So why was he walking the streets of a mostly Arab part of Brooklyn, N.Y., in late October, trying to meet Muslims who live there?
"We began to think, 'How can we do some of that here?'" explained McLemore, missions pastor at Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton, Va. "We're doing a lot in our community -- different kinds of service projects and feeding projects, things like that. Those are wonderful things, but we want to be a church that is also seeking to reach those ethnic groups that are coming to America. We send many people out to different places -- North Africa, the Middle East, East Asia, South Asia. We can use the training that we've learned overseas and apply it right here to our cities to reach some of these people groups here in America."
McLemore joined more than 150 pastors, lay leaders, Southern Baptist state convention and associational workers and North American and international missionaries at the first "ethnéCITY: Reaching the Unreached in the Urban Center" event, held Oct. 20-22 at Park Slope Community Church in Brooklyn. Participants heard from some of the world's top mission strategists focusing on cities in North America and the rest of the world, shared ideas and joined one of 15 team "excursions" into multiethnic neighborhoods within a subway ride of the church in metro New York.
McLemore visited an area of Brooklyn where many Arabic speakers live. Soon after stepping off the subway, he struck up a conversation with Mohamed, the Egyptian director of an Islamic society in the area. He had lunch at a gyro shop, where he traded observations about North Africa with the Moroccan cook. Later, he drank strong Turkish coffee with Isa and Ahmed, a Palestinian father and son who run a café in the area.
"This is the best country for human beings!" declared Isa, who started the café nearly 40 years ago after moving to New York from the West Bank. "You have freedom. If you work, you can make it. I come here at 23. I have nothing but my ticket. I marry here. I have kids. My children are educated. My daughter is a lawyer." He grinned widely, as any proud father would.
McLemore is in the information-gathering stage for now, as Liberty Baptist explores urban ministry possibilities along the East Coast. Participating in ethnéCITY gave him additional tools and potential partners for the search.
"I met some amazing people here and got some great contacts for doing that," he said. "I want to follow up on those contacts, possibly to work in New York City. We're also looking at Washington, D.C., since we're so close to it. When this conference came up, it was perfect for us. Let's say somebody in our church can't go to North Africa. They can come to New York or D.C. or one of these cities. They can come for a week and learn how to do it. Maybe they'll go overseas later, or maybe this will be their project. We're looking for projects that can mirror what we're doing overseas.
"There are tons of people for whom either the time or the money to go overseas are big limiting factors. This is a way for them to engage the biblical mandate to go to the nations."
What would McLemore recommend for any church that hasn't yet tried reaching out to an ethnic people group -- either in America or overseas?
"I would say do it now and start," he urged. "Your church is not too small or too large to begin. What people groups are coming into your neighborhoods? Get started with those people. Meet them. Talk to them. Or take a trip overseas and identify a people and then come back and look for them here. Either way I would say start now, because the time is right for us in the church to begin working with people groups. We've got to do it. It's the Great Commission, and the time is right for every Southern Baptist church to begin that process.
"We work with churches of 100 people that do amazing things. I've seen a church of 50 send three guys to Sudan. I've also seen churches of thousands that don't do anything. So, I just encourage any church to begin now, because people groups are what is on God's heart.
"I have never seen church people come back as fired up as when they go to some of our people-group areas. It will breed excitement and momentum in churches. We've seen it in our church. People want to do something that God's doing. They want to be a part of that."
ethneCITY, co-sponsored by IMB and the North American Mission Board, is the first venture in a new partnership between the two mission entities -- reflecting the reality that national borders no longer define the task of missions in a globalized world. Two more ethnéCITY conferences are set for Nov. 17-19 in Houston, a major U.S. immigration portal, and May 3-5 in Vancouver, one of Canada's major urban centers. To find out more or register, visit www.ethnecity.com.
Erich Bridges is a global correspondent for the International Mission Board.
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