By Marc Wyatt
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
This fall we began a new three-year church partner relationship with our longtime friend, Dr. Tom Ogburn, and his congregation at First Baptist Church of Knoxville, Tennessee. Tom is in his first year at the church, but it doesn’t take long to see that he is already helping shape a direction of openness, collaboration and cross-cultural mission within the congregation and community.
We had the joy of traveling to Big Orange Country (did I mention that Knoxville is home to the 27,000+ mighty University of Tennessee Volunteers?) recently to get acquainted and swap mission stories. The day we arrived, UT was hosting its in-state rival UT-Chattanooga, so we met Mission Committee Chair of FBC Knoxville, Steve Bowman and his wife, Sharon, off Interstate 40 outside the city limits to avoid the chaos. They had recommended we meet over an early dinner and then try to slip into the city during the third quarter to prayerfully get past traffic. They were so right! The church owns a bachelor apartment just a few blocks from Neyland Stadium, and this would be our home for the five-day visit.
Pastor Tom describes himself as “the accidental pastor.” As former CBF field personnel in Southeast Asia, Tom and his wife, Beth, are dedicated missional people with a deep love for the church, their family and those who have yet to hear the Gospel in their heart language. Committed to serving among the developing world, the Ogburns’ missions career came to a life-changing crossroad when Tom became sick several years back. Tom describes himself as an “accidental pastor” because his call was born in missions but God redirected him into pastoral ministry after his illness. It is no accident that God is using his experience and mission-shaped heart to reach internationals in Knoxville.
We found the church unusually ready and eager to go deep in cross-cultural ministry in their community. Over the course of the week together we met with the pastoral team and Missions Committee. There was great enthusiasm and energy in every conversation.
Particularly energetic conversation occurred during a missions meeting that was called specially for those interested in ministry with internationals. I was very encouraged when Tom shared with us that those who attended the meeting were not those usually involved in missions.
Following our presentation, the group was invited to host international students from a local community college who were interested in visiting in the homes of church members over the upcoming holidays. About 15 families immediately signed up to host one or more students. “Our only boundary was how many students that we could embrace in such a short period of time, “ said Tom. Folks started raising their hands to get in on the opportunity and others stood giving testimony to how the church had a long history of engagement with international students and refugee families over the years. Rev. Dave Ward, pastoral minister, shared that there was a time–in years past–when the church fellowship hall hosted over 1,000 international students for a Christmas meal. Those who remembered said, “Amen. Let’s do it again!” We watched and listened as the people reignited their missional passions toward the people of the uttermost parts of the world who were now their neighbors.
Tom shared with those present on the last night of our visit that, in his mind, he had hoped that by this time next year there would be some solid traction in mission among internationals in Knoxville. But by the evidence of God’s work and the eagerness shown by his congregation that week they were well underway already. Everyone was in full agreement. “Wow,” we said to ourselves, and “Amen to that!”
We began a new partner church relationship with First Baptist Knoxville this fall, one that is already producing Gospel fruit both here in our ministry field and on the other side of the mountain in Big Orange Country. Eleven million visitors from more than 20 countries visited Knoxville the summer of 1982 to a World’s Fair-sized welcome. Over the years they have continued to come by the thousands to live, work and study in East Tennessee. God is bringing internationals by his hand, and when they arrive, First Baptist Church will be there to welcome them in Jesus’ name–and sometimes it will include some good ol’ bluegrass and BBQ.
Marc and his wife, Kim serve as CBF Field Personnel and Advocates for Internationals in the Research Triangle, an eight-county area surrounding North Carolina’s capital city of Raleigh.