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When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. –Matthew 9:36
The Greek word for Jesus’ compassion in this verse describes a visceral, internal type of feeling. This past June, the youth of Grace Church of Wooster (Ohio) traveled to Georgia for Encounter Atlanta. In response to visiting a mosque and observing the rigid Muslim religious lifestyle, Cody Smith said, “My heart hurt for these people.” And after sharing her faith in the park, Janelle Poirier was surprised, saying, “Who would have thought that a simple ‘hello’ to a man in the park who was walking two dogs, would result in an encouraging spiritual conversation?”
Hosted by Encompass each March and June, Encounter Atlanta is a five-day missions training experience in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the United States. Not only do participants learn about other cultures, but they also spend time with people from those cultures, learning how to share their faith with those from all backgrounds.
Encounter Atlanta is ideal for churches, youth groups, small groups, colleges, individuals, and families. It provides those open to cross-cultural service with a new understanding of multiple world religions, including Islam and Hinduism. Participants learn how to cross cultural barriers with the hope of the gospel. While their passion and knowledge to live on-mission for Jesus grows, they become more solid in their biblical worldview. Participants also have the opportunity to get involved in local outreach through impactful ministry on the ground. During this most recent experience, there were opportunities to share the love of Christ with children of refugees through artistic and athletic activities as part of a day camp.
But Encounter Atlanta is not just for young people! A year ago an intergenerational team from Grace Church at Willow Valley (PA) participated. The hearts of the students and adults were filled with compassion for the needs of the refugees they saw. Team leader Holly Wismer said “After the trip, the Lord was leading us to minister to refugees in our area, but we didn’t know where to start. So we launched a prayer meeting. Week after week, a group of five to seven people prayed that God would remove barriers in the hearts of our church family, lead us to gatekeepers in the refugee resettlement community, and keep us attuned to the leading of His Spirit.” Team member Kris Green noted, “One year to the day from when we shared about the Encounter Atlanta trip, we were on the platform announcing that the Lord had brought us an Afghan refugee family to minister to as a church. We now have an opportunity to show compassion to these new friends!”