NEW ORLEANS, La - A new boldness in teaching Christ has risen among the people of MissionLab New Orleans - a custom-tailored program matching the needs and abilities of ministry groups with appropriate mission opportunities in their local area. The 1,600 students and adult leaders, and 200 senior adults who participated with MissionLab's hands-on mission experiences, staff retreats and conferences, were able to experience life changing ministry experiences.
The eight-week program offered by MissionLab resulted with 172 mission site participant salvations, 4 church group member salvations, 92 church group member rededications, 11 church group members called to missions and 7 church group members called to vocational ministry.
Marc Eichelberger, director of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's Providence Learning Center believes MissionLab as more than just another missions experience, but the opportunity to be on mission with God-serving as a catalyst for life change.
"God isn't interested in just giving Christians a missions experience. He is interested in Christians being on mission with him. Fully comprehended, this concept has the potential to radically alter and revitalize the church today."
Eichelberger says MissionLab provides the missions experience, that allow Christians to view God's call for the participation of all Christians in reaching out in proclamation of Jesus Christ
MissionLab oganizers recognize that New Orleans is more like a foreign mission field than a typical city in the United States, noting it as an ideal place for missions work. However, Eichelberger acknowledges that for some, it can be a frightening place to visit.
"Many of our senior adult participants come to New Orleans with fear and trembling, but when they actually join God in his activity, they experience a radical change of perspective in their lives," he said.
One such instance occurred when seniors arrived at the Brantley Baptist Center, a homeless shelter in downtown New Orleans, and wished instead to go back to the safe seminary campus and play dominoes. However, when they gave themselves to service in ministry they all had a life-changing experience.
Eichelberger, referencing Christian author John Ortberg, said, "If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat. For Peter, the fisherman turned disciple, inside the boat was very comfortable. For these senior adults, getting out of the van was like walking on water. But when people step out in faith, the amazing happens."
Other groups have ministered in New Orleans' French Quarter by spending time with homeless men, women, and teens while others have helped tutor children and lead Bible stories, games, music and crafts at another Baptist mission in the city. Still others have installed new flooring and shelves as well as other much-needed repair work in another women's shelter.
Through these services, the groups have gained more boldness in proclaiming Christ, and have learned the joys of reaching to those in need.
"When individuals are affected, it changes the entire dynamic of the church. Some pastors may write people off -- particularly senior adults -- and think that they'll never change. But they can change. MissionLab has shown us that," Eichelberger said.
"It's all about getting out of our comfort zones -- out of the church culture -- and stepping onto the mission field," he added.
To emphasize, he quoted the reaction from some senior adults from First Baptist Church, DeRidder, La., "I've been sitting on the pew for 50 years -- but never again!"
Their enthusiasm has generated excitement in their church at large, he explained, sharing how the entire church has benefited from seeing its oldest members' hearts soften before the Lord and with each other. The DeRidder church's senior adult ministry has as an example to other senior adult ministries.
Senior adult minister, Joe Choate of First Baptist Church, Palmetto, Fla., also shared his group's experience. "As we joined the clown and puppet ministry of DeRidder Baptist ... God blessed the efforts of the worship team as we observed Him touch life after life. [There were] tears of joy and blessing as lives were surrendered to Christ. Fires for missions were ignited in the lives of our people and enthusiasm to do new things began to develop," he said.
The Church's Joyful Heart Ministries met, discussed, and implemented a clown ministry at a recent Fall Festival, looking forward with anticipation to introducing their puppet ministry in early 2003. Training already has begun for clown stunts, face painting, and costuming, and the background information has been gathered for the puppet ministry.
"If that's not revitalization of the church, I don't know what is," Eichelberger rejoiced.
Like the senior adult experiences, youth and college students have had equally rewarding encounters, he continued.
"They want to do something that makes a difference," he said. "They are ready to 'jump out of the boat' as soon as they get here. They don't want to sit around and listen to lectures about missions. They want to do missions."
While many young people admit the inner city was a frightening place to imagine, MissionLab is able to offer a safe environment for the kids by providing site coordinators and counselors who are specially trained for inner-city ministry, as well as extensive orientation with the young people.
"Before I got here, I was really worried about our group's safety," said Andrew Lively, a high school student from Augusta, Ga. "Since I've been here, I've never even once felt in danger. If God can remove my fear of danger in the projects of New Orleans, he can remove my fear at home."
"Who knows what God might accomplish in and through your church -- if you're willing to be on mission with Him!" said Eichelberger.
By Paulina C.