According to current statistics, almost 2 million people have not heard the message of the Gospel. About 87 percent of those people, according to Global Disciples, live in areas that restrict Christian witness.
Global Disciples began 15 years ago when a group of long-term missionaries and mission groups realized that nobody was getting into these hardest to reach areas.
“The amount of money it took trying to get people there was overwhelming,” said Julie Stratton, regional director of partner relations at Global Disciples and wife of co-pastor, the Rev. David Stratton at St. John Mennonite Church in Pandora. “They thought there was probably a better way of stewardship, so they decided to look at how Paul in the New Testament did missions.”
Stratton explained that Paul, who is attributed with spreading the Gospel throughout Europe and Asia, not only converted people and planted churches, but supported himself as a tent-maker.
Global Disciples was birthed out the idea of using a three-part approach to bringing the Gospel to the least reached areas in the world.
The first part involves working alongside a local church body. “We do training in church planting, evangelism and discipleship,” said Stratton. “Then those local church planters, who know the language, the culture, and the people, can go and share the Gospel where there are no churches in that area.”
By empowering local people, many barriers Westerners face are completely eliminated. “Distrust of Westerners is very high,” said Stratton. “By training the people already there, that barrier is gone. The problem is most of these people make maybe a dollar a day and just don’t have the funds to support a pastor or a church. So, then the question became how can they become self-sustaining?”
That question led to the second part of Global Disciples’ strategy which is small business training. The week-long training, called “What’s in Your Hand?” is conducted by American volunteers.
Stratton is one of those trainers. She had known about Global Disciples for about 10 years through family members who were long-time missionaries to Hong Kong. Her father, Ben Sprunger, was also the president of Mennonite Economic Development Associates, which gives out micro-loans to the working poor so they can develop local, small businesses.
Stratton started volunteering with Global Disciples about a year and a half ago. Her main role is that of regional director of partner relations. She oversees Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, traveling throughout the area to share stories of Global Disciples’ work. She also went on her first business training trip last spring, spending three weeks in India and various locations in Asia.
Anyone who has real-world business or entrepreneurial experience can become a trainer. On Stratton’s trip her fellow trainers included a contractor, an engineer and an entrepreneur who had started multiple businesses. Stratton, herself, owns a small retail business.
“God has given everyone a skill or talent or resource,” she said. “We help the students see how they can use that to make a living — be seen as a business person with ethics and morals, so they can build relationships in the community and can care for their families.”
Stratton said they had approximately 21 students, three of whom could not read or write. A few local pastors volunteered to help these three. Over the course of a week, the group learned about marketing, location, demographics, pricing and finances.
After a week, if the students had done all their homework, they have a completed business plan. If that plan is seen as viable, the participant receives $300.
“That doesn’t sound like a lot here,” said Stratton, “but that is about the equivalent of a year’s wages in these places.”
The business plans were varied. Several planned to raise goats for milk, meat or fiber. Another man was going to buy a saw so he could build furniture.
“He built beautiful furniture,” said Stratton. “He just didn’t have the education or knowledge or resources to make that into a business until we helped him.”
Once a person establishes himself in a business, he can be self-sustaining and start evangelizing and planting churches.
The third part came about because the local missionaries were planting a lot of churches, had other pastors under them, but were saying they were not leaders. This led Global Disciples to offer leadership training to enable people to successfully lead the churches they have planted.
Stratton, who has traveled abroad before expected the extreme poverty she saw, but what really hit her on her trip was the passion in the people there.
“I think the thing that I brought home with me was how passionate these people are to share the Gospel with friends, family and community,” she said. “Many live under extreme bondage such as poverty or oppressive governments or witchcraft. When people experience Christ, they have such freedom. In the U.S., we have so many freedoms we don’t understand what that means — to have inward freedom with so much outward oppression.”
TO LEARN MORE
In the past five years, Global Disciples has trained 894 church planters in small business strategies; seen 2,653 churches planted in least reached areas; trained and sent out 14,947 local missionaries; and seen 68,890 new believers baptized. To find out more about Global Disciples visit www.globaldisciples.net or email Julie Stratton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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