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God tugs, tears flow in Northwest at NAMB commissioning service

SPOKANE, Wash. (BP)–Grown men cry when God gets their attention.
“This commissioning service was just for me,” sobbed one Northwest pastor, though he was not among the 105 people who minutes before had been commissioned for career missionary service by the North American Mission Board.
“I’ve been trying to walk in my own shoes, and my feet hurt,” said another man whose tear-streaked face belied the Crocodile Dundee-type hat he wore as he exited the Spokane Opera House where the first-time-in-the-Northwest event took place.
Officials estimated about 1,200 people participated in what scores of people declared was an “awesome, thrilling” experience that left them thinking about what they were doing for God. It was probably the largest-ever, single-event gathering of Northwest Baptists.
The two-hour commissioning service was punctuated musically by a 140-voice choir and 40-piece orchestra led by Bobby Watkins, Northwest Baptist Convention worship/music strategist; visually by 72 soaring flags on 13-foot staffs from each of the United States, its protectorates and 10 Canadian provinces and territories; and emotionally by the missionaries who simply gave their name, the ministry to which God had called them and the location in which they were serving.
The flags were paraded from one side of the opera house to the other by young people from the Inland Empire Baptist Association.
“I think this was a fantastic blessing for Northwest Baptists,” said NWBC President Don Reeves. “It connects us again to the work around the U.S. and Canada and helps us see we’re a part of something a lot bigger than us, and that we’re a vital part of it.”
The NAMB commissioning service was a special gift to the Northwest Baptist Convention in honor of its Year of Jubilee 50th anniversary celebration of the past year, said NAMB President Bob Reccord. It was a request made by the NWBC, with a plethora of logistical details carried out by Inland Empire association director of missions Norman Ford and his team, said NWBC Executive Director Jeff Iorg. It was the visualization of cooperation, Ford said.
“We represent tonight the 1,200 associations in the Southern Baptist Convention,” Ford said as he welcomed Northwest Baptists and NAMB appointees. “What we cannot do as churches, we do as associations cooperating together.”
The Nov. 17 commissioning service opened the 51st annual meeting of the Northwest Baptist Convention. It was preceded by annual pastor/layman and WMU conferences and by a three-hour missions fair during which the missionary appointees set up displays of the mission work in their assigned area.
“What we’re doing here tonight will have lasting effects and eternal rewards,” Reccord said before he launched into a message that called for all-out commitment to God. “Your call is to work urgently with everybody to get them to meet God.”
For Kevin White, the night ended 11 years of prayer.
“Tonight God answered my prayers,” cried White, pastor for the last four years at First Baptist Church, Longview, Wash., and a December 1998 graduate at the Pacific Northwest Campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. “Tonight those people got a missionary and it’s OK that it’s not me,” he said, referring to Bob and Stella Johnson, who were among the commissioned missionaries. The Johnsons have been assigned to serve Paiute-Shoshone people groups on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in central Nevada.
“I always thought it was going to be me,” White said through his tears. “I’ve prayed since 1987 that God would send a missionary there. I always thought it was going to be me, but it’s OK. It’s OK.”
He took a deep breath.
“It’s overwhelming,” White said. “It’s so ironic I could be here. I think this commissioning service was just for me, so God could tell me my prayers were answered.”
White has had a burden for the Duck Valley Reservation since he started work there in 1987. A dozen people came to the first service, White recounted. Twenty-two people were baptized in the first year. The White family ministered there every weekend for about three years, despite a 280-mile one-way commute, before being called to Fernley, Nev. Duck Valley is a place that has never left his heart or prayers, White said. First Baptist, Longview, youth ministered there this last summer.
White said he plans to pray now for the Johnsons as they serve in the place where God called them.
John, whose last name is not being used to protect his privacy, said he attended the commissioning service because his daughter carried one of the flags.
“These people who’ve responded to God’s call? They’re just like me,” John said. “God has been yanking on me to work with drug addicts.”
He tugged on his shirt front to indicate the force with which God has been trying to get his attention, then acknowledged his previous experience with abusive substances. John is Southern Baptist by background and conviction — his father was a trustee with an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention. His wife of 15 years is in a meth-amphetamine fog and gone from the family home at the moment, John explained in a voice that quivered with the emotion surging through him.
“This whole thing was really uplifting,” John said. “Please, pray for me.”
In his message taken from 2 Corinthians 5, NAMB President Reccord challenged the missionary appointees and congregation to examine their call from God.
“Anyone united with God gets a brand new beginning,” he said.
We’re called by grace, Reccord preached; we’ve never once earned or deserved a call. We’re called by name — “God knows your e-mail address,” Reccord said, and we’re called according to his plan.
Live the great commandment and love the Great Commission, Reccord said, referring to the cause of the call.
“Guard your heart, for out of it will come issues of life,” Reccord continued. “If you don’t guard your heart, it will drift from God.”
The Apostle Paul ended up not surviving his ministry, the NAMB president pointed out. Reccord entreated his listeners to pray, “Lord, send me anywhere, but go with me.”
Jack Dawson, a layman from Emmanuel Baptist Church, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, called the commissioning service “classy; it was done with style.” His words about the mission fair captured the essence of what Reccord and Iorg had said they wanted to accomplish by bringing a missionary commissioning to the Northwest.
“I think I was struck most by watching the missionaries talking to each other,” Dawson said. “It was almost like family, extended family.”