PHOENIX (BP)–Wearing an umpire uniform, Jeff Iorg said he wanted to show off his “missionary clothes” during the concluding session of the 2011 National Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting June 13.
Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., shared how umpiring baseball on the side for 20 years and also serving as a chaplain for the San Francisco Giants has allowed him to break free of “the Christian subculture” and share Christ with people who need to hear about Jesus.
“If you’re going to make a difference in the culture you must go where lost people are, and where lost people are in control,” said Iorg, who has served as a chaplain for the Giants for seven years.
Otherwise, Iorg said, “My daughter calls it ‘living in the bubble,’ and I have been resolutely determined that it would never happen to me.”
Iorg set forth that challenge in his new book, “Live Like a Missionary: Giving your life for what matters most.” In a WMU gathering where International and North American Mission Board missionaries and others shared stories about victories and struggles in their ministries to a lost world, Iorg challenged the crowd to push beyond their ministry leadership positions and regular church duties to share Jesus with others.
Christian leaders too often become cocooned and isolated from those who don’t follow Jesus, said Iorg. It’s a temptation against which Iorg admits he’s struggled.
“The trajectory of my life has surprised me because at each step along the way I have become more closely identified with the Christian community,” he said, “and less and less identified with the people of the community that I so desperately want to reach with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Iorg said baseball has yielded lasting friendships and opportunities to share his faith with others for the past two decades.
Christians have to be willing to resist the temptation to always start and be in control of a ministry, he said.
“There’s a good place for Christian ministries, but what I’m talking about … is stepping out of the Christian subculture, stepping out of what we control and moving instead into venues in the community and engaging in those,” he said.
It’s in those positions that a Christian “will have to earn our position by our service,” Iorg said, “and then earn the right to speak about the name of Jesus Christ.
“And I’ll transform culture by what I accomplish in this process.”
Other speakers echoed Iorg’s words.
Living in a city where there are 40,000 to 60,000 Afghans, Jason Williams*, a missionary with the North American Mission Board, said he has found opportunities in California to reach Afghans by going into their community and engaging them.
Williams has led outreach efforts among Afghans — one of which later opened up ministry opportunities among families and children in Central Asia.
Last year, through support from NAMB and the Cooperative Program, Williams helped distribute school supplies to children in Central Asia and also found opportunities to share the “JESUS” film.
Citing Matthew 9:35, Williams challenged the audience to follow Christ’s example of servanthood and to “see the crowds and to have compassion on them.”
“Jesus saw these crowds … like sheep without a shepherd, helpless and harassed,” he said.
“Let’s notice them, have compassion on them, and then we’ll join together and pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest field,” Williams said.
The WMU crowd also heard from Jeremy and Kimberly*, who have served with the International Mission Board among the people of North Africa and the Middle East for 13 years.
The couple, at one time, worked among 100,000 Sudanese refugees in camps just along the outskirts of the city where they were living. There, they helped lead human needs ministries while looking for opportunities to share their faith.
“People there face many difficulties,” Jeremy said. “They moved there because of war, because of famine, because of all sorts of things.
“Our desire was really to just place ourselves in that community to begin helping people and be a loving people and allowing God to provide us opportunities to share the Gospel and to share Christ’s love with them.”
Their ministry among these refugees, however, proved difficult for the couple, Jeremy’s his wife Kimberly said. She admitted she didn’t want to go when she was first approached about the idea of moving their ministry to work among the refugees.
“It was quite a struggle,” she said, adding she is “prissy” and “a true Louisiana girl” who does not like to sweat. “I did not want to go, and I fought it. This was not in my plan.
“I completely shut down … quit reading my Bible, quit listening to praise and worship music, quit talking to my husband about it.”
It wasn’t until she agreed to a Bible study that led off with a story about Abraham that her perspective began to change.
“On the first day was, ‘the Lord had said to Abraham leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the place that I will show you,'” she said.
She remembers tossing the Bible across the table before going back to Scripture and reading the part where Abraham agreed to follow God into the unknown.
The couple eventually moved with their children to live among Sudanese refugees in North Africa. Kimberly befriended a Sudanese woman who helped her through a difficult transition.
When the couple had finished their assignment among the Sudanese refugees, Kimberly remembers the sadness she felt.
“I wept about leaving [the refugees],” she said. “And I loved that. Whatever your fear is, the blessings come after the obedience, and they will come.”
*Names changed or full names withheld for security reasons. Alan James is a senior writer for the International Mission Board.