work of getting the Gospel to the ends of the earth," Kelley said. "Some God calls to go to other countries and other cultures and other languages. Some God calls to stay and provide support and encouragement and mission involvement in our community. Some God calls back and forth to stay and to go. But each of us has a role to play."
IMB President Tom Elliff was the featured speaker for the Global Missions Day chapel service Sept. 1 when Kelley announced the seminary's new endeavor.
"The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has always been the glue that held us together, the reminder of what we're all about," Kelley said. "We're delighted to be partners with them in the Embrace project."
In 2010, the IMB launched the Getting There campaign to introduce Southern Baptists to the unengaged, unreached people groups still scattered throughout the world.
The IMB divides the world's 7 billion people into about 11,000 distinct people groups. These people groups share ethnic, linguistic and cultural similarities but not necessarily geographical location. For instance, Haitians living in Cuba are considered a people group distinct from those who actually live in Haiti.
Of the 11,000 people groups, 61 percent -- 6,734 in all -- are considered unreached because evangelical Christians make up less than 2 percent of the population. Many of these people groups have missionaries ministering among them, but about 3,800 of them have no active missions initiative or strategy.
"Because of location and government restrictions, no one is actively seeking to reach them with the Gospel, that we know of, at this time," said Philip Pinckard, professor of missions at New Orleans Seminary and director of the school's Global Missions Center.
Through the Embrace campaign, the IMB is asking churches and individual Christians to identify an unengaged people group and develop a strategy for planting the Gospel among the people.
SBC President Bryant Wright has extended that challenge to the entities of the convention. In response to that challenge, the NOBTS trustees' executive committee, meeting in June, authorized Kelley and other seminary leaders to take steps to identify an unengaged people group to reach with the Gospel.
As seminary leaders surveyed the unengaged people groups around the world, they soon focused in on seven groups identified in the Republic of Cuba: the Han Chinese, Haitians, Jamaicans, Jews, Basques and Russians of Cuba and deaf Cubans.
Cuba has a population of about 110,000 Han Chinese. The next largest unengaged group in Cuba is deaf Cubans, with a population of about 54,000, followed by about 40,000 Haitians. Jamaicans, Jews, Basques and Russians in Cuba number 5,000, 1,500, 600 and 200, respectively.
Ministry work is going on with each of these groups around the world, but not with the populations in Cuba. The IMB reports that none of the seven groups has had any active church planting within the past two years. Targeting the unengaged groups in Cuba made sense for New Orleans Seminary because the school has had a longstanding partnership with Cuban Baptists.
"NOBTS has partnered for a number of years with IMB, the Florida Baptist Convention and some churches to train leaders in the 5,000 house churches in Cuba," Provost Steve Lemke said. "About a dozen NOBTS faculty members have made over 30 mission trips to train various Cuban leaders in the equivalent of master's degrees in worship leadership, discipleship and counseling, and these leaders in turn train house church leaders in these skills.
"So now we are excited to build upon these existing relationships to reach these seven unreached people groups in Cuba. One of the groups classified as unreached in Cuba are the French-speaking Haitians, for whom we already have programs in Florida and Haiti in partnership with the Florida Baptist Convention."
Cuba has a rich history often overshadowed by the 50-year-old embargo with the United States. Christopher Columbus discovered Cuba on his famous 1492 journey from Spain to the New World. Cuba soon became a trade hub as European exploration bloomed. With Cuba's sugar industry exploding in the mid-1800s, thousands of workers from Asia came to Cuba to harvest sugarcane, which accounts for the large Asian population there today.
Cuba finally gained its independence from Spain in 1902, and the island nation became a popular travel destination in the first half of the 20th century. In 1959, Fidel Castro seized power and instituted the first communist state in the Western Hemisphere. The clash between the United States and communist Cuba reached a climax with the Cuban Missile Crisis and the trade embargo enacted in 1962. While Cuba's economy and infrastructure remained largely static over the last half of the 20th century, tourism has grown over the past decades.
The Gospel also has been taking root in Cuba over the past 20 years. According to the IMB, only about 200 Baptist churches were counted in Cuba in 1960. Through 1990, that number still stood at just 238. In the 1990s, a church planting movement took place, and now churches in Cuba number more than 6,200, according to the IMB.
Frank Michael McCormack writes for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. For more information regarding the unengaged, unreached peoples of Cuba and around the world, go to www.imb.net/gettingthere
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