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5,000 ‘Celebrate the Call’ of new FMB missionaries

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–Arkansas Baptists met at Little Rock’s Statehouse Convention Center to “Celebrate the Call” for 63 Southern Baptist missionaries appointed by the Foreign Mission Board.

The April 8 service, the first of its type held in Arkansas since 1989, drew an estimated 5,150, making it one of the largest gatherings in Arkansas Baptists’ history.

Jerry Rankin, FMB president, also highlighted the meeting’s historical significance, telling participants the appointees would be “the last ‘foreign’ missionaries sent out by Southern Baptists. In subsequent services, we will be appointing ‘international’ missionaries.” Rankin’s reference was to the FMB’s upcoming name change to International Mission Board in June.

During the service, the congregation was led into worship by a 300-voice massed choir and orchestra consisting of students from Ouachita Baptist University and Williams Baptist College, the Arkansas Master’s Singers, Singing Women of Arkansas and of adult choir members from central Arkansas churches.

As the congregation sang, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” “O Zion, Haste” and “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations,” a flag processional highlighted countries where Southern Baptists missionaries serve, led by an “honor guard” consisting of missionary kids attending school in Arkansas.

ABSC executive director Emil Turner told participants the service “is, perhaps, one of the most important meetings that has occurred in Little Rock and the state of Arkansas for a long, long time. We are convinced that eternity will be touched tonight.”

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee agreed, calling the event a celebration of “the deliverance of thousands who will come to know Christ through the appointment of these missionaries. The best we can ever do in the capitol is change a law for a while, but when these go forth to other countries the Lord will bless for all eternity.”

During his charge to the new missionaries, Rankin said “for many in this auditorium, it seems strange that that place you call the center of God’s will would be … someplace like Uganda, Suriname or China. But you heard God’s call as you became aware of a world in need and lost without Jesus Christ and were willing to say, ‘Yes, Lord.'” Some of you will go where no one has ever shared the gospel among unreached people groups.

Preaching from 1 Kings 17, Rankin told the appointees “being there” was to be in:

— God’s provision. “Elijah was obedient to go to that specific place that God directed him,” Rankin said. “Because Elijah responded to God’s call and was obedient to his direction, God provided for Elijah there. As you go to mission fields around the world, being there where God has called you is a place of God’s provision.”

— God’s protection. “Because Elijah was there, God protected him and cared for him,” Rankin emphasized. “Some of you are going to places of risk and danger. When you respond to God’s call, he protects you.

“Being there and being in God’s will doesn’t keep you from harm’s way,” he added, “but you can go wherever God is leading with perfect peace because you know that God goes with you. In the center of his will is the safest place to be.”

— God’s power. “Who would have dared to stand alone before 3,000 prophets of Baal?” Rankin asked. “Elijah, because he knew he was in the place of God’s power. Just as the hand of God was on Elijah, his hand is on you.”

Rankin then turned his words from the missionaries to the audience, noting “that Elijah, discouraged, fearful, his faith beginning to whither, finds himself in the cave of Horeb. In a still, small voice, God said, ‘Elijah, what are you doing here?’

“You see, Elijah was no longer there, where God had called him,” he said. “Is God saying to you, ‘What are you doing here’ when there are so many needs in the world? … God is saying to many here tonight… when there are so many unprecedented opportunities, ‘What are you doing here?'”

Fifty-one participants answered Rankin by coming forward to surrender for missions service.

The program was preceded by an hour-long prayer meeting involving about 75 at the Statehouse Center’s Pope Room to pray for the service, its participants and for God’s Spirit to enter the event.

Bill Elliff, pastor of First Baptist Church, Little Rock, moderated the meeting, telling participants that “I think the Lord is honored by us taking the time to thank him and praise him for what he has done in preparing for this service. Pray conversationally as the Lord impresses your heart.”

Participants followed Elliff’s lead, praying with bowed heads and in song for such specifics as the missionary appointees and service leaders, for participants to be called to missionary service during the event and even for the service’s witness to convention center workers.

    About the Author

  • Russell N. Dilday