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FIRST-PERSON: Cultivating hearts for missions

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–My father was a church planter in western New York when I was a child. In fact, for a few years we lived in a house church, with a baptistery in the garage and folding chairs in our living room sanctuary. My brother and I both made our public professions of faith in that living room.

Our church was small, so programs had to be customized to meet the realities of the mission church. On Wednesday nights, the boys would play football in the back yard/church yard until we joined the girls in the garage for missions education in GAs.

Not many Girls in Action groups have sweaty boys in them, but ours sure did. The trick was that they never told us what the initials “G” and “A” stood for. In our minds, it was just the time when we learned about missionaries, prayed for them and ate snacks. When Christmas came around, I became fascinated with the stories of Lottie Moon, the legendary missionary to China. My parents bought me her biography, which I dutifully read and submitted as a book report in third grade. I was hooked on missions.

When I was in sixth grade, we moved to a larger church with a strong Royal Ambassador program, but by that time I already had a good foundation in missions. I loved studying other cultures, I liked hearing about what our missionaries were doing, and I especially enjoyed working with the Acteens at their annual Queen Regent presentations. I think I was a high school senior before it suddenly hit me that I had had the rare experience of being a boy GA!

In college, I decided to extend my study of world cultures by majoring in anthropology. As I sought God’s calling in my life, I felt called to be a missions supporter by teaching college students to be sensitive to the opportunities that surround them. I teach at one of our Baptist colleges, Union University, where we have scores of students who are planning on pursuing missions on either a full- or a part-time basis. I now teach a linguistics course that helps to prepare many of these students for their calling.

GAs, RAs, Acteens and Missions Friends all are in full swing this time of year. My twin first-graders just loved Missions Friends and now are in RAs and GAs. I am amazed at how they already love to pore over maps of the world. When my brother and his family moved to Germany a few years ago, both of my children exclaimed, “We studied Germany in Missions Friends! We have missionaries there!” Now when my children put their coins in the offering plate on Sundays, they know that a portion of that gift supports Southern Baptist servants on the other side of the world.

In the hubbub of our family’s lives, it’s so easy to squeeze church activities out of our schedules. We can fall into the trap of thinking that worship and Sunday School are ample, teaching our children that a checklist approach to faith is enough to sustain our lives. We can check the box on Sunday mornings and be done with it. We can sit passively in a pew, learning little and feeling weakly engaged with our faith.

On the other hand, missions education involves Bible study and a lively examination of the heart of the Gospel –- that all of humanity is fallen and requires salvation through Christ. By learning about other cultures, we are reminded that each of us bear the image of God. By studying what our missionaries are doing, we are informed about the careful stewardship of our missions entities and the beauty of the Cooperative Program channel for missions support.

God does not call every child in our church missions programs to be a fulltime missionary, but I do believe that God calls each of them to cultivate a heart for missions. Those ladies who taught me as a child, those brave RA leaders and my pastors (especially my father) have all helped me to develop that passion. God has a plan for us as Baptists, that we all share His love with a lost and hurting world. Even if you were once a boy in the GA program.
Gene Fant Jr. chairs the English department at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

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  • Gene Fant