Shining Light in the Darkness: Southeastern Students Fulfill the Great Commission in South Asia

As an institution committed to equipping Great Commission students with hands-on training, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) sent a team to serve persecuted churches and impoverished peoples in South Asia during summer 2022.

“The highlight of this mission trip to South Asia was watching Southeastern students engage and encourage local pastors and church leaders who are facing great hardships,” shared Jeff Struecker, leader of the trip and Assistant Professor of Christian Leadership at SEBTS.  

“I saw a deep appreciation in the eyes of these persecuted pastors, who were grateful that Southeastern students would travel across the globe to minister alongside them,” recounted Struecker. “This trip helped to give the team a vivid picture of how the Holy Spirit is advancing the gospel globally. I was so proud of the way these students overcame hardships by the power of the Holy Spirit with a passion to fulfil the Great Commission.” 

This trip helped to give the team a vivid picture of how the Holy Spirit is advancing the gospel globally.

This summer trip was designed to give students an appreciation for the persecuted church and enable students to support and serve alongside pastors and ministry leaders who are suffering for their faith. The team ministered in a leper colony and in some of the world’s poorest slums, shared the gospel in rural schools and orphanages, and taught the Bible through translators in several churches. 

Recalling a formative moment for her during the trip, team member Madelyn Harkins remembered the religious persecution that even targeted the orphanages in their ministry region. “While in South Asia, we visited several orphanages,” she recounted. “When we got there, we learned that the government had taken most of the children, and those without papers were put in jail simply because they did not want the children learning about the gospel. In their minds, the gospel disturbs their way of life. Learning about the trials these children were facing broke my heart.” 

While ministering to the children, team member Matt Gandy was gripped by their strong faith and enduring joy. Gandy recalled listening to the children singing one day: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” Reflecting on the experience Gandy noted, “I am sure I have heard this song a million times. However, I have never heard the song performed by kids standing next to a sign that reads, ‘Martyrs and faithful saints of our orphanage.’ Listed next to the stage were the names of those who have been attacked for their faith, but the little girls kept on singing ‘this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.’” 

Several students on the trip acknowledged how these experiences confirmed their resolve to fulfill the Great Commission wherever God sends them. “God has called me to go and preach the gospel, and I feel especially bothered by areas with little to no access to the Bible,” shared Gandy, who is currently enrolled in the five-year BA to MDiv with Pastoral Ministry program at SEBTS. “This was a confirming trip to me in many ways. We have but one candle to burn, why would we burn it out in a place filled with light?”  

We have but one candle to burn, why would we burn it out in a place filled with light?

For team member Jaime Rice, this South Asia trip was not only her first mission trip and first course at Southeastern but also a clear confirmation of her calling to mission work. “This was my first mission trip, and I was at first unsure if I wanted to go on the trip,” Rice recalled. “However, I really feel like it was a confirmation of the calling to work in some type of mission program. 

For other team members like Harkins, the trip brought lessons from the classroom to life and demonstrated the power of God at work in cross-cultural gospel communication. “In my theology class last semester, we learned that the definition of theology starts with a culturally appropriate retelling of the story of Jesus,” recounted Harkins. “It is our duty to bring the gospel to others in a way that is culturally appropriate and scripturally accurate. The gospel changes lives in any culture. On our trip, each of us had the opportunity to share our testimonies and give gospel presentations in a culture different from that of the U.S.” 

“Before embarking on this trip, I had no desire to live outside the U.S. because I did not want to leave what was familiar,” shared Harkins. “If this trip has shown me anything, it is that the gospel is for every tribe, nation, and tongue. Though I knew this truth, I had not experienced it in a first-hand way. Watching others worship the Lord — even amid persecution — brought me to joyful tears, knowing that on the other side of the world people are worshiping the same Creator.” 

If this trip has shown me anything, it is that the gospel is for every tribe, nation, and tongue.

Opportunities like the South Asia mission trip afford students an integrated learning experience, preparing them holistically for Great Commission ministry in a variety of contexts. SEBTS exists to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission. That is why SEBTS is committed to partnering with churches around the world to offer students hands-on training for gospel ministry, connect students to future ministry partners, and deepen students’ solidarity with the global church — many of whom are experiencing intense persecution.  

“It is our prayer that these mission trips provide our students with a first-hand missionary experience that gives them a heart for God’s mission and for the lost,” commented Scott Hildreth, Associate Professor of Missiology at SEBTS. “We also pray that students can hear God’s call to missions. Every year we have students who become international or North American missionaries and their initial call was experienced as part of one of our mission trips. This is an important aspect of their education and spiritual development and our training of a generation of Great Commission leaders.” 

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