Although Associational Mission Strategist Jeff Joyce had been to Ethiopia many times before, he had never been on a mission trip like this one.
Multiple times, his plans went awry.
The first happened before he even stepped foot out of North Carolina. Just a week before his trip, he received news over the phone that his team of four N.C. Baptists needed an additional $2,000 of funding to conduct leadership training.
Through providential arrangement, however — and by connecting with an N.C. Baptist Great Commission catalyst — funding for the trip came within days of their departure.
Upon arrival in the country, N.C. Baptists trained around 200 pastors and church leaders for two days. Afterward, they held a Bible conference in the jungle.
That’s where an unforeseen opportunity happened.
Joyce and the team arrived early and were invited into a widow’s round, grass hut. The single mother showed them around her one-room home. After offering her a gift, Joyce prayed with the woman and her children. He was then asked to share Christ with her and her family.
“In their yard in front of their house, we took the opportunity to give a simple gospel presentation,” said Joyce. “As we did, more and more of her neighbors started coming.”
Dozens of people filled the yard to hear about the hope of Jesus Christ, and around 10 to 15 people raised their hands to indicate they would like to pray to begin a life with Him.
“We traveled 7,000 miles to bring them the message of the gospel. I don’t know how that happens from the middle of North Carolina to 7,000 miles away in Africa” Joyce said. “But God had a plan. And we got to be a part of it that day.”
Once again, God used His perfect timing to reach His people. But He didn’t stop there.
During the trip, the city of Awasa faced an unexpected tragedy, which prevented the team from sharing the gospel in local markets as planned.
“We had to sit and wait because of the events that were taking place,” Joyce said. “I’m kind of questioning, ‘Alright, God, why? We’re only here for so many days. We’re here as your servants.’”
God opened doors for the team to go to a local seminary and high school.
They spent half a day teaching 50 students from various eastern African countries at a seminary in the capital of Addis Ababa. Then they shared about Jesus’ servant leadership to 140 high school seniors, many whom were Orthodox or Muslim. According to Pew Research, only about 20% of the population is Protestant.
“What are you going to do with the rest of your life? What kind of leader will you be?” The team challenged the students. The young people responded with questions, many hearing for the first time that they could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The moment allowed Joyce to peek into God’s purpose.
“We weren’t going to be here to talk to these high school students,” Joyce said. “But in [God’s] design, … here are these kids getting an education [who] are probably going to be leaders in the community they’re in or throughout Ethiopia. They got a new perspective on the kind of person Jesus was.”
Joyce recognized that even when he couldn’t see God’s plan, the Lord always had one.
“I think in a world that is coming out of a pandemic, there’s a lot of people that are realizing there’s things bigger than themselves, that they have no control over. And they have a lot of questions, even in third world countries,” Joyce said.
While on the eight-day trip in Ethiopia, the team was able to encourage pastors, lead many to Christ, witness church growth and see new churches being planted.
“There’s a hunger, a new awareness that there’s something that people need that their normal life hasn’t provided,” Joyce said. “I just think we’ve got the answer and the world’s looking for it more now than ever.”
The Great Commission in action
If your N.C. Baptist church is interested in supporting international missions, such as the work in Ethiopia, consider giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and to N.C. Baptists at ncbaptist.org/give. If your church is interested in engaging in international missions in 2023, contact your Great Commission catalyst.
Your Great Commission catalyst will help you make global connections, find ministry locations, discover churches to partner with, plan your trip, provide strategic resources and conduct training.
“The most important [thing] is just getting the gospel to the ends of the earth and the least reached peoples of the world,” said Russ Reaves, a Great Commission catalyst.
“At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about … obedience to the Great Commission and fulfillment of the Revelation 5:9 vision — that Jesus has a people that He’s drawing together for Himself from every people, tribe, nation and language.”
by Lizzy Haseltine, N.C. Baptist contributing writer