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God challenging Southern Baptists to reach Muslim world, Rankin says

PHOENIX (BP)–God is moving in amazing power all over the world, and the question is whether Southern Baptists will rise to the extraordinary opportunities He is giving to bless the nations, International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin told messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention June 18.

“We have rejoiced in the last decade to see a mighty outpouring of God’s Spirit across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and China, in places we would never have imagined sending missionaries,” Rankin said. “A phenomenal harvest is emerging with thousands of churches being planted. Researchers tell us that as many as 30,000 new believers a day are coming to faith in Jesus Christ in China.”

Even in the Muslim world, where multitudes of isolated people groups have never heard the name of Jesus, God is breaking down barriers to the good news of His love, Rankin said.

“He is using even the chaos and tragedy of current events to open the hearts of people to a spiritual harvest, that people will come to faith in Jesus Christ,” he said. “He is moving to extend His Kingdom to every tribe and people and tongue and nation.”

Rankin cited Iraq as a case in point, introducing a Baptist worker who had flown directly to Phoenix from Baghdad, where IMB workers and volunteers are launching post-war relief efforts.

The worker told the assembly he was deeply concerned whether Southern Baptists would “run toward” the opportunity God is giving them in Iraq and the Muslim world.

He told about an Islamic terrorist who had a vision of a great light while listening to a radio broadcast. In his vision, he was carried up into the light, and a voice told him to “follow the prayer.” When the vision faded, a sermon on the Lord’s Prayer was on the radio.

Today the former terrorist is a pastor of a small house church in a Muslim nation, bringing people to Christ, the worker said.

He described how he had stood just days earlier on the banks of the Tigris River, looking out over the Iraqi city that was the biblical Nineveh. The prophet Jonah ran away when God called him to go to Nineveh and proclaim His greatness. Jonah eventually went to the city after God sent a great storm to threaten the boat in which he was fleeing.

“My heart shook,” the worker recalled. “I said, ‘Lord, how did those sailors feel when Jonah was asleep on that boat heading the wrong way? And you know, the Lord just said they must have felt like the mothers and fathers who have sent their children off into the war, the mothers and fathers who have had their children become victims of the war.

“The world in which we are living is literally shaking with a storm at this time that is saying the Muslim world, the Islamic world is standing out there [waiting],” the worker said. “My heart is bursting because I want … Southern Baptists be right on the forefront of running toward that world, [but] being … willing Jonahs that go to Nineveh and proclaim [the Gospel].

“I am jealous that we Southern Baptists not be left out of that great harvest in this time. People are coming to Christ. God wants us, he needs us to line up and to go.”

God’s people have waited for centuries to witness beyond the wall of Islam, Rankin said, and those prayers are finally being answered as God uses the tragedy of war to open opportunities to minister to those in need.

In a live videophone hookup from the Middle East, Rankin spoke with Bob Arthur from First Baptist Church in Springdale Ark., part of a 30-member volunteer team laying the groundwork for ongoing ministry and witness in post-war Iraq.

Arthur told the messengers that their team’s military escort had showed them schools and clinics that needed to be repaired and areas where polluted water needed to be purified, including one where more than 100,000 people live without an operating sewer system.

“God really moved in our hearts with compassion the day we went to a children’s hospital to do some ministry,” Arthur said. “When we got out of the vehicle, the first thing we saw was a family exiting the hospital. The mother was carrying a child, probably 3 or 4 years old that obviously just died in that hospital. And watching that family mourn and that mother wail just really moved our hearts.

“She got to the end of the sidewalk, and — I’ll never forget this — she lifted that child up, and she looked up, and she called on Allah, and I guess asked him why. And then she put the child back down, and they all somberly walked off. It just really broke our hearts and showed us what the plight of these people really is.

“The needs are phenomenal,” Arthur said. “We as Southern Baptists just cannot fail at this point in history. We must respond as God leads us as individuals and churches.”

The question is whether Southern Baptists will accept the challenge God is giving them to be a blessing to the Muslim world, Rankin said.

“God is breaking down the walls. It is God’s time for the Gospel to penetrate those barriers in the Muslim world,” he told the audience. “It is not happening because of International Mission Board strategies or Western diplomacy or military might. It is the providence and power of God moving to fulfill His purpose, that He will be exalted among all the nations and peoples and tongues.

“The only question is whether or not we will respond to the challenge and opportunity,” he said. “We must realize that God has blessed and prospered us as Southern Baptists, not to take pride in our programs and what we can do here, but to be a light to the nations, to carry his salvation to the ends of the earth.

“Will we be found faithful? … Will we pray that the walls will come tumbling down? Will we give that missionaries can go? Will we be willing to give of our lives to go and join in the effort?”

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  • Mark Kelly