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God’s power, human obedience drive soaring missions numbers

EDITORS’ NOTE: The following story corrects some of the statistics in a story with the same headline in BP 2/18/99.

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)—More than 330,000 people are following Jesus Christ this year because servants of God like Little Wang and Liang were willing to die to tell them about Jesus.
That’s the number of new believers — 333,034 of them to be exact — baptized around the world by Southern Baptist missionaries and their co-workers last year, according to International Mission Board statistics reported for 1998.
Co-workers like Little Wang and Liang.
Little Wang, himself a new believer, traveled 10 hours with two other Christians to preach to a people group different from his own living in an Asian region with no gospel witness. A village mob met them shouting, “The spirits of the mountains rule our land! You dogs have only been here 500 years and you know nothing. You have stolen our land and now you wish to steal our gods as well. Now you will pay for this!”
Little Wang did pay — with his life. The mob beat the three Christians with sticks and farm tools. Two escaped with broken bones, but an enraged young man beat Little Wang to death. His two brethren limped back home to tell their church and Little Wang’s wife and 10-year-old son the sad news.
But church members met and decided the two survivors would go back to preach again. Little Wang’s widow, Liang, slowly rose. “I will go too,” she said. The church grew silent; everyone knew she might never return.
The trio slipped into the village by night, sleeping fitfully beside a pigpen. When day came, word spread of their presence and another mob quickly formed. But Liang boldly stepped forward and said: “I am the widow of the man you killed. My husband is not dead, however. He is living in paradise with our God. If he were here, he would forgive you. I forgive you as well, because God has forgiven me. If you want to hear more about this God, meet us under the big tree outside town this evening.”
That night most of the village came to hear about Liang’s forgiving God. Many gave their lives to Jesus Christ that night and were discipled in the following days. A few months later three of the new believers visited Liang’s church, bringing greetings — and a love offering — from the brand-new church in the once-hostile village. One of them came forward.
“I am the man who murdered Little Wang,” he confessed. “The Lord has graciously forgiven me and I ask your forgiveness as well. I, and our entire church, owe an eternal debt of gratitude to Little Wang and Liang for bringing us the message of life. We want to give this offering to help support Liang and we wish to pledge monthly support.”
Little Wang wasn’t the only martyr of 1998. Liang wasn’t the only Christian widow. Their courage and obedience typify the faith lived by millions of Baptists and Great Commission partners working worldwide with more than 4,500 IMB missionaries.
God’s power — and their obedience — brought those 333,034 new believers into the Kingdom, a 13.1 percent increase over 1997’s total. Here’s what else his power wrought in 1998 through IMB missionaries and their partners:
— 4,223 new churches, a 25.4 percent increase over 1997’s total.
— 31,567 preaching points (potential future churches), a 41.7 percent jump.
— a 7.7 percent net increase in churches worldwide, bringing the total to 46,833.
— a 5.7 percent increase in total Baptist church members, to more than 4.4 million.
“We are absolutely overwhelmed by how God is moving throughout our world,” said Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board.
“We cannot claim credit for spiritual results. While we are grateful for the devotion and passion of our missionaries for reaching a lost world, it’s not the effectiveness of their efforts or the strategies of the International Mission Board that are responsible for these results. It’s the power and providence of God moving to make Christ known.
“Not only does this reflect the work of God, it is due to a partnership of working with thousands of national Baptist partners and other Great Commission entities which are impacting the lostness of our world.”
The numbers prove his point. Much of the most rapid church multiplication came in gospel-starved, hard-to-reach Last Frontier areas — hard for missionaries to reach, that is — where only believers like Little Wang and Liang can go.
One large Last Frontier people group in Asia saw 800 churches born last year and some 20,000 new believers added to the fold. They now count about 50,000 Christians in some 2,000 churches — from a beginning of fewer than 30 congregations a decade ago. Another people group added 355 churches last year. They started with a total of 85 believers barely five years ago.
Those results reflect a “deliberate push into new frontiers of witness,” Rankin says. “We’re not just continuing traditional areas of ministry, but more and more personnel are being assigned to previously restricted areas and working among unreached people groups who are hearing the gospel for the first time.”
More open “harvest fields” cannot be ignored, either.
Nigerian Baptists, long-time statistical leaders in evangelism and church growth, reported more than 500 new congregations last year. Ghana, which has fewer than 1,000 churches, added 193 in a single year.
The strategic reason for growth, whether in harvest fields or new frontiers, is church-planting movements — begun and nurtured by God, through the hands and feet of those who follow him to areas where he is working.
A church-planting movement is the spontaneous, rapid multiplication of churches among a people group that enables them to reach their entire people — then to reach out to other peoples. It is indigenous, lay-led and “out of control” — that is, spreading too fast to be harnessed by any one mission group or denomination.
“A ‘movement’ implies multiplication beyond our human abilities to contain or control growth,” said Avery Willis, IMB chief of overseas operations. “Only God can begin and sustain church-planting movements. However, Christians can be participants in God’s plans. What an honor!”
What we are witnessing, Rankin added, is “a growing spiritual momentum which cannot be deterred. As more come to faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit draws them together into churches that are a growing, multiplying nucleus of witness throughout nations and people groups. Scripture tells us there will be believers from every tribe and people and tongue and nation reached for Jesus Christ. We are seeing it happen as we come to the end of the 20th century.”
One day in eternity, we’ll rejoice over it with Little Wang — and with the young man who shed his blood.

Names and locations changed to protect local Christians and churches.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges