FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – When Tom Elliff challenged the Southern Baptist Convention with the Embrace program—to adopt unreached and unengaged people groups (UUPGs) around the world— Southwestern Seminary accepted that challenge and the Antandroy people of Madagascar.

For a third time, the seminary sent students and faculty to the African island to follow through on that commitment, spending two weeks of their summer there, May 22 – June 8.

“Our aim is to further the work in and among the Antandroy people,” said Keith Eitel, dean of the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions at Southwestern.

David Josh Crisp, who had just completed his first semester at Southwestern in the Master of Divinity program, said he was eager to participate in the trip after being involved in missions at his church in Illinois, including trips to Uganda.

“I’ve really got a heart for the great commission and taking the Gospel all over the world and not just in the states,” Crisp said.

The team of 12 spent their first week working with a missionary family living in Fort Dauphine. During the mornings, the team studied African traditional religions, while in the afternoon they engaged the community through Bible stories and house-to-house evangelism. Faculty on the trip also had opportunity to teach church planting to local church leaders.

The second week, the team traveled further into the interior of Madagascar—what Eitel called the heartland of the Antandroy people—where they continued with door-to-door evangelism.

On final day of the trip, Crisp had the opportunity to share the Gospel with a section of the Antandroy living in the interior, including a leader in that area whom Eitel called a sub-chief. After hearing the message, the leader began asking questions, which resulted in the majority of the village wanting to profess faith in Christ, a total of 30-35 people. They even asked a local pastor with them if they could start a church the very next day.

Their translator, an Antandroy himself, said he had never seen anything like that.

Crisp said seeing that change in the people, who declared they did not want to follow the tribal beliefs or witch doctor any longer, was his favorite part of the entire trip.

“It really looked and felt like there was real transformation there, and they were wanting to learn more,” Crisp said.

Although the decisions of those people seemed genuine, Eitel said at other times during the trip they had to emphasize a personal commitment of faith and not a group decision mentality. They also taught of the assurance of salvation and the fact that they did not need to make that decision each time they sinned.

Over the course of the trip, the team saw almost 160 professions of faith as a result of their teaching and proclamation of the Gospel. Approximately another 100 rededicated their lives to Christ.

Though the entire team spent just the two weeks in Madagascar, some members remained on the island to continue the mission for even another month afterwards. Crisp said the students, both from the college and the seminary, learned how hard mission work can be but how fun it is as well.

“I think [we] got a good feel of what mission work is and what it is all about,” Crisp said, “and how we don’t need to stay in the seminary bubble—that we need to venture out and take the Gospel out to the ends of the earth like Jesus tells us to.”

Crisp and Eitel both said the trip serves as a reminder to students of the importance of missions and sharing the Gospel, whether at home or abroad.

“It’s not an appendage to the Christian life,” Eitel said of missions. “But it should be more of a centralized part of what we do, that we touch the lostness around the world regardless of where we live.”