HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. (BP) — As a college student traveling abroad in Cambodia, Hope Denaham* happened upon a 4-year-old girl in an alley.
“She reached her arms out to me, and I held her for an hour,” Denaham recalled. “I wondered if she had ever been held in her life.”
Denaham grew up internationally, but she had no desire to live overseas, much less serve as an international missionary. But her encounter with the little girl and the heartbreak of human need changed her.
“While holding the child in my arms, I knew that God was calling me to reach the broken and forgotten,” she said.
Denaham, who will serve in South Asia, was one of 54 men and women appointed as missionaries by International Mission Board trustees during a Sept. 12 service at First Baptist Church, Hendersonville, N.C. While their stories are unique, their call is the same: to take the Good News to the nations.
After returning from a second trip to Asia where she worked in orphanages and refugee camps, Denaham realized she could never go back to “life as normal.”
“I saw that His desire was for all peoples to know Him … and my call was to share Christ with the lost,” she said.
For Russ Finley,* who will plant churches in Central Asia, a passion to share the Gospel grew out of his childhood struggle with severe learning disabilities.
“When I graduated from high school, I could only read and spell the simplest words,” Finley said. “I didn’t feel very valuable. I felt just the opposite. I let … my learning difficulties control what I thought about myself.”
But through “God’s grace and power,” Finley not only completed college with two bachelor’s degrees, he also earned advanced degrees in social work and law. Since 1995, he has worked with abused and neglected children and authored legislation and policies to address children’s issues.
While justice for society’s weakest motivates both Denaham and Finley, the desire to share God’s love with those yet to hear is their driving force.
“I have seen Jesus’ love melt the heart of a former secret police agent in Eastern Europe and bring hope to the eyes of poor children in the Amazon jungle of Peru,” Finley told listeners at First Baptist. “In obedience to His call, I will be His heart among the people of Central Asia.”
For other new missionaries, like Beth Hollander* and Cassie Stoddard,* particularly significant was being appointed during a week when more than 1,000 current IMB emeriti missionaries attended a weeklong event at nearby LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center. Both came to Christ through the influence of IMB missionaries.
Hollander, who was born in Asia, didn’t hear the name of Jesus until she was 18. She attended Bible classes with an American host family while on a month-long stay in the United States as a college student. A former missionary taught the class.
Later, after she returned to Asia, an IMB missionary regularly visited the bread shop where she worked and invited her to church. But it was another short-term missionary to her country, who knew Hollander from her U.S. visit, who guided Hollander to accept Christ as her Savior. That missionary, Wayne Hollander,* is now her husband. Both were appointed to take the Gospel to Southeast Asia.
While Hollander first heard the Gospel in America, Stoddard was raised as an atheist in what she describes as “a country of great darkness.”
“When an IMB missionary shared the Gospel with me, I believed and began to share with others in my city,” Stoddard said.
IMB President Tom Elliff reminded the audience that reaching the remaining 3,167 unengaged, unreached people groups will require more than the nearly 5,000 active IMB missionaries can provide.
“We are counting on the churches,” Elliff said. “The Great Commission is everyone’s job.”
Stoddard, who will serve in East Asia, agrees. For her, those with little or no access to the Gospel are more than statistics or dark places on the map of global evangelization. Instead, they are real people with real names, including a college friend who died just last year.
“Like all of my other friends and family, she lived in a part of the world with very little access to the Gospel, and she did not have a relationship with Christ,” Stoddard said. “Her death was a reminder to me of the urgency of the task God has given us. I want to take the Gospel to the places in the world where Christ is not known.”
But taking the Gospel to the hardest-to-reach places involves great challenges and personal sacrifice, Elliff acknowledged.
Referencing the recent death of Cheryll Harvey, a Southern Baptist representative in Jordan, Elliff said, “Maybe you are saying, ‘This is hard for me.'”
Preaching from Hebrews 12, Elliff challenged the new missionaries to look to Jesus in every situation.
“When you are asking, ‘Dear God, why am I here?’ look to Jesus,” he said. “Look to Jesus because of who He is, what He did and why He did it.
“Don’t quit! The answer in every instance is Jesus. He is the answer a lost world is waiting to hear.”
*Names changed. Tess Rivers is an International Mission Board writer.