Worldwide, there are 1.6 billion East Asian people, 1.3 billion of whom are still unreached by the Gospel, the International Mission Board estimates. Seeking to heed the call for evangelism, Southwestern Seminary’s annual International Church Planting Week, Sept. 18-23, focused this year on crucial mission needs and evangelical progress in East Asia.

The week included informational and prayer sessions, workshops, and fellowship events held by the World Missions Center at Southwestern Seminary. Each event gave students the opportunity to learn more about international missions as well as interact with visiting international missionaries.

At the Sept. 19 Tastes of the Nations event, students participated enthusiastically with praise and worship music with an international flair and enjoyed an array of foods from around the world. Steve Ellis, group leader for the IMB East Asian People’s Affinity, encouraged a large crowd of students to open their hearts to the way God chooses to use them. “Your path may look nothing like the journey you expected,” he told them.

He recalled the beginnings of his call to mission work as a teen in rural Missouri. For three years, although he had been baptized and had participated and traveled with a church youth group, “I had never heard the Gospel,” he said. “I was just looking to meet girls. During my efforts to find someone, Jesus found me.”

One night, the message of salvation touched his heart. He was driven to tears; he began to have puzzling dreams. “After two weeks of sleepless nights, I gave my life to Jesus in full surrender,” he said.

“Afterward, I couldn’t keep quiet,” he continued. He began to share the Word of God with family, friends and acquaintances.  Later, when he felt called to the ministry, “I finally was at peace,” he said. “The hand of the Lord was clearly leading me.”

Ellis enrolled at Criswell College in Dallas. There, he felt called to mission work.

On a school mission trip to Brazil, Ellis forged a friendship with a fellow student. “I didn’t know how to tell her that I felt God was calling me to become closer to her,” he said. “People think that when this happens, they’ll see a flash of light. Well, I really felt I was in the presence of God. God told me he had brought Patty to me.” He shared his epiphany with her, and she admitted that she, too, had felt the same directive from God—to be together and undertake international missions.

“In our case, we didn’t follow the same path as others,” he said. “We were open to what God called us to do.” That calling set his life path. “As long as there are tongues to speak and nations to hear us, we will be called.”

Ellis’ testimony, and others like it, contributed to International Church Planting Week’s purpose of helping students discern whether they are called to church planting and missions. “Consider how God will use you to go to the nations for Christ,” he said. “A God-sized task requires God-sized faith.”

On Sept. 22, Eastern Asia was the focus of One Magnificent Obsession—the World Missions Center’s weekly evening of worship, testimonies and prayer for the nations. Student leaders spoke about the needs of East Asia and how to pray more specifically for its people.

The week concluded with the Korean East Asia 1 Day Conference on Sept. 23, a day of inspiring messages in both English and Korean from Ellis and Korea Foreign Mission Board President Jaekyung Lee. The East Asian Peoples Affinity Group of the IMB generated the event to foster awareness and promote missionary training. Activities included an overview of the ongoing work in East Asia to reach unengaged people. Numerous training workshop sessions were held, in Korean and with bilingual translation, to prepare missionaries to support the advancement of the Gospel in East Asia and around the world.