EDITOR’S NOTE: Listen to excerpts from an interview with Tom Elliff, president of Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board, about current global crises:
— A world “bombarded with disasters”:
— The power of prayer:
— Baptist Global Response and missionaries in crisis areas:
— “Not about the West”:
RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Tom Elliff is working hard in his early days as president of the International Mission Board to master the complexities of running Southern Baptists’ global missions enterprise.
But it hasn’t escaped his notice that the globe itself seems to be falling apart at the moment. Wars, revolutions and political turmoil are sweeping through much of the Middle East and Africa. Farther east, a massive earthquake, a tsunami and the threat of multiple nuclear meltdowns have shaken Japan to its core — literally and figuratively.
“I think ‘bombarded with disasters’ is a pretty good description of what’s happening right now,” Elliff said during a break from planning sessions with IMB leaders. “Some of them are political. Some of them, obviously, have to do with the earth itself. Some have to do with our technology,” which brings significant risks as well as benefits.
It’s not anything unexpected for alert readers of Scripture or students of history, Elliff observed. How should Christians respond?
“First of all, the immediate response is through prayer,” Elliff emphasized. “There is no way in the world that we can overestimate the value and the power of prayer.
“Sometimes we think that we could do more if we were there than by praying, but the truth of the matter is that prayer is available to every believer. As we assault the throne of God with our prayers, the Bible tells us that God has determined that He is going to move in the lives and hearts of people. We bring them more than bread, which they need for food; we bring them the Bread of Life.”
At the same time, Elliff added, Southern Baptists have multiple resources for providing physical aid during times of crisis — through mission workers in hundreds of key locations and through the IMB’s partnership with Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist relief and development organization.
One example: Missionaries and volunteers distributed relief goods in Ishinomaki, Japan, in late March. The city of approximately 120,000 people was devastated March 11 by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami. The 11-member Southern Baptist team spent two days distributing relief supplies at multiple locations throughout the city. Everywhere they went, they found grateful Japanese, eager for someone to listen to their stories.
Southern Baptists also are aiding refugees fleeing Libya as civil war rages in the North African nation. As many as 10,000 people could have food and medical needs met through Baptist Global Response initiatives as they cross the Libyan border into other nations. They’ll also have the opportunity to hear the Gospel.
“When a natural disaster or a political disaster occurs and drives people to the edges of their country or into another country, we can count on the relationships we have established over the years with the people missionaries have touched in various levels of government and communities all over the world,” Elliff said.
“That’s what is happening right now in Japan. Because of our relationship with Japanese Baptists and other relationships our missionaries have established, we are beginning to filter in the kind of help that people so desperately need.”
Elliff challenged American Christians to shake off the “How does it affect us?” perspective they often bring to world events — and focus instead on God’s global purposes.
“It’s time we realize that this is not about the West,” he said. “When I say this, I mean that the great plan of God is not about preserving Western culture. It is about the end vision, which is all people of all nations, of all tongues, of all tribes gathered around the throne of the Lord worshipping Him.
“We must keep our eyes on the end vision and realize that we ourselves have been remarkably exempt for some time from some of these kinds of upheavals. But we can’t go to the bank on that. We’ll have our own upheavals in the days ahead and we need to be prepared for that.”
Erich Bridges is a global correspondent for the International Mission Board.