HAVERTOWN, Pa. (BP) -- If anyone understands the life-changing impact that church planting and evangelism can have on someone, it's Peter Yanes.
Born and raised in the islands of the Philippines, Yanes grew up in a predominantly Roman Catholic nation with a family deeply devoted to the church. Yanes himself spent much of his youth serving as an altar boy with aspirations of one day becoming a priest.
All that changed with an invitation.
"I was in high school and a friend invited me to a Bible study," Yanes recalls. "That's where I came to know Jesus Christ in a personal way. Since then, there's been no turning back."
The church that hosted this Bible study was a church plant started by a Filipino planter.
"Church planting is very special and important to me because without it, I wouldn't be where I am," Yanes explains.
This heart for church planting makes Yanes the perfect fit for his role as a mobilization missionary for the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey. Based in Philadelphia, Yanes' work as a mobilizer for the area allows him to identify and support planters and partners as they start and grow new churches.
With only 400 SBC congregations serving a population of more than 15 million in the convention, the area needs new churches. For his part, Yanes is working specifically to catalyze ethnic church planters to reach the growing number of people groups in the area.
"My ministry allows me to build great relationships with our ethnic pastors," Yanes says. "Having relationships and support can be such an asset because their position can be very lonely and very tough at times."
This is a feeling Yanes knows firsthand. After pastoring a church in the Philippines, he and his wife Irene made the move to the United States in 1998 and began the work of church planting in Philadelphia.
He has spent the better part of the last 14 years serving the growing ethnic population in Philadelphia. He supported the now-thriving Philadelphia Bible Church International in its early years in an effort to provide a place of worship for Filipino transplants living in the city. By taking on his current role, Yanes can share his experiences in ethnic church planting with others like him looking to reach their own diverse communities.
"Philadelphia is a very diverse city with many ethnicities and nationalities," Yanes says. "Anything that I can do to help planters build relationships with their people groups and eventually share the message of the Gospel in cities like Philly is important. It takes a great relationship with all of our ethnic pastors around the area to see this happen."
One such person he is pouring his leadership into and building a relationship with is fellow Filipino church planter Noel Geniza. While serving as both worship leader and deacon at Philadelphia Bible Church International, Geniza's heart for ministry caught Yanes' eye.
"Noel has been a faithful member of our church for so long," Yanes says. "Back home in the Philippines, he was a pastor and it's clear this is his calling. It was just a matter of time before he stepped back into it here."
Having settled in Pottstown, a suburb some 50 miles north of Philadelphia, Geniza and his family were traveling every Sunday to attend Philadelphia Bible Church International and worship with a Filipino community. However, the continuous commute proved taxing on the Geniza family and Noel began to see the need for a church like this closer to home.
"I thought Pastor Pete would probably work to start a church in our area and I would just support him as a worship leader," Geniza says. "Instead, he prayed for me and said, 'Why don't you start the church?' Church planting has always been on my heart so when he said this I thought, 'Yeah, why don't I?'"
"I know that on this path, God is with me," Geniza says, "but I also know Pastor Pete is with me. He says, 'I'll be there. I'll support you,' and that is a big encouragement to keep going."
This heart to mobilize and encourage planters as they seek to save the lost through church planting and evangelism is the driving force behind the work Yanes does.
"What I like most about what I do is seeing souls come to know Christ in a personal way," Yanes says. "Because of the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, I can partner with local churches, pray for and encourage their pastors and mobilize them to reach the lost in their communities. I am so grateful to do the work I love, the work the Lord has called me to do."
Sara Shelton writes for the North American Mission Board. The annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 3-10, and the AAEO, provide support for Yanes and other missionaries like him who serve on behalf of Southern Baptists in North America. With a goal of $70 million, this year's offering theme is "Whatever It Takes -- Reaching the One." For more information, visit AnnieArmstrong.com. For more information on Peter Yanes, visit anniearmstrong.com/peteryanes. For more information about becoming involved in reaching Philadelphia with the Gospel, visit namb.net/Philadelphia.
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