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Churches, missionaries network to take gospel to Last Frontier

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptist pastors and lay people from about 275 churches embraced a challenge to take the gospel to the ends of the earth during “The Summit for the New Millennium” Dec. 14-16 at Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn.

The summit — a global missions networking conference sponsored by Nashville’s Two Rivers Baptist Church — linked more than 550 pastors and laypeople with about 160 missionary strategy coordinators targeting unreached people groups in The Last Frontier, the part of the world where people have little or no access to the gospel.

“The whole purpose of the summit was to put tools in the hands of churches, to say this is how you can connect and be a part of fulfilling the Great Commission during the next millennium,” said Jerry Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers and organizer of the conference.

During most of the summit, teams of church representatives and strategy coordinators met in small-group sessions, in which they discussed and prayed about how churches could help missionaries implement strategies for taking the gospel to unreached people groups. Participants also heard challenges from several Southern Baptist missions leaders, who reminded them that the entire body of Christ is responsible for obeying the Great Commission.

“As we look at the literally millions of people to be reached, we must realize that a handful of missionaries and strategy coordinators can’t get the job done alone,” International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin said during the summit’s opening banquet.

“I’ve often said it’s not the responsibility of the International Mission Board to do missions on behalf of Southern Baptists. The Great Commission was given to every believer, every church and every denominational entity. Our responsibility as a denominational missions agency is not to do missions on your behalf but to facilitate your being obedient to the Great Commission,” Rankin said.

Sutton, in a missions sermon, said, “This is the first time in the history of the world where the technology is in place to take the gospel to every unreached people group, every nation, in this world. For the first time in history the pieces of puzzle are all together. But the question is this: Will we do what Jesus has told us to do?”

During the summit, participants also heard from missionary strategy coordinators of the International Mission Board who told of God at work in amazing ways to draw the world’s unreached people to himself. Missionaries urged church representatives to take a “vision trip” to The Last Frontier to see for themselves how God is moving there.

“If you want to see the power of God, like you’ve only read about in books and wondered what it would be like to be there, then you come on,” said a strategy coordinator working among a responsive people group in former Soviet Central Asia.

At meeting room tables and in hallway conversations, participants sensed God was at work during the summit, too. “There were just so many divine appointments,” observed Bill Bullington, the IMB’s vice president for overseas services, who coordinated the board’s involvement in the event.

One of those appointments happened to strategy coordinator Frank Buck (name changed for security reasons), who is trying to evangelize an unreached people group in a restricted access country in North Africa.

“I knew that if God had his hand in this summit, great things would happen, but I guess I just wasn’t expecting them to happen at my table,” Buck admitted. “But God had been at work here, preparing the hearts of the pastors and lay people who attended.”

In fact, all churches represented at Buck’s table made commitments to get directly involved in taking the gospel to unreached people in the region.

A small mission congregation pledged to create Internet sites for missionary teams targeting 16 unreached people groups in the region. Another church volunteered to help recruit Southern Baptists to fill missionary personnel needs for the teams’ work. And leaders from Gateway Baptist Church in Irmo, S.C., even offered to hire a full-time administrator to handle the extra workload created by the church’s commitment to take the gospel to the region’s unreached people groups. In fact, Gateway will serve as a “hub church” for several missionary teams — recruiting other churches and individuals to get involved, coordinating volunteer projects and fielding communication.

“We’ll take some of the load off the shoulders of the missionaries by helping them better focus on their work” of strategic evangelization, said Don Brock, Gateway’s pastor.

“This conference has been so encouraging,” added Buck. “Sometimes as strategy coordinators we feel like we’re out there by ourselves, but this conference has linked us with many, many resources we can call on at a moment’s notice and other support we never dreamed of having.”

Meanwhile, the conference even made a difference for some of the nearly 130 lay volunteers from Two Rivers who helped during the event. At the close of the summit, one of those volunteers committed her life to serve as a missionary among an unreached people group overseas.

“Honestly, I don’t think we’ll know the full impact of the summit until we get to heaven,” said Jerry Highfill, Two Rivers’ minister of missions and evangelism.

“There’s no way to project the eternal consequences of what has happened here,” added Phil Claiborne, a layman from Two Rivers who helped coordinate the event. “There are untold people who will be reached for Christ because of the contacts that have been made here. I’m thankful that the Lord birthed this idea in the mind of Brother Jerry [Sutton] and that he was sensitive enough not to push it aside.”

In fact, God gave Sutton the idea for the summit after he took a vision trip to Asia and led his church to adopt an unreached people group in that region. Later he approached IMB administrators with the suggestion for the summit as a way to help missionaries network with local churches in the task of global missions. The IMB cooperated with Two Rivers to plan the event, but the church committed to fund the entire summit.

“This summit is wonderful evidence that God’s spirit is at work in the churches in a unique way,” said Avery Willis, the IMB’s senior vice president for overseas operations. “The churches are not looking to the International Mission Board to do missions for them, but they’re owning the Great Commission.

“They’re saying, ‘The Great Commission is given to us as individual believers, and we need to do something about it.'”

For information on scheduling a vision trip and becoming directly involved in taking the gospel to unreached people groups in The Last Frontier send e-mail to [email protected] or call toll free 1-877-462-4721.

(BP) photos (two horizontals, one vertical) BP Press Photo section www.sbc.net. File name: summit#.jpg. See related photos at http://www.imb.org/Media/PhotoDownloads/default.htm.

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  • Mary Speidel