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Burden for nations drives Southern Seminary professor

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–George Martin’s call to reach lost persons in far-flung places did not come with the profundity of fire from heaven.

There were no signs and wonders that told him to take the gospel to the heathen. His call was confirmed not by such a subjective source, but an infallible one: holy Scripture.

“I had always imagined, in order to be a missionary, that something extraordinary or even miraculous had to take place,” the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor said. “You know, sort of like the Lord writing in the sky with a cloud formation: ‘George, go to Southeast Asia!’ Nothing like that ever happened to Donna [his wife] and me.

“I’ll tell you what got us — it was the Bible. At one point it seemed that on just about every page to which we turned in the Scriptures, there was the instruction to go into all the world with the gospel.”

Martin, who is now professor of Christian missions at Southern Seminary, was pastoring Kosmosdale Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., in the late 1980s when he sensed the irresistible call to the mission field by God through his Word.

From 1988 to 1994, Martin and wife worked as missionaries in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was the lighting of a flame of passion that burns brightly in Martin today as he works to train young missionaries. In 1994, he took a teaching position as associate professor of religion at North Greenville College in Tigerville, S.C., before coming to Southern in 1996.

Today, his priority is God and seeing his Word shared authentically and in power to the nations.

“My passion is God,” he said. “To know him is to love him. To know the Savior is to desire him above all others. I really want others, all over the world, to know God as he truly is. One of my favorite sections of the Bible is chapters 40-48 of Isaiah. The prophet offers wonderful words of comfort to the exiled people of Israel.

“Essentially, he declares to them that if they have any hope at all, that hope is to be found in their God. In those chapters, it seems that Isaiah is painting a verbal picture of God, who he is and what he is like. Chapter after chapter, verse after verse, he speaks of the divine attributes and of the Lord’s greatness and majesty and uniqueness.”

In Indonesia, Martin served as founder, professor and academic dean at Jakarta Baptist Theological Seminary. Martin, his wife and their two children were assigned to Jakarta by Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board to establish the new seminary.

The institution took root and today has an enrollment of approximately 45 students. During that time, he also served as a professor at the Asia Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary.

The Martins’ third child, Rachel, was born while the family was in Jakarta.

While the teaching experience was fruitful and edifying, Martin found his most satisfying joy in being a mentor and trusted friend to his Indonesian students.

“There is a big difference between theological education there and here in terms of being able to spend time with the students,” he said.

“There, I got the opportunity to be out with my students preaching and teaching the gospel, and there was much more of a student-professor relationship. I got to do a lot of mentoring which I found great joy in. When we were in Jakarta, I used to think, ‘I can’t believe that the Southern Baptist Convention actually pays me to do this. I would pay them to do this.'”

Missions was far from Martin’s mind during his formative years. He grew up in central Florida in a conservative Southern Baptist congregation. The church collected its annual Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, but Martin doesn’t recall hearing much else about missions.

“I don’t remember a strong emphasis on missions from my years there,” he said. “Yes, we collected [those] offerings, and there were some dear, saintly ladies who were always on fire when it came to missions. But it seems that was about it. I sometimes hear others talk about hearing great and famous missionaries speak in their home churches. I don’t recall that sort of thing.”

While he was pastor at Kosmosdale, the urge to undertake missions quickly took root and grew to full flower. Working in theological education seemed a natural. During the time Martin was working on a doctor of theology degree at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in the late 1970s, he taught introduction to Old Testament. In 1982, he also served as a member of the auxiliary faculty at William Carey College in Hattiesburg, Miss.

Martin said he loves mentoring students, teaching them how to carry out God-centered missions and seeing a fire for missions stoked in those who previously were stone cold toward that particular calling.

“The greatest highlight is to see a student, previously not interested at all in international missions, follow God’s calling to take the good news of the Gospel to peoples who have not heard,” he said. “Paul described his great ambition of Romans 15 — that is, to preach the gospel to those who have not heard — and it is wonderful to see seminary students catch the same vision.”

Martin’s passion for missions is matched by his eagerness to see the task carried out according to Scripture. As the Word guided Martin to the mission field, so must it guide everything related to missions, particularly the message and methodology.

“Our manual for evangelism and missions is the Bible,” he said. “Those whom we should model our ministries after are in the Bible. It is in the Bible that God has declared the gospel. The Bible is not only inerrant and authoritative, it is also complete and sufficient for directing our lives and ministries.

“We must be certain that our goals are consistent with those of the Bible. Too often, it seems, we aim for ‘decisions’ rather than conversion; a nod of the head rather than a change of the heart; the repetition of a prayer rather than repentance and faith.

“There is a danger when we use less than biblical methodologies based on less than biblical theologies resulting in less than biblical outcomes. Only a consistent adherence to the theology and principles of the Bible will prevent us from missing the mark in missions.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: ON THE FIELD.

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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