ST. PETERSBURG — It’s four in the morning and Pastor Jon Matthews of New Philadelphia Ministries in south St. Petersburg is preparing for departure along with his 22-member missionary team to Bluewater Bible College in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
In the church sanctuary, the members make a circle and join hands to pray for guidance for three weeks of mission work. This day begins the first of two trips.
“God showed me that there are pastors in other countries that don’t have the resources and training like we have in the United States to win souls,” said Pastor Matthews. “I have a passion to help pastors in other countries reach people and change lives.”
Isn’t a trip to the Virgin Islands more like a vacation? From the outside looking in, why would anyone travel 1,300 miles from Florida to the Virgin Islands for missionary work?
The Caribbean Islands are some of the most beautiful destinations in the world with gorgeous ocean waters and tropical fruit. The perception of the landscape alone is one of a tropical getaway filled with picturesque sceneries, exotic cuisines, cruises, excursions and plenty of relaxation.
A Caribbean mission to some may seem oxymoronic. It’s even laughable when some consider the Caribbean as a place needing salvation.
For pastors in the Caribbean, however, there is a burning desire to share the good news of Jesus Christ to those who are spiritually dead.
New Philadelphia Ministries, a member of the Southern Baptist Association, in partnership with The Island Project (six local Southern Baptist Churches in the Virgin Islands) are mission-minded, ready and willing to fulfill the great commission commanded by God in Matthews 28:19-20: “Go…make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…”
“Our Caribbean mission team conducted mission projects within nine days which included vacation bible school at three locations, street evangelism in local communities, evening praise and worship seminars, nightly revival and culminated with a gospel concert collaboration at The Calvary Baptist Church of St. Thomas. We really had a good time doing what God would have us to do, and the people welcomed it,” said Pastor Matthews.
The nine days that the team spent in the Virgin Islands were eventful. More than 100 men, women and children accepted Jesus Christ, declaring they are now new creations.
“When people get a clear understanding of who Jesus Christ is and how their life can be affected for the better, they typically are willing to at least give it a try,” said Matthews.
“The presentation and the present has a lot to do with what people believe about their situation changing. The problem with most witness campaigns is the story of the storyteller is not believable. These people are hungry and they are looking to have hope. That’s why we are here.”
Matthews is open about his storied past and is willing to share it. His life test has been converted to his mission field testimony. The struggles that he’s had in the past are the triumphs he now professes and often tells so that he can win souls for Christ.
As a result, new doors have opened for New Philadelphia Ministries. Pastor Matthews and his team will have an opportunity to continue working on the mission field as they embark on the next missionary trip to Port-au-Prince and Léogâne, Haiti.