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First-ever Northeast commissioning draws 2,000 to celebrate missions


SOMERSET, N.J. (BP)–They were heroes, if only for a moment.
Nearly 100 Southern Baptist missionaries received an enthusiastic and spontaneous standing ovation from 2,000 Northeast Missions Celebration attendees May 1 at the Garden State Exhibit Center, Somerset, N.J.
The new missionaries, including some who could not be identified publicly because they will serve in “restricted-access” countries where their ministries are unwelcomed, had just been spotlighted during the historic commissioning service conducted by SBC’s International Mission Board and North American Mission Board. Such a jointly sponsored worship service had never before been held in the Northeast.
After they complete an orientation, the international missionaries will undergo an intensive period of learning another language and culture before serving without much fanfare in Zimbabwe, Ghana, Thailand, the Philippines, Mexico, Peru, Togo, Angola, in eastern Asia and at other undisclosed locations around the world. The North American missionaries will serve in challenging mission fields that include target groups from Native Americans in rural Montana to college students in urban New York City.
The three-day missions extravaganza also featured a Woman’s Missionary Union-sponsored convocation on missions and ministry in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Representatives from each of the four cosponsoring state Baptist conventions, New England, New York, Pennsylvania/South Jersey and Maryland/Delaware, were joined on the platform by Dellanna O’Brien, national WMU executive director, and Wanda Lee, WMU president. Echoing the celebration’s theme, O’Brien called on participants to “Come Go With Me … I Invite You … I Dare You!”
Just before the commissioning service, O’Brien, NAMB President Bob Reccord and IMB President Jerry Rankin spoke to 750 people attending a missions banquet. In an informal interview format that included personal questions from two Pennsylvania children, the three missions leaders discussed their callings to and visions for world missions.
Dozens of Baptist organizations displayed their brochures and videos at a day-long missions fair, while international missionaries set up colorful displays representing their adopted countries, to the delight of children and adults alike. Some, including those who serve in West Africa, dressed in native costume. In an adjacent area of the exhibit center, North American missionaries displayed an array of crafts, food, maps and brochures to help tell the story of their places of service. Attendees browsing the festival munched on Wisconsin cheese, Vermont maple sugar candy, Montana berry jam and other regional treats.
Throughout the Northeast Missions Celebration, the focus stayed on those being commissioned. It was their day.
Among those commissioned, Bob Farrell, and his wife, Serena, have been working with Montana’s Triangle Baptist Association since September, where he is director of missions: Farrell is developing new missions and strengthening churches from Great Falls to Browning to Havre. The 16-congregation association requests prayer for a Native American pastor who will serve a Cree mission in the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation.
Farrell, pastor of churches in Texas and Colorado the last 39 years, expressed appreciation for “the affirmation Southern Baptists are giving us. To know that Southern Baptists are going to be praying for us is a tremendous encouragement to my heart.”
The morning after being commissioned, Melinda Erickson said the only way to bring the gospel to 82 million unreached people whom she and her husband, Jim, will serve in central and southern Asia through the International Mission Board is “on our knees” in prayer. After the Columbia, S.C., couple studies the group’s language and culture, they will work together with national Christians and other Great Commission missions groups to reach the Asian people group that cannot be named openly.
Erickson said those attending the Northeast Missions Celebration “have been so warm and receptive and interested in where we’re going. … God has a job for all of us, whether it’s here in the States or overseas.” The Ericksons, who will leave their adult children and a granddaughter behind, expect to leave for the mission field in July.
Keith Cogburn, director of missions for Wisconsin’s Lakeland Baptist Association, and his wife, Laura, come to their NAMB assignment after serving in the most ethnically diverse region of the United States. Before moving to Wisconsin, he was pastor for 14 years of Raritan Valley Baptist Church, Edison, N.J., part of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association. “My experience in the Metro New York association gave me a good, healthy model for how a diverse group of people could come together in mission,” Cogburn said. “I will do my best to bring to bear the good lessons I learned on the East Coast in Milwaukee.”
Maryland native Bridget Cavey, support staff member for the evangelism division of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, and her husband, Ken, the state convention’s associate director for evangelism since July 1997, said of being commissioned, “I don’t think I’ll really understand it until I am away from it. It’s more than I could ever have imagined. When you grow up in WMU and you’re a Southern Baptist all your life, you hear and read about these kinds of meetings. Now, to be a participant in such a personal and intimate way is quite amazing! It’s very much a blessing from the Lord.”
Celebration participants from across the Northeast and national Southern Baptist leaders likewise were blessed by the Northeast Missions Celebration. Margaret O’Hanian, WMU leader for the Greater Boston Baptist Association, for instance, said she was “so excited that I couldn’t sleep until I got here. There’s so much to see and do. It’s wonderful! I’m just overwhelmed by seeing all of these missionaries who work at home and abroad.”
After talking with a medical missionary who had to ask for a leave of absence following a family hardship, Bob Wellner, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, Brimfield, Mass., said he “came to a new appreciation of the hardship that some of our missionaries go through. It makes the little things I go through seem very, very small compared to some of the sacrifices that our international, and even home, missionaries make.”
NAMB’s Reccord, touring the exhibit hall before the missions banquet, called missions in the northeastern United States “critical because the Northeast is the seedbed of where our country came from and, unfortunately, our country in the Northeast has moved a long way from where it started. One of the key focal points of missions needs to be a return to its spiritual roots back in the Northeast.”
WMU’s O’Brien praised the missions forum that the Northeast gathering provided because it “gives everyone here a sense of being in something larger than their own area, a sense of family, a common purpose and an opportunity to share the privilege and the obligation of missions.”
Charlie Hendren, a member of Manchester (N.H.) Baptist Church, came to Somerset “not knowing why God brought me down here. I’m just amazed at all the things God is doing… and how many people are involved.” As he walked around the missions fair at the Garden State Exhibit Center, the gas station attendant talked with retired missionaries and even heard about a missionary who was shot while serving overseas.
“There’s something greater than what we’re seeing with our eyes, and that is faith in God,” Hendren said. “I’m not sure whether it’s a long-term or a short-term thing, but I do know this — I pledge myself to be available, doing whatever he wants me to do.”