Agape Christian Fellowship Adopt-A-People Update
If you were to ask the members of Agape Christian Fellowship of Brattleboro, Vermont, about the Baka, they would almost certainly tell you the Equatorial African tribe is the apple of God's eye. For the church, which two years ago adopted the pygmy people who live in the Camaroons, felt such confirmation about choosing this particular group that they are virtually sure that their connection with the semi-nomadic Baka is a divine appointment.
"We passed out bookmarks on which were printed thumbnail sketches about three different peoples and asked our members to pray about which one they wanted to adopt. They were asked to come to church the following week prepared to vote. When they did it was a very clear majority; the people felt the Baka was their group," recalled Verlaine Brown, who, with her husband Carlton, heads the church's missions committee.
Although that decision may sound simple, however, such a move followed much preparation, she hastens to add. "We knew we wantedto adopt a relatively small people group, and one that was primitive. It was okay with us that work within the tribe be in the early stages, but it was important that a team go out fairly soon and not years down the road." Carlton continued, "Once we knew what we wanted, we started contacting different agencies, to get a feel for what they were like. We contacted half a dozen which were listed in the book in the kit," he said, referring to the Adopt-A-People kit ordered from the Mobilization Division of the U.S. Center, which includes a how-to manual.
"For whatever reason, we decided to go with RBMU (Regions Beyond Missionary Union). They sent us information on all the groups they had available, which we looked over. We selected two dozen to consider, which we eventually whittled down to three, the Baka, a group in the Philippines and one in Indonesia. At this point we felt it was proper to get as much participation from the Body as we could, to make them a part of the process...there was nothing brilliant about our strategy; it's all in the book," she noted, again referring to the Adopt-A-People manual, which she said her committee found to be invaluable in guiding them through the potentially daunting maze of unknowns associated with this new venture.
The Browns found themselves heading their missions committee, on which they had served as members for several years, when the leaders left in the late 1980s. "We took over the leadership and started the
learning process...Fortunately, we took over a good committee from a good leader, but we still had to get a better feel for missions, particularly frontier missions," said Carlton. "We joined A.C.M.C. (Advancing Churches in Missions Commitment), went to regional meetings and workshops...I'm not sure just how we got the idea that we wanted to adopt an unreached people originally, but it gradually evolved and eventually we ordered the kit. We set up a sub-committee for the project in 1991," he added.
Besides deciding on the criteria for what it felt the church wanted in an adoptive group, and coming to consensus on that issue, the committee has done considerable research on the Baka, kept the congregation informed as to the status of the adoption, and kept the tribe in the forefront of the minds of the church. They have done so through use of bulletin boards decoratedwith photos and by holding a mini-conference which they dubbed "A Heart for the Baka," during the Valentine's Day weekend of 1992 which featured representatives from RBMU.
Finally, in 1993, the church formally adopted the Baka at a ceremony during which the members pledged their prayer and financial support to see the tribe reached. Verlaine said, explaining that enthusiasm for the project has stirred the congregation, proving infectious, "We visited our son's church in Massachusetts and told them about it. They got so excited they decided to adopt the Baka, too."
In the field itself, a language learning house has been constructed and a Wycliffe worker has recently been loaned, a situation which is an answer to prayer, Verlaine said. "There hasn't been any linguistic work before this," she explained, adding that most of the Baka are not literate, although a few speak some French in addition to their native Bangombe. At this point no missionaries live in the jungles with the people, who are distrustful of foreigners, many of whom have taken advantage of them in the past. One missionary couple, the Andertons, wants to set up a medical clinic among the Baka so they can minister to their felt need, but so far the government has not given them the freedom to do so. "They want to control them and not allow them to preach," she noted, adding that ostensibly officials want to protect the tribals from the predatory interests of western logging concerns.
Although the church no longer has a committee specifically dedicated to the Baka, as the couple who led that has moved, momentum continues unabated, she said. Church members write to missionaries, take up special offerings and hope to send someone from the congregation to visit and do further research. This energy is sustained by a monthly emphasis on pioneer missions during which ten-minute spotlights target the church's favorite tribe with prayer and updates on progress; the Global Prayer Digest (a monthly devotional publication of the U. S. Center highlighting unreached people groups) is distributed and read as well.
The missions budget also continues to grow each year, Carlton noted, so that currently 15% of the monies collected go towards the completion of the Great Commission, with faith promises supplementing that amount. The church has also begun to support more missionaries in various parts of the world, although the Browns don't think their church will formally adopt another people group. "It might confuse our members," he said. Although the committee plans to focus on the 10-40 Window and Muslim evangelism at its yearly missions conference this fall, Carlton said he is cautious about "spreading ourselves too thin...We are making progress, but sometimes it seems slow, which I find frustrating. I'm not a salesman but I just have to persist in communicating my passion to the Body...It took a long time to get to the point where it is now, but it's been a very successful program," he concluded.