Friday, March 26, 2010

Mission Arlington: Where the Lost Are Being Saved and Nobody Even Thinks About the Preacher's Gender

Our youth spent their Spring Break at Mission Arlington, volunteering in the multiple ministries offered by this extraordinary evangelical outreach in downtown Arlington, Texas. On August 1, 1986, Tillie Bergin, affectionately known as Miss Tillie, began Mission Arlington in a supply closet at FBC Arlington, Texas. Last year Mission Arlington delivered 22,000 Thanksgiving meals, provided 27,000 Christmas gifts to over thousands of needy families, gave free dental care to thousands of families that couldn't afford it, and supplied food, medicine, and emergency expenses to tens of thousands of people in the Arlington metroplex through the course of the year. Miss Tillie and her husband Bob were Foreign Mission Board missionaries in Korea in the 1960's and 70's. They came back to Arlington in the late 70's due to a severe illness in their youngest son. Bob became principal of Arlington High and Miss Tillie began work as Personnel Director for the Arlington I.S.D. Still burdened with a heart to see the lost come to know Christ, Miss Tillie took a step of faith and began doing for Arlington what she and her family had been doing in Korea. The result is Mission Arlington--a 2.8 million dollar ministry that never raises funds, never seeks volunteers, and never charges for services. As Miss Tillie would say, "You don't have to advertise a fire."

Last year hundreds of volunteers from 47 different states, and numerous countries from overseas, descended on Arlington, Texas to assist in reaching the tens of thousands of lost people that live in apartment complexes in the city. Miss Tillie and her staff of missionaries go into tough, gang-infested apartment complexes and begin Bible studies that eventually turn into churches. Right now 242 churches have begun through the efforts and ministry of Mission Arlington. Dr. Jim Bergin, Tillie's son, now coordinates the thousands of people that come to minister the poor and needy through the course of the year, including our church. My sixteen-year-old son, Logan, will be serving as a volunteer missionary this summer at Mission Arlington.

72 year old Miss Tillie told Logan and me a story yesterday about her first church start in an apartment complex in 1986. Tillie met a young lady named Virginia who was working as a bartender. Virginia was also addicted to drugs. She lived in an apartment complex run by gangs, and she had borne several children out of wedlock. Miss Tillie ministered the love of Christ to Virginia, and she came to know Jesus as her Savior. Miss Tillie discipled her and when the time came to launch a Bible study in the gang-infested apartment complex it was Virginia who was called to begin it. That first Sunday seventeen people showed up to study God's Word. Virginia taught them. Soon, people were coming to know Christ. Virginia would baptize them in the apartment swimming pool. During one Sunday worship service, a very sick infant child died in the arms of her mother while they were praying. When Miss Tillie arrived with the ambulance and police, the distraught parents wanted nobody to perform the service but Virginia. Miss Tillie had to show Virginia how to conduct a funeral. She did it, and she has conducted funerals since. When the Lord's Supper is served during worship, it is Virginia who serves it. Virginia has never been "ordained." Virginia has never been to seminary. Virginia is not part of the "clergy." She is a follower of Jesus Christ. She is gifted. She is called. She is ministering. People are being saved.

Next year, the church begun by Virginia will celebrate 25 years of existence. From that humble beginning of one church in 1986, Mission Arlington has begun an additional 241 churches. Thousands of people over these past twenty five years have come to Christ and been baptized through Mission Arlington's church planting efforts. Apartment complex owners are begging Mission Arlington to come to their apartment complexes. Studies have shown where Mission Arlington is present in an apartment complex, crime goes down, occupancy goes up, and the living conditions improve. One would expect that when the grace of God appears.

As the Southern Baptists of Georgia argue over kicking out a church that called a Senior Pastor's wife as co-pastor, we all would do well to look at Mission Arlington as an example of what God will do when His people get more concerned about the lost than gender. Instead of arguing who is qualified, Mission Arlington simply releases the gifted to minister as God calls. I was astonished at the incredible--some might say "miraculous"-ministry being done at Mission Arlington. As I was leaving, I asked one of the missionaries to whom I was speaking "Why Arlington?"  Clark Bergin, Miss Tillie's 21 year old grandson and student at Dallas Baptist University responded: "Why Bethlehem?"

Good point. One of these days the Southern Baptist Convention will no longer be concerned about the gender of the person ministering Christ; we will only be concerned about the ministry being done in the name of the one born in Bethlehem.

In His Grace,


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