TAMPA, Fla. (BP)–Six men with ski masks and machine guns stood between James Roberts and the security of a warm bed. He knew there was a possibility of facing something like this when he picked post-war Kosovo for his first mission trip.
On Sept. 15, Roberts was part of a group of new missionaries appointed by the International Mission Board (IMB) at Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla. At a special service in their honor, 51 “ordinary people” including Roberts shared personal stories of calling, sacrifice and passion for making Christ’s name known.
“Buildings were still smoking, tanks were still rolling down the streets,” the 38-year-old Texas youth minister recalled of Kosovo. “I was just a young seminary student … I didn’t know anything about the war.”
It was a frigid, pitch-black night in January 2000, just months after a NATO bombing campaign forced Serbian troops from Kosovo. Fighting had destroyed much of the fledgling country and Roberts was part of a small volunteer team delivering aid to Albanian refugees. The team was driving home from an evening church service when, to their horror, their van’s headlights revealed a roadblock manned by what appeared to be rebel Serbian soldiers.
One of the masked men rapped the muzzle of his weapon against the driver’s window. Though none were speaking English, the soldiers’ shouting and gun-waving made it clear they wanted the team out of the van — now. They lined up Roberts and the others in front of the van and dragged the team’s driver — a Southern Baptist missionary who was facilitating their trip — off to the side.
“We didn’t know what to think. We were praying and I just remember … this amazing peace came over me,” Roberts said. He was ready to die for his faith.
But that sacrifice wouldn’t be necessary. A few minutes later the soldiers ordered everyone back into the van and sent the team on its way. Actually, the “Serbian rebels” were Italian soldiers assigned to a United Nations peacekeeping force; their ski masks were just to keep warm while they manned a checkpoint searching vehicles for weapons.
But the harrowing story wasn’t the only thing Roberts brought back from Kosovo. The weeklong mission trip marked the birth of a calling that, 11 years later, would lead him back overseas as a career missionary.
“God gave me a bigger picture of the world,” Roberts said. “I remember coming back [to the U.S.] and trying to find a way to get back [to Kosovo]. My heart was in Eastern Europe.”
Roberts’ wife Angie knew God wanted her to be a missionary at age 9 while attending an evening worship service at a GA camp. Some people thought she was too young to know what she wanted to do with her life, but 21 years later, the Robertses are heading for Central Europe to plant a church in an unreached city.
Jill McCabe*, an elementary schoolteacher from Texas, also was called to missions as a child. She knew at age 8 exactly how she would share Christ’s love: get her pilot’s license and fly across Africa giving to the poor in Jesus’ name. Though her plan didn’t materialize as expected, she and her husband Michael* will soon be leaving for Eastern Europe.
Clyde Meador, interim IMB president, highlighted the wide variety of careers from which the missionaries had come, including a roofer, forester, accountant, graphic designer, pharmacist, nurse, scientist, engineer and computer programmer. Many of the missionaries left behind dream jobs, powerful titles or big paychecks to serve God overseas.
Jerry Tilton* gave up a career at Dell, where he worked as a finance analyst. He and his wife Susie* are bound for South America.
Rob Peabody, 28, was on staff at Lake Pointe, a 12,000-member mega-church near Dallas. As a seminary student, Peabody served as Lake Pointe’s college and singles minister, and upon graduation, quickly became lead pastor of one of the church’s satellite campuses. It was a position some seminary graduates might work their entire career to reach, but Peabody and his wife Medea knew staying at Lake Pointe wasn’t God’s plan for them.
The Peabodys are headed to London where they will plant churches among the city’s post-moderns.
Speaking from 2 Timothy, Meador offered the same charge to the new missionaries that the Apostle Paul did to Timothy.
“Paul charges Timothy, and we charge you, to realize that whatever you go to do, you do in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ — not in the power of yourself,” Meador said.
“The things you go to do are things which you are incapable of doing…. We all know how inadequate we are to do the work of the living God. But we also know that whatever He calls us to do, He empowers us to do, and He fills us with His Spirit to enable us to do those things.”
Meador also encouraged the appointees to embrace Paul’s exhortation to Timothy for patience and endurance when it comes to sharing the Gospel.
“Many of you are going to work among people whose ears have already told them the only truth they want to hear is that there is no God. And that everything they’ve heard about religion is empty and false and wrong, and if they worship anything it is whatever their particular currency is…. You go understanding … that people will be resistant to truth,” Meador said.
“All of you are going to ministries that will be heavy with suffering emotionally and spiritually…. But Paul says endure suffering; endure hardship…. Look toward Him in every circumstance.”
Meador told the audience that Jesus’ command to go and share the Gospel applies to all Southern Baptists — not just the 51 appointees.
“You may say, ‘I’m not a preacher. I’m not a seminary teacher. I’m not an evangelist’ … neither were they. But God can take any one of His followers, whom He chooses, He can change you, He can call you, He can empower you,” Meador said.
“People like you who go from your church for a week or two make a difference and touch the lives of people on the field that are used by God in remarkable ways. Every one of us can go.”
The new missionaries also heard from Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright, who advised them not to confuse their ministry with their personal relationship with Jesus.
“I hope you will prioritize that relationship with Jesus Christ. Nothing is more important than that. When we have our relationship with Christ right and love the Lord most of all, then we have a love for the lost,” Wright said.
Wright also offered a challenge to Southern Baptist pastors and churches across the convention.
“One of the hopes I have for the Southern Baptist Convention is that there will be a radical reprioritization of taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every people group on earth,” he said.
“When the average giving of an individual evangelical Christian is 2.4 percent of their income, no matter how much you profess you love Jesus, you love your money more…. I’m also hoping and praying that pastors all around our convention will be challenging their churches this fall to have the largest Lottie Moon offering in the history of that church.”
Wright also challenged every Southern Baptist church to take at least one mission trip in 2011, including the pastor on the team.
“I really don’t believe that Jesus could be any more clear than He is in Matthew 24:14,” Wright said. “Until the Gospel goes to every people group on earth, He ain’t coming. And when the Gospel is presented to every people group on earth, get ready — it’s gonna be good for those who follow Jesus.”
The IMB will host its next appointment service Nov. 10 at 6:30 p.m. at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., in conjunction with a trustee meeting Nov. 9-10 in Greensboro, N.C.
*Names changed. Don Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.