SAN DIEGO (BP) -- One number will break the heart of anyone who cares about one of the most vulnerable populations in San Diego. According to North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary Austin Blanton, 80 percent of the city's foster families decide to return children within the first four months. Many will never take part in foster care again.
Blanton notes several reasons, from loneliness to the increased stress. Blanton and other local Southern Baptists, though, want to be a part of the solution.
"What we want is for the churches to come alongside [these foster families], who may or may not be Christian, and just care for them," Blanton said.
Blanton's role as a NAMB Journeyman missionary is to help connect San Diego churches and church plants with opportunities through which they can engage in compassion ministry -- like foster care -- and share the Gospel in their neighborhoods.
The Bakersfield, Calif., native is one of 12 NAMB Journeyman missionaries either on the ground or in the pipeline throughout North America. NAMB designed the new program for recent college graduates and modeled it after the International Mission Board (IMB) program of the same name that started in 1965. For more than 50 years, the IMB program has sent out recent college graduates as missionaries around the globe. Many of them have returned to the field as career missionaries upon completing the program.
NAMB fully funds these two-year missionaries as part of Send Relief's efforts in Send Cities and through Send Relief Ministry Centers throughout North America. While all journeymen serve in evangelism, discipleship and church planting, specific responsibilities vary depending upon location. Each journeyman missionary is involved in engaging churches in areas of poverty, refugees and internationals, foster care, adoption, human trafficking, crisis response and church planting.
Jason Tipton, the program's coordinator through Send Relief, says it gives young Southern Baptists an opportunity to engage in compassion ministry while building an awareness of it for their future service.
"We wanted our journeymen to be able to come into the program early on and think about compassion ministry and how they execute that at the local level," Tipton said. "Ultimately, we want our journeymen to have space to actually do ministry and to think about compassion ministry at the same time. So, they're thinking, 'What does this look like in my whole lifelong journey?'"
NAMB places journeymen in strategic positions to engage cities through types of ministry about which they are already passionate. Many of the journeymen currently on the field are returning to cities where they served with GenSend, NAMB's summer missions experience for college students.
Derrick Rudolph was working at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017. God had already begun to break Rudolph's heart to reach Latinos, and he wanted to help. He tried to organize a mission trip to the island, but it fell through. God provided opportunities to serve as an intern on the island and later to lead a GenSend team in Puerto Rico in the summer of 2019. He began serving as a journeyman in January after completing his seminary degree.
Now with the island closed to outside volunteer teams due to COVID-19 restrictions, Rudolph is helping local Puerto Rican churches engage practical needs with compassion and the Gospel. Rudolph pointed to one woman as an example. She had been depressed before coming to a Send Relief food pantry. A local pastor shared the Gospel with her as he provided her with food, and the woman became a Christian.
"This is a moment in which we could easily see God is so completely in control," Rudolph said. "We might have never had contact with that woman, aside from this moment, and through that, another woman was added to the Kingdom and saved."
Rudolph's role as a journeyman missionary is to help make those kinds of connections.
Emma Cross, who moved to Clarkston, Ga., to work with refugees, became a NAMB Journeyman after health concerns limited her ability to serve in an international context. Her parents worked among refugees in Europe as well as in North and South Carolina. Clarkston has one of the highest percentages of international refugees of any city in the United States. According to Today.com, nearly one third of the city's population was born outside the United States.
"I just want to see God move among people here and start revivals among unreached people groups who are closed to the Gospel," Cross said.
Tipton said NAMB's first class of Journeymen, which arrived on the field in December and January, are seeing tremendous fruitfulness in their ministries and developing a lifelong commitment to missions.
"Southern Baptists love their missionaries," Tipton said. "[These journeymen] are missionaries now. And we're developing them into lifelong missionaries. They're doing incredible work. That's what the Journeyman program does. That's what we want them to do -- ask themselves, 'How do I become a lifelong missionary in whatever context God has me in the future?'"
Tobin Perry is a writer from Evansville, Ind.