#3 Foreign Missions in Our Backyard

In this episode, Mark Dooley sits down with Joel Rainey and Amy Smith to discuss some missions opportunities in our area.


Mark: My name’s Mark Dooley and I’m the state director of Evangelism for the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware. We’re fortunate to be able to be recording from the annual meeting of the Baptist Convention today in Ocean City.



Mark: Well we’re joined today by Joel [Rainy] and Amy Smith, and so good to have you guys both with us today. I want to start just having you take a moment and tell us a little bit about your background. Things like your family, where you’re from, where all you’ve served, where you are now, what you’re doing, those kinds of things. Just anything you’d like to tell us about yourself. We’ll start with ladies first. So Amy, you can go first.



Amy: All right, thanks Mark. Well, I was born and raised here in Ocean City, Maryland as we are this weekend. Grew up in the church, came to know Christ as a child. Had a great interest in high school in international missions. Thought that that’s what God was shaping me for and where he was leading me.



Amy: Then I went to Raleigh, North Carolina to I guess like a Gap Program, which was not a cool thing to do at that time, to serve in a multi-housing ministry, which was quite multicultural and international by the end. Then when I came back to Ocean City, the J-1 Program, which is a cultural exchange work program for students from around the world to come and work in the states, had grown in Ocean City. There were thousands of college students from all around the world here in Ocean City in my hometown.



Amy: I started getting involved in ministry through the local church with that. Now I’m involved in international missions in my hometown, which is a little crazy.



Mark: Is it?



Amy: Yes, indeed.



Mark: Joel, how about you? Tell us a little bit about who you are, where you’re from?



Joel: Yeah. Well, I grew up in South Carolina as you can probably tell by the voice. I get that a lot. This is isn’t an accident you can get off in the shower. I’ll just put it that way. When you spend the first 22 years of your life in the Greenville, Spartanburg area, a lot of great things happen there.



Joel: Had a wonderful church family that led me to Christ at an early age. Taught me from the scriptures, believe everything it says, obey it’s every command. Of course, at the heart of that was God’s love for the world. It would be some years before I would experience what that really meant. Off the seminary, as an adult, after being married to my wife Amy, we’ll celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.



Mark: Congratulations.



Joel: I have already, I’m sorry. That’s really bad. You guys should probably edit that out.



Mark: Don’t listen to this Amy.



Joel: Yes. Amy do not listen. 25 years this past July, and we both were from the same hometown. Went off to seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. I did my first pastorate there. Back to my home state to plant some churches and to teach evangelism at North Greenville University, which is also my alma mater.



Joel: Then in 2005, we were called to Maryland and worked with Maryland Delaware Baptist for 11 years in various capacities. I was the director of missions for Mid Maryland Association. Then I had your old job, which was the state evangelism director there for a little while.



Joel: Throughout that period of time, God showed me through experience on five continents. I’m thankful for Maryland Delaware Baptist for giving me that platform and really expanding my world. Then it was those people in all of those areas that actually taught me what it means to love the world the way God does. Glad to be here with you.



Mark: Currently you’re now pastor at Covenant Church in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.



Joel: Correct.



Mark: I’m sitting here talking to a pastor in West Virginia, and a lady who works with international students in Ocean City, Maryland. Those two may really seem worlds apart, but we’re going to get to the common connection shortly.



Mark: Let me start with you first Amy. Tell us a little bit more about that international ministry and what you’re trying to accomplish through that and how it functions?



Amy: Each summer, about 4,000 students come from around the world to Ocean City to work over the summer months in hotels, and restaurants, and on the boardwalk, and amusements. They’re coming for a cultural exchange and work program. Our church is located right in the middle of that. Literally the nations come to Ocean City.



Amy: We reach out and provide some basic needs and things that the students can use and are looking for. Provide free meals and toiletry kits as a gift from different [BCMD] Churches that give and welcome them and show radical hospitality and embrace them. Show that we’re grateful that they’re in our town and have a safe space for them at the church.



Amy: As they come in to get a free meal or something, we’re able to start to get to know them, and know their background, and their beliefs, and some of their culture. As they’re getting to know us, and our ultimate goal is to be able to introduce them to Christ. That’s the greatest thing that we can offer them much more than a meal.



Amy: That’s our aim and our hope is that we’d be able to share Christ with them. Some arrive and they have questions and they’ve heard things. They’re seeking answers and asking for a Bible in their language. Others are just kind of curious as part of the American cultural experience and their bucket lists for the summer is to visit an American church and see what it’s like and how it compares to the films they’ve seen and that kind of thing.



Mark: I love that phrase you used radical hospitality. Let me explore that a little bit. Tell us more of what radical hospitality looks like? Maybe if you would just tell us one way that radical hospitality led to a success story? Some way you’ve seen God work or are seeing God work right now through this ministry?



Amy: The majority of the students that we connect with, they first come through our doors on a Monday night for a free meal. We have church members outside on the sidewalk, in the parking lot greeting them, welcome them in. They come into the sanctuary. They’re greeted with a big smile and the first thing they receive is a gift, which is that health kit. Which is a towel, and shampoo, and soap that had been packed by churches all across Maryland Delaware and brought for them.



Amy: Then we get them a name tag and take them downstairs and offer them a meal and hang out and talk. A lot of them are just blown away. Some are suspicious in like, “Why are you doing this? Why are you here? Why do you care?” Some of them have experienced people being rude and obnoxious in their workplaces and bothered by their accents and things. Or they’re just not from a culture that they’re used to that or expect that.



Amy: Then with some of them we get to continue that relationship and spend more time and they come back for a game night or they come back for an English class. We get to really get to know them.



Amy: One guy that always comes to mind, he arrived probably an agnostic and at the end of the summer you say success story, and we always think in the church, like they accepted Christ and they got baptized and now they’re planting a church in their country. Yes, that’s awesome. I also consider this success when at the end of the summer he’s still wrestling with questions. We’d had tons and tons of conversations and discussions about God and scripture and he said, “I still can’t believe it, but I want to because of the friends I have here in the church.”



Amy: To me that is the church being the church and loving like Jesus. Showing the love of Christ, that while he was still wrestling with his beliefs and questions, he saw something that he wanted and it was different and he knew it.



Mark: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with that more. I think we have a misunderstanding of success. It’s not results, it’s faithfulness. We need to be faithful and God what has given us to do and leave the results up to him. He’s the one who says in his word that, “His word won’t return void.”



Amy: Recognizing that only the Holy Spirit draws people to him. We can’t save anybody. We can’t change their hearts, but we’re called to love and to tell. When I see people receiving that message, that’s exciting.



Mark: Amen. Joel, so turning back to you then. What’s your connection to Amy, to the Ocean City ministry, and what does a church in Shepherdstown, West Virginia have to do with an international ministry in Ocean City, Maryland?



Joel: Yeah, so it’s a great question. Well for one, when I was in your role, I had the honor to be able to work with these guys with Amy’s predecessor. Also saw that transition. Had the chance to welcome Amy into the area. You grew up here of course, but to welcome her into that role and it’s just been a joy to watch. Now, as a pastor, it was really easy for me.



Joel: It was a really easy transition because I knew what was happening here. I knew about the touch that was taking place with people who are literally coming from all over the world. As it’s already been described, the results that could potentially come from that. Whether they come or not, just the joy that we have of being able to share this greatest story that’s ever been shared in all of human history. That really, that’s the zenith of the experience.



Joel: I wanted our teens to have that. When I went to Covenant, there were a few ideas about how to help them engage. One of the things we’ve tried to do at Covenant, Shepherdstown is in West Virginia, but it’s unique in the sense that it is more multiethnic than the average town in West Virginia. What we wanted to raise people’s global awareness.



Joel: We’re living in a day now where the church and it’s success, at least in communicating the gospel, is dependent on understanding that. Everything from technology to travel. These days if you want to communicate with somebody on the other side of the world or if you want a plane ticket, you can buy a phone or a plane ticket pretty cheap. It’s available to anybody. Then when you combine that with historically unprecedented global migration patterns, we’re living in a world where even in the Eastern Panhandle where I pastor your next door neighbors is likely to be a Buddhist as they are a Presbyterian.



Joel: In that environment you want to raise awareness and you want to put your people in close proximity relationally, not just geographically. For our youth, this was a natural transition. A way that they could engage people from all over the world without having to get on an airplane, an opportunity to serve in an area. Yeah, it’s the beach. So that’s a nice attraction as well, but just teaching them, we’re going to serve, we’re going to get some time in the sand, and that’s great. Primarily we’re going to serve.



Joel: I’ve been honored actually to hear from Amy and the leadership there of the servant’s heart that our teens have had and the way that they have grown through this ministry. It’s not just that we get to serve, there’s a mutual blessing and benefit in that we’re watching our teens grow into precisely the kind of men and women of God we want them to be. This ministry has had a lot to do with that.



Mark: Missions has a way of doing that, doesn’t it?



Joel: Yes, it does.



Mark: That’s really cool. That year your kids can have that international experience without having to go on the international field. How many students have come?



Joel: You’d have to ask Amy that question. I honestly don’t know. We have about 75 in that group. I don’t know how many of them have come to the shore, but I know at least 30 have made their way out here.



Mark: Wow.



Amy: This year you sent two different teams and there were about 20 ish each time. Some of them came both weeks. [crosstalk 00:11:26].



Mark: Right.



Amy: Then last year I think it was about 25 that came on the team.



Mark: That is awesome.



Joel: Yeah.



Mark: That’s a great, great number. I remember when I was serving as a pastor, we sought to lead our church to follow missions and do missions along the Acts 1:8 paradigm. Locally Jerusalem, regionally, Judea, Samaria, internationally, all the world. You guys are familiar with the verse and for most of us in this ministry the international students in Ocean City would be more regional. It’s kind of a hybrid because it is international, but it’s international in a regional location in that sense.



Mark: Now, the thing for me is I don’t believe the scripture calls us to an either or in this. It’s not that either we reach locally or we reach internationally. It’s both end. I think we’re called to serve in those ways simultaneously, locally, regionally, and internationally.



Mark: Joel, do you think, this is a question, I guess really more for you as a pastor. Do you think that pastors and churches tend to shy away or or shrink back from serving in opportunities like international ministry with Ocean City? If so, why do you think that is? What would you say to a pastor who’s uncertain? Who’s maybe sitting there thinking, is it really worth the investment? What would you say to them?



Joel: Right. Well, let I mean, definitely answer that last question as to what I would say. I would say that the dynamic you’ve just described, when you look at a place like Ocean City and you see these international students coming and you go, well, which is that? Is that Jerusalem, Judea, Samria or the utter most? The answer is yes. That’s indicative of the whole blender. We’ve been talking about.



Joel: There’s no way to differentiate the two in a lot of context. The reason you need to engage at this level is because it raises that awareness and it does that with the group that you most are trying to reach at this point, which is young people. They get an opportunity to reach and to share and to serve and the sharing of the serving grows them in their faith and in the grace. I would say that is why you need to serve.



Joel: That’s why you should definitely look into this. As far as an investment, we really are not talking about a lot of money. We’re talking really more time than anything else, but either way it is more than worth it to come out here and to avail yourself of this God-given opportunity. God’s moving on the beach here in a lot of different ways and this is one of the more phenomenal ones that I’ve seen.



Mark: Amy, let me get your perspective on that. You are really boots on the ground, so to speak. What would you say to that same pastor that Joel was just speaking to? Is that worth this? Is it worth the investment? How would you answer that?



Amy: If you take the great commission seriously, and you believe that we are called to take the gospel to the nations, there’s also the reality of not everybody’s in a position that they can get on a plane and go to the other side of the world.



Amy: It could be financially, it could be time, it could be other commitments, it could be age, it could be health. There’s a lot of different things and we’re all at different seasons in life. A lot of those people can come to Ocean City or they can support through the health kits or the meals.



Amy: The other thing is the students who come to us, a lot of them come from countries where we can not legally go as a missionary. You have to be very careful. You cannot openly share the gospel in their countries, but suddenly they’re in our backyard, or they’re in our church building, and they have questions and they’re open and they’re curious. They’re university students. It’s a time of life when you’re exploring. You’re looking into different things, and you’re figuring out who you are and what you believe.



Amy: They’ve also come here for a cultural experience and view Christianity as part of the American culture. We have a unique opportunity to get to know them and to share what Christ has done in our lives and the difference that he makes. That it’s not a dry set of rules in an old building. Where grandma went that has no practical application to a young person’s life that they can see a living, vibrant faith, and relationship and something that’s making a difference in our lives.



Amy: It’s both of those things where there’s a convenience that you can get to Ocean City a lot easier then you can get to Asia. It’s also a different kind of opportunity that you would have even if you were in Asia.



Joel: I also want to say to Amy’s point, and I’m all about getting on airplanes and going my academic trainees is in missiology. I’ve been on five continents. I am for that.



Mark: Right.



Joel: At the same time, so often you will get on a plane and go and do for others in a country what they frankly could do for themselves.



Mark: Right.



Joel: And Mark, that’s just not missions.



Mark: Yeah.



Joel: What you find in Ocean City [crosstalk 00:15:58].



Mark: It’s Christian tourism almost is what it is.



Joel: In some sense yeah. It’s like we got a paint… We’ve actually heard stories about indigenous peoples putting dirt on a wall. “What are you doing? Well, we’re making it dirty so that when the Americans get here, they can clean it.” This is not the kind of thing we want to do. What you have in Ocean City is an opportunity to actually meet a tangible need and fill gaps that could not be filled by these students.



Mark: Right.



Joel: In doing so, you’re bringing glimpses of the kingdom of God within their purview and now you get to talk about the King as a result of that.



Mark: Yeah, and what a privilege that is to talk about him, amen.



Joel: Indeed.



Mark: Yeah. You mentioned health kits and serving meals and things such as that Amy. Talk to us for a little bit about ways that churches can get involved with the ministry in Ocean City. I know you know Covenant Church sends teams of students to work with you, which is one way, but there are other levels that churches could partner with you. Tell us what some of those are.



Amy: Absolutely a big need that we have that also Covenant has partnered with us in is college aged students to come for the whole summer. For the past two years, one of the college students from Covenant has come and spent the summer with us. They’re there from the end of May through early August. They’re the age of these international students that are there and can connect with them and have those 11 weeks to build relationships and really get to know. That’s a vital part.



Amy: So, for 18 to 25-year-olds in our BCMD churches that would be able to give a summer and come and serve, that’s a huge part. Then on the Monday nights, all through the summer, a different church every Monday night comes in and prepares and serves the meal. That’s something that our small congregation in Ocean City could never pull off.



Mark: How many churches are [crosstalk] involved with that? A rough guess?



Amy: We did 14 weeks of meals this summer and our church did two of them and so then there were 12 others that came in.



Mark: Excellent.



Amy: Some those weeks it’s two churches partnering together. It’s really more like 16 different churches that were involved.



Mark: So, we could have a senior ladies group in the church actually doing the international missions.



Amy: Yes.



Mark: Without getting on a plane, without having to spend a summer in a dorm, or anything like that.



Amy: Then some others ladies groups, and Sunday school classes, and children’s programs across Maryland Delaware that are packing these health kits and I hope they’re all praying over them as they go. That’s the first impression when students walk in our doors is, “Here, we have a gift for you.” They’re like, “Well, who’s it from?” “The church all across Maryland and Delaware. People are preparing these as a gift for you to meet a need.”



Amy: We had a student who was in an accident a couple of years ago and her mom came over from her country and I was explaining through an interpreter when she came to see the church and walk around and tour what the kits work because I showed her one. When I started to speak, she interrupted, and her face lit up. In a tragic moment she said, “Oh I know. She showed me.” It had been significant enough when she got it that she had Skyped back home to her mom to show what she’d gotten and what she’d received. It makes a huge first impression and we know first impressions are important.



Mark: That is so awesome. So, a church, a pastor, or a church member listening to this maybe has a heart and wants to get involved and they don’t have a clue right now what to do. Tell us what they need to do. How do they need to go about this? How can they contact you or what should they do to start exploring how to be involved?



Amy: Absolutely. They can email me at [email protected] and I would love to start that conversation. Praying and it might be making health kits, it might be sending a team down for a week. It might be them sponsoring a college student in their church to come and serve with us for the summer. Pray, pray, pray. I would love to start that conversation and get in touch.



Mark: Pray. That’s such a good word because we can’t do too much of that. We can’t pray enough. If we know of ministries like this, that’s one thing that we can do. Without having to even go to Ocean City. We can be praying for the work that we now know is going on there.



Mark: One of the things I always like to do in these podcasts is I like to pray for the folks that I get the privilege to talk with. Tell me Amy and then Joel, if you’ll tell me from your perspective, one way we can be praying for you guys? How can we pray for you, for the ministry in Ocean City? How can we be praying for Covenant for your ministry and for your tie to Ocean City? Then I’d like for us to close with a time of prayer. So, how can we pray for you, Amy?



Amy: Sure. For me, for wisdom and discernment in leading and how God would best use us in the opportunities. Then for the summer missionaries to come as college students to serve with us and the volunteer teams. Our local volunteers that we would be ready to love and to speak. We have the opportunity and for the students who are coming that God’s working in their hearts and that he would connect us to the ones that he’s stirring in and that have the questions and are seeking.



Mark: Okay. What about you Joel? How can we pray for you?



Joel: What I would ask for is not unique to Covenant. Christmas is coming. We’re taking this offering. Most of our churches are at least dedicated to this woman named [Lotty] that if you’ve been Southern Baptist for longer than 15 minutes, you know who she is. Somebody sparked a fire in Lotty at some point.



Mark: That’s right.



Joel: I don’t know all of her history, but at some point, and I would imagine it was some experience like the kind of experience we’re talking about today. I would pray for Covenant. I would ask prayer for Covenant, but for any of our churches. That the next Lotty, the next Annie, the next Amy Smith would come as a result of the experiences that they could potentially have here on the beach.



Joel: I think that’s… You asked how can we pray for Covenant in relation to what’s happening here on the ocean, on the shore? I think that’s the answer. Just pray for God to raise up other men and women.



Mark: That’s something that all of us can be praying for.



Joel: Yeah.



Mark: All of our churches need to be praying for God to raise those people up.



Amy: I’ll tag on to that. I am where I am today and who I am today because when I was 13, 14 years old, I was involved in the Resort Ministry when Lynn Davis was leading. I was there as a teenager and I was included, and involved, and trained, and taught that this is what you do as a Christian. That you love, and you serve, and you share. Don’t underestimate the significance of your middle schoolers and your high schoolers having experience in missions young.



Mark: That’s right because those aged kids are not to just be tolerated. They’re to be involved because they have a contribution to make.



Amy: Absolutely.



Mark: Boy what is being built into their life is amazing. Well let’s pray if we can. Thank you guys so much for your time today and just like to lift you both up before the Lord. Let’s pray.



Mark: Father God, I give you thanks today. I thank you for the opportunity you’ve given us to have this time to have a conversation and to just learn more about the ministry going on in Ocean City. I thank you for raising up Amy and for putting her there and for all of her experience that has led her to this time. I pray, God that you would give her wisdom and discernment for leading this ministry.



Mark: I pray for the churches that she partners with and I pray God, that you had burdened the hearts of our churches in Maryland and Delaware to have more of a concern for this ministry. To see the opportunities that you have placed right before our eyes right here in Ocean City, in our own backyard. That we would take advantage of those opportunities and that we would partner together to reach these students. To share the light of hope that is in Christ with those who come to work there.



Mark: I thank you for churches like Covenant that have taken up that challenge. That have willingly sent their young people to work and that serve in other ways, God. I just pray that you would continue to bless them and to just be with Joel as he leads that church.



Mark: Then God, we do pray that as he was saying, God, that not only in Covenant, but in all of our churches that you would raise up future leaders, God. People who have a heart for seeing the gospel go to the ends the Earth.



Mark: We pray Lord, that even in these next few months that you would be working to call young people into a deeper commitment, Lord. To give their life in service for the kingdom in whatever way, whatever shape or form that might take God. You are sovereign and you can lead and in ways that we can’t even begin to imagine.



Mark: Just help us to be faithful to the task that you have called us to do. For us to continue to encourage others to walk with you as well. We thank you for the ministry in Ocean City. We pray that you would continue to use it for your honor, and for your glory, and that you would do the same with each of us in the churches where we serve you as well. We ask this in Jesus, amen.



Amy: men.



Mark: Amen. Thank you both so much for being here today.



Joel: My pleasure.



Amy: Thank you for having us.