WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–At Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, “missions and evangelism is the air that we breathe,” said senior missions professor Keith Eitel.
The seminary commemorated that spirit with its annual Global Missions Awareness Day Feb. 26, highlighted by a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the idea of an innovative church planting partnership between Southeastern and the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
On campus to help the seminary celebrate was IMB President Jerry Rankin, who addressed a special chapel audience, voicing both his passion for seeing students involved in missions and his delight in working with the seminary toward that end.
“It has always been such a blessing and an encouragement to be here with you,” Rankin said. “Nowhere do I go that I sense such a passion and fervor for our Great Commission task and partnership with the IMB, and one of the reasons for that is certainly the outstanding leadership of Dr. Keith Eitel. It’s a joy to work in partnership with you and a blessing to be with you.”
In an assessment of the Southeastern-IMB partnership, Rankin recently wrote that “over the past 10 years [it] has been one of the most positive and encouraging aspects of my 10 years as IMB president. Southeastern is the foremost seminary for training missionaries and modeling practical involvement in cross-cultural missions as part of the campus ethos and the practical equipping of seminary students.”
Rankin was referring to Southeastern’s master of divinity in international church planting degree, commonly called the “2+2” program, which sends students to the mission field for either two or three years to complete the remainder of their degree after two years of training at the seminary’s main campus in Wake Forest, N.C. The program’s success has led to its adoption at other SBC seminaries.
Students in the program benefit from the opportunity to experience missions in a cross-cultural context, aided by financial support from the IMB and spiritual support by an IMB mentor on the field as well as the Southeastern family.
The program was Eitel’s brainchild, but the missions professor also credited Rankin’s leadership with helping make the vision a reality.
“We are very agreeable and commend you,” Eitel told Rankin, “for having the innovative spirit … 10 years and one month ago, when we first had the conversation about a novel idea that has now blossomed into what is affectionately known as our ‘2+2’ program and ‘2+3’ program.”
This kind of partnership is one that can, and will, make a difference in a lost world as it hears the power of the Gospel message, Rankin said in his message from 1 Thessalonians 1:5-9.
“There is something of the power of God that indwells the Gospel,” Rankin said. “It is the power of God unto salvation that changes lives, and it results in an expansion that cannot be deterred.”
Rankin said 500,000 new believers were baptized and 6,000 new churches were established around the world in 2003. He quickly added that it is the power of God alone that can accomplish such a tremendous work.
“It’s because of the power of the Gospel,” he said. “There is no religious opposition that can quench it. There is no government institution that can stop it and no geographical boundary that can contain the life-giving power of our Lord Jesus Christ. The power of that message is changing lives all over the world.”
Rankin closed by reminding students of their call to live out the Gospel before a lost world, wherever they may be.
“People are living in darkness and superstition and despair,” he said. “Confront them with the Good News of the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. The missionary call, and your call to minister, is to plant your lives among people to identify your life with them, so that they can see the reality of the Gospel … so that victory in Jesus Christ can be seen as a living reality.”
Rankin’s plea did not go unheeded –- hundreds of students stood with Rankin at the end of the service as he gave an invitation, signaling their intention to consider a call of God to the overseas mission field.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: PRAYER FOR THE NATIONS and SOUNDING THE CALL.