By Blake Tommey
Father Greg Boyle says that the “Jesus Strategy” is one of kinship, of not serving the other in the lowly place, but being one with the other in the lowly place. In this way, Jesus was not a man for others; he was one with them. There is a world of difference in that, Boyle says. There is now a world of a difference in the work of Oakmont Baptist Church in Greenville, N.C., because of its partnership with Eric and Julie Maas, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel serving in Belize.
Since 2008 when the Maases were commissioned as field personnel, Oakmont has fostered a deep relationship with the couple as well as with God’s mission in Belize. Oakmont has not only sought transformation among those living in Belize, but has also sought transformation among its own congregation and vision of mission. They have done so through years of sending medical personnel to Belize to attend to the health of local communities, construction teams to assist in providing infrastructure for ministry and formation groups to partner with local churches.
“God is at work, and it’s not our work,” explained Jimmie Hughes, Oakmont’s director of missions. “Eric and Julie have been so intentional about working side by side with those in Belize, and we’re all working with each other. We’re not American saviors with the right answers, coming down to fix things. This really is a partnership, one that has strengthened our understanding of God and how God works. And that means we are connected to the fate of our own community just as much as a community across the world.”
Prior to being called as field personnel, the Maases opened themselves to a clearer vision of God’s mission by engaging in the Oakmont faith community and its mission teams. As new members of the church, the couple participated in Operation Inasmuch, helping to build a model of church that goes beyond walls and connects with the community in solidarity, as well as in a construction team in Honduras to assist churches there. Hughes recalls witnessing the Maases’ passion as they first heard a call to field personnel work.
“It was so convicting for our church to see them called, to see them give up their jobs,” Hughes said. “We held a yard sale and they sold everything. That gave me a radical perspective on mission and really gave the church an up-close-and-personal look at what it means to follow Jesus. It put a name and a face on mission.”
As with any community, Julie said, there is a lot of need in Camalote, Belize, where the Maases build relationships with schools, churches, justice organizations and individuals. Through these relationships, the Maases identified three primary needs for which they have eagerly mobilized mission teams each year from Oakmont: construction of facilities for local organizations, free medical care for communities without access to healthcare and formational partnerships with local churches.
Calling themselves the “Band of Brothers,” the Oakmont construction team traveled to Belize just three months after the Maases were commissioned and have returned at least once a year since. The team first built a bathroom, playground and stairs at a local school and repaired some of the teachers’ homes. Because of the Maases’ relationship with Bethel Disciples International Church, the team is also in the process of building a fully air-conditioned church building, a caretaker’s home and a covered outdoor play area for children.
Medical personnel, including doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants and pharmacists, from Oakmont have taken three pilgrimages to Belize to provide medical care to local communities lacking access. The team returns each year to monitor local health, and one medical professional even identified a cancerous mass on the abdomen of a young Belizean woman who is now undergoing chemotherapy and other treatment to remove the cancer.
In a country that is largely Christian, the Maases are also working with local congregations and individuals to grow together in relationship with God and form each other toward the image of Jesus. Through a partnership with Bible Study Fellowship, a local organization, the Masses and Oakmont teams have collaborated in Vacation Bible Schools, church Bible studies and simple meals in which deeper faith questions emerge. This work is as much about growing the teams themselves as it is about growing local communities, the Maases noted.
“God is helping us lead a lot of different people in their missional journey, Belizeans and Americans,” Julie Maas said. “We call these mission trips pilgrimages because, yes, you come down to help other people but it’s just as much about you as it is about the people you’re helping. That is why God has us here. With us on the ground in Belize, it allows churches like Oakmont to leave their comfort zone, be stretched and go on that pilgrimage with God.”
Through its many pilgrimages to Belize, the Oakmont congregation has caught a radical vision, not only of what God’s mission looks like across the world, but of what God is doing in Greenville, N.C. Following their work among the Belizeans, the medical care team began to ask questions about medical needs right around the corner in Pitt County, Hughes explained. And because of a high population of immigrants, unemployed individuals and other groups without much access to healthcare, the medical team now provides free care to nearly 50 individuals one Sunday each month.
Others at Oakmont are expanding this through pilgrimages to Belize to partner with the Maases. One college student, Andi Justice, now returns to Belize at least once a year on her own to work with the Child Development Foundation (CDF), an organization that raises awareness about abuse and exploitation. CDF also serves as a rescue home for victims of human trafficking. Justice has assisted with marketing needs as well and has taught in local schools about the reality of human slavery. Hughes agrees that Oakmont’s missional experience with the Maas family has grown Oakmont’s own calling and place in God’s mission.
“Oakmont has so many people committed to being with those who are distressed or in need now,” Hughes emphasized. “Whether at a Tuesday night homeless ministry, tutoring for kids in the community, medical clinics or handicap ministry, you will find people who have been active participants in Belize with the Maases. Our awareness has been raised. We see more clearly than ever where God is at work, and we’re relying on God to continue to call us as partners.”
This article first appeared in the June-July issue of fellowship! magazine. Read the entire issue online here.