BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Amid a flurry of colorful flags representing countries from around the world, 63 new missionaries joined the ranks of Southern Baptist overseas workers Jan. 22 at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Vestavia Hills, Ala.
Although a cold rain fell outdoors, the weather did not dampen the enthusiastic spirit of the nearly 3,000 attendees who came to experience the service and pay tribute to the appointees.
The two-hour celebration included inspirational music by Shades Mountain’s choir, orchestra and soloists; words of encouragement from International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin; and prayers by three IMB trustees from Alabama, Billy Hudgins, Laurelle Stoudenmire and Gene Dykes.
Reading from Colossians 1, Rankin challenged the new missionaries to catch the apostle Paul’s passion for missions.
“Paul’s passion was to present every man complete in Christ, because he knew Jesus was the only hope people had of being reconciled to God,” Rankin said. He warned them that they will be overwhelmed by the masses of people they see in congested cities.
“It will be easy to succumb to the temptation to say, ‘We’ll witness to as many as possible and hope some of them will be saved,'” he said. “I pray that you will go with the passion that all of them will know Jesus Christ.”
Rankin urged the new missionaries to hold on to Paul’s purpose — making Jesus known — and to remember that while there is a price to being obedient to Christ’s call, there also is the power of “Christ in you.”
In an emotional part of the service, all 63 missionaries — some fighting back tears — shared a brief testimony about their call to missions. Although circumstances differed, the one constant was their willingness to obey the call to missions work.
Georgia native Karman O’Kelley told the congregation she was excited to be headed for service in eastern Africa. “God has laid the world before my eyes and his people upon my heart,” she said.
One new missionary and her husband said they will be returning to the region of the world where his grandfather was led to Christ by Southern Baptist missionaries. Another new missionary, who came to Christ in a refugee camp in Asia, will be returning as a missionary to that same region.
Another couple, Alabaster, Ala., native Frances Courson and her husband, Kris, are going to plant churches for the deaf in Russia, which they said has an unusually high number of people who are deaf. As each of them shared a testimony, the other one interpreted in sign language for deaf members of the audience.
The array of the missionaries’ jobs and responsibilities were as diverse as the people themselves. There was a representation of younger and older couples, as well as people with different ethnic backgrounds. From teachers to interpreters for the deaf, from a photographer to a midwife, all walks of life were represented.
In a show of support for international missions, host pastor Danny Wood shared with the congregation that Shades Mountain had made a commitment to international missions with the twin goals of having a missionary from Shades Mountain represented in every time zone in the world and having planted a church in each of the 15 IMB regions by 2010.
After the missionary testimonies, IMB trustee chairman Bob Claytor told the crowd the appointees are rigorously examined before being accepted as IMB missionaries.
“We put them through a thorough examination,” he said. “We’ve spent time with them and we know just about everything there is to know about them. We want to know about their zeal for Christ, the desire of their hearts and their walk with Christ.”
Claytor told the congregation that IMB trustees believe they have a responsibility to Southern Baptists to be confident that the missionaries they appoint are God-called men and women.
“We must know that [the missionary appointees] have felt the call of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, and then we appoint them to do God’s work in [Southern Baptists’] name.”
Vast multitudes of people have very little opportunity to hear the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ — and they need someone to come tell them, said Avery Willis, IMB senior vice president for overseas operations.
As an illustration, he cited the work of a missionary couple in southern Africa who are working in a people group that has fewer than 10 Christians in a population of 550,000.
Given an opportunity to speak to a congregation that had a few members from that people group, Willis said he decided to preach on Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.
After the service, the missionary was deep in conversation with another man he was discipling when a 10-year-old boy named Fernando came up and told him he needed to talk.
The missionary was busy and started to brush him off, but stopped himself and turned to the boy to ask him what he wanted.
“I am a lost sheep,” Fernando said.
“Fernando joined the fold that day,” Willis said. “There are many lost sheep in this people group. Someone has to go find them and tell them the story of Jesus Christ.”
Sue Ann Miller is a staff writer for The Alabama Baptist.
The International Mission Board (www.imb.org) is a Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program (www.cpmissions.net) and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (www.imb.org/ime/LMCO).
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: CELEBRATE!, WILLING, TESTIMONY, APPLAUSE, HEADED BACK, WHO WILL GO?, ALL MEN COMPLETE and FELLOWSHIP.