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Commissioning celebration honors calling of missionary heroes

WICHITA, Kan. (BP)–Missionaries were honored as heroes Aug. 24 during one of the biggest events ever to accompany a North American Mission Board commissioning service. A total of 75 new missionaries were commissioned during the celebration at Wichita’s Century II Convention Center — and many laypeople were commissioned as well as they responded to God’s call on their lives where they live and work.

The event, sponsored by the Heart of Kansas Southern Baptist Association, also included a youth concert, evangelistic puppet and magic shows for children, and a large-scale missions fair that included booths from churches and ministries throughout Kansas and NAMB. And like sports heroes at an autograph event, missionaries also were available at tables before the service to sign program books and have their photos taken with children.

Also sharing words of encouragement was Wichita-area resident and former missionary Gracia Burnham, who spent a year as a captive of Muslim extremists in the Philippines with her husband, Martin, before a rescue effort resulted in his death and her freedom just over a year ago.

Terry Fox, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Wichita and current chairman of the North American Mission Board’s trustees, said the experience was the fulfillment of a vision that began a year earlier.

“Our goal was to make this the largest Southern Baptist event in the history of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists, and I think we’re going to come very close to that,” he said, noting that total attendance approached 4,000. “We have a heart to make Southern Baptists a powerful influence in Kansas.”

Among the missionaries being commissioned were directors of missions, collegiate evangelists, community ministry specialists, volunteer coordinators, state convention staff members and church planters.

Barry Odom, who is planting a church in the Seattle, Wash., area, shared how he met his father only after he was in his late 20s — and it was then that he realized that God might have something special in store for him. His father and grandfather were military heroes, one in World War II and the other in Vietnam.

“What they did mattered, and they made a difference,” he said. He then began to realize the difference he could make as a missionary church planter. He told how he eventually decided to stay within the Southern Baptist Convention because of the strong supportive environment.

“I began to see the power of what can happen when people do unite, do come together and do cooperate,” Odom said. “It’s led us to be a part of the movement on the east side of Seattle, which we believe is ground zero for impacting the world.”

Odom also told of how his father’s mother, when he met her for the first time, touched his face and said, “I want you to know that I prayed for you every day of your life, and I didn’t even know your name.”

“It all began to come into focus,” Odom said. “So I’m excited to be here tonight and partner with all of you, and hoping that you’ll see the same destiny and significance.”

Gracia Burnham, a member of an independent Bible church who served with New Tribes Mission, shared a letter written to her by a fellow missionary shortly after her husband’s death in June of last year.

Martin Burnham made headlines nationally as a hero for his perseverance in the midst of hardship and subsequently as a martyr for the faith. But the Burnham’s missionary friend wrote to Gracia about how Martin, a missionary pilot, had been largely responsible for leading one Filipino airstrip worker to faith in Christ in 1993 — and the long-term impact that had had on their local congregation.

“I love this letter. And it’s not because it makes Martin into some kind of hero,” Gracia said. “It’s because after Martin’s life was over I got to see a glimpse of how our ministry made a difference in lives.”

To the missionaries beginning their ministries, she said, “I must admit I’m kind of jealous of you.

“You know, God often uses the most unlikely and foolish things to bring about His plan,” she said. “Might it be that guy who was standing in the middle of your airstrip getting in your way, that unlovely guy with a bad temper, that you would be able to lead to Jesus because you were doing what God called you to do?”

NAMB President Robert E. “Bob” Reccord also challenged the crowd to consider their own role in God’s plan. In what has become NAMB’s central message over the past year, he asked them to “answer His call,” “tell His story,” and in doing so, to “change your world.” For some it is a call to vocational ministry, he said, but to many others it is a call to serve in the environment where God has already placed them.

At the close of his message, Reccord reinforced his point with a departure from custom at NAMB commissioning services. While members of the congregation usually gather around missionaries being commissioned to pray for them and their ministries, Reccord instead asked missionaries to pray with laypeople responding to God’s call on their own lives.

“All night long, and all weekend, we’ve been praying for the missionaries,” he said after the service. “What a neat turn to have the missionaries pray for the laypeople who are on mission right where they are. It’s just a give and a take, and a mutual sharing in the mission.”

The next NAMB commissioning is scheduled for the evening of Nov. 4 during the Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting.
For more information on opportunities for missions service through NAMB, visit www.answerthecall.net. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: SEATTLE MISSIONARIES, HOW DOES HE DO THAT? MISSIONARY HEROES, GRACIA BURNHAM, BOOK SIGNING and ANSWER HIS CALL.

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  • James Dotson