Oh the places they
north american missionaries are crossing barriers to
share his story across north america
By Carolyn Curtis
Tonight is chilly, especially for Texas. Maki Amemiya shivers near the
outdoor hot tub, ready to take the plunge—both physically and spiritually.
Thirty or so friends wait expectantly. Many share her Buddhist background and
see Christianity in a whole new light because of Maki’s willingness—no,
eagerness—to be born again, to publicly declare her faith in Jesus as her
Savior, to be baptized in the presence of witnesses.
At 26, Maki is two years older than her pastor, Andy Wood, a collegiate
church planting missionary and founder of Breakthrough Church on the campus of
the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), where Maki studies nursing. Andy is
young, but Maki sees him as wise—and she knows wise. A Japanese woman, Maki
grew up in a culture that reveres its older population, recognizing wisdom as
the hard-won result of experience. Andy helped Maki to “break through” the
common misconception of Christ’s promises shared by most from her island nation
of fiercely competitive people who look down on Christianity as a cult because
of the predominance of churches established there by Mormons and Jehovah’s
Witnesses. Andy helped Maki discover the truth.
Andy and Maki step from the 45-degree temperature into the welcome waters of
the hot tub that is protected from the winter wind by apartment housing at UTA,
a campus of mostly commuters and a high number of internationals. Andy explains
the biblical basis for baptism—a review for Maki, an evangelism outreach for
unbelievers in attendance. They invite into the water Karis Wong, a Christian
Chinese woman who’s been a role model and special friend to Maki. Together they
lower Maki, and she emerges wet, happy and tearful. Tonight there’s much
Andy Wood is one of more than 5,300 North American missionaries who are
serving in the United States and Canada. The task of telling Christ’s story to
lost people in North America is a great challenge and an exciting journey. Andy
is quick to point out that he’s just beginning the journey. “I’m 24, way too
young and inexperienced to know how to do so much of what’s necessary to reach
people for Christ. But I want to learn.”
Andy sees himself as standing on the shoulders of people who came before
him, and he’s on a personal mission to share that image among fellow
seminarians and other young missionaries. “I pray that I’ll be a voice for my
generation, to help them see the value of what previous generations have
accomplished and to make those who went ahead of us aware of our respect and
awe for their achievements. It’s because of people much older than me that the
Southern Baptist Convention is so successful.”
Andy serves as a Mission Service Corps (MSC) missionary approved by the
North American Mission Board. His support comes from resources he generates
plus the Tarrant County Baptist Association, the Dallas Baptist Association and
the two Texas state conventions.
As an MSC missionary, Andy is experiencing first-hand the effective and
time-honored Southern Baptist practices of cooperation and partnership.
He credits his mentors, professors at Southwestern Baptist Theological
Seminary (SWBTS) where he’s a student, and two men in particular. One is Dr.
John Worcester, pastor of Team Church in Fort Worth, whose fruitful ministry
has included the planting of six churches. The second is Dan Morgan, who heads
the Nehemiah Project at Southwestern, identifying promising students like Andy
who can reach a specific population and organize them into a church
body—missional church planters who study the people God sends them to reach in
North America like missionaries on other continents. For Andy, being missional
is a particularly apt approach.
A native of Michigan and a Christ follower at a young age, Andy began
sensing God’s call in middle school. By high school, the call became more
specific. Football teammates came to him for spiritual help, and Andy told God:
“I’m available, if You want to use me to reach people who don’t trust Your Son
Little did he know how specifically God would answer his prayer.
Andy attended Charleston Southern University, a Southern Baptist school in
South Carolina, where he met Stacie. They married and headed to SWBTS, Stacie
teaching kindergarten and Andy studying for the pastorate and serving as a NAMB
Breakthrough launched in October of 2004 with a core team including adult
children of Andy’s two main mentors. By January 2005 it began meeting on campus
every week. Attendance would ebb and flow, depending on factors such as spring
break or the excitement of returning after summer vacation.
Andy prayed to blast through the 50-attendees barrier. Finally, they reached
50 and prayed for more. During the fall of 2005 attendance gained momentum and
jumped to the 90 mark, even during exams.
Besides attendance goals, Andy met baptism and financial goals. But funding
remains a challenge. More important, he and Breakthrough Church’s other leaders
began realizing they were making an impact on campus and beyond.
His young church is a microcosm of the UTA campus population—about half
Anglo, half other ethnic groups. Says Andy: “I’m happy with every baptism, but
with internationals you have the potential to reach the world.”
As the year melts into 2006 Andy finds himself preaching to 90 or so per
Sunday who gather at UTA’s Activities Building. White candles, paper lanterns
and a small arrangement of flowers tastefully decorate the front where he
speaks and the worship band plays. An artist draws a stylized image of Christ
as Andy tells what it means to be available, using the example of Jesus’
mother, the young woman who risked everything to follow the Lord.
In today’s attentive crowd is Murali Chitteboyina, a Ph.D. candidate in
electrical engineering from India who regularly attends Breakthrough and often
helps with setting up and dismantling the stage and seating components.
Although Murali attended Catholic private schools and saw representations of
Christ’s body on a crucifix, he somehow missed the message that Jesus “was a
real, live person. I thought what I saw was symbolic.” The understanding fit
into his background of Hinduism, which worships numerous unseen gods. But
Murali questioned it when he came to America to study, and he decided to dig
deeper “while I was in a learning mode. I liked Breakthrough Church’s slogan,
‘Leading students to live Christ-centered lives,’ and I wanted to see what that
As Andy promised to God in high school, he’s reaching out to people who
don’t trust Jesus as Savior. He cites Matthew 20:20-28 and Romans 13:1-7 as
passages about submitting to authority, a leadership style he tries to model to
a generation that sometimes resists it.
He’s also learned “the importance of coaching and following through. I want
to be teachable. Among my fellow seminary students I can see a difference in
fruitfulness in those who submit to mentoring.”
Andy was encouraged by coach John Worcester to put a stronger emphasis on
evangelistic Bible study, and that strategy has proved helpful to Murali, who
cites his favorite passage as The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12). So far,
he’s convinced that Jesus is a way to God, but he’s not sure Jesus is the only
way—Murali says he won’t commit his life to Jesus until he’s certain.
Yet he’s intrigued by what he’s learning about people at Breakthrough who
follow Jesus. “They love without judging, and they treat others with kindness.
There’s definitely something different about Christians.”
When he saw his friend’s teeshirt depicting Jesus washing the feet of His
disciples, Murali was stunned. “Here’s the main guy of this religion and
instead of putting himself on a pedestal, the man is serving others—amazing and
exactly the opposite of what I expected!”
With your help, NAMB’s commitment is to significantly increase the
number of chaplains and missionaries to 10,000 by the year 2010. NAMB
missionaries work under three broad categories: career, limited term and
Mission Service Corps (MSC). All categories of service require an application
with specific eligibility criteria depending on the category and service. All
applicants must be NAMB-approved. Visit www.answerthecall.net for specific
Ongoing support for missionaries comes through financial support, including
the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® (AAEO) and the Cooperative Program, and
prayer support from Southern Baptists. MSC personnel provide their own funding,
although their ministries may receive funding through AAEO. MSC personnel
typically serve in areas where traditional funding is unavailable but where
NAMB strategies or state strategies are in place. Go to HERE to
read about this year’s Week of Prayer missionaries.
The North American Mission Board has identified the deployment of
missionaries as a key strategy for reaching the lost in North America.
Missionaries like Andy are called by God to move out of their comfort zones to
live as witnesses for Christ. God uniquely gifts each one to serve in a
particular area and with a specific people group or population segment. While
one may work with college students, another works with the homeless, another
with native Americans and another with children.
“It’s exciting to see the number of missionaries on the field in North
America increase,” says Jane Bishop, director of Missionary Mobilization, NAMB.
“We are proud of the men and women who make great sacrifices in order to commit
their lives to spreading the gospel across our continent.”
Of course, the amazing work done by missionaries wouldn’t be possible
without the support of Southern Baptists. Through the hands and feet of
missionaries, Southern Baptists are going to all the peoples of North
For more about Breakthrough Church, go to www.breakthroughchurch.org.
For more about NAMB missionaries, go to www.namb.net.
Carolyn Curtis is a contributing editor of On Mission.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC