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FIRST-PERSON: 21st-century world may look dismal, but future of missions is bright

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The year 2000 was a historic marker for missions advance. Remember Bold Mission Thrust? This ambitious effort by Southern Baptists to reach all the world with the gospel was targeted for completion in 2000.

The AD2000 and Beyond Movement had challenged evangelicals to complete the Great Commission by the turn of the century by planting a church among every nation and people group in the world. That goal was elusive, but Great Commission Christians saw tremendous progress that probably would not have been realized without that intriguing target.

Now that 2000 has come and gone, what does the future hold? While the global scene in the 21st century looks pretty dismal, prospects for missions advance have never been brighter.

Missionary candidates are seeking appointment in record numbers. More than 30,000 volunteers participated in short-term projects overseas last year. Southern Baptists are praying, giving and going more than ever before.

Innovative strategies are providing access to places traditionally closed to a missionary witness. Sociological research and computerized databases give us a more accurate report on global evangelization and a better handle on our missions task.

Even as the harvest accelerates, resulting in increased baptisms and church growth, unreached people groups are being penetrated with the gospel. In 1900 fully half the world was untouched by a Christian witness. It is estimated now that less than 25 percent still have no access to the gospel.

Several years ago researchers identified some 2,000 ethnolinguistic people groups of at least 10,000 people who were some of the world’s least reached.

That list is down to 1,596, and among these, more than 500 have a church with at least 100 believers. Another 554 people groups have church-planting teams in place, and a consortium of evangelical agencies has committed to adopt and target every remaining people group by the end of this year.

Four years ago the International Mission Board had missionaries in 126 countries working among 338 people groups. By the end of 2000, our personnel were working among more than 1,000 people groups and strategic population segments in 153 countries! While more countries than ever are closed to missionaries, no political or geographic barrier can keep the gospel from reaching those whom God loves and gave his Son to save.

Even the increased persecution so rampant throughout the world is evidence that the gospel is multiplying and bearing fruit (Colossians 1:6). Successful evangelism efforts will invariably bring opposition, but spiritual momentum cannot be deterred. Persecution in places where believers are being harassed and intimidated is feeding the growth of the church.

We have found that it is the power of the gospel — not methodology and strategy or the conditions encountered among a people and culture — that draws people to Jesus Christ.

As a worker in northern Africa stated, “We have found the principle true that where we sow abundantly, we reap abundantly; where we sow sparingly, we reap sparingly. The only reason we have not had a more abundant harvest in the Muslim world is that we have not discovered the channels to sow more abundantly.”

Even as we engage in holistic ministries in response to the needs of a hurting world, we must never lose sight that our missions task is one of proclamation. As we use secular platforms to gain entry into closed places, we must lift up Jesus Christ in a bold, positive witness and enable the Word of God to speak spiritual truth to hearts that are empty and searching.

There will be opposition. The threats and dangers are real, but the future is encouraging for sharing the gospel and extending the kingdom of God among every tribe and people and tongue and nation on this side of the year 2000.
Rankin is president of the International Mission Board, a Southern Baptist Convention agency supported by the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Visit www.imb.org.

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  • Jerry Rankin