SUNNYVALE, Texas (BP)–How urgent is the world’s need for the Gospel?
The answer came to Grace Johnson* the day she held a young mother in her arms and watched helplessly as she slipped into eternity without Jesus Christ.
At the time, Johnson was a 23-year-old journeyman from Missouri who had answered God’s call to short-term missions using her skills as a nurse. She wound up ministering among the slums of a South Asian city, providing health care to pave the way for the Gospel.
It was from these slums that the young mother, Ila,* came to Johnson. Ila had suffered a miscarriage and was close to death. Johnson took her to a nearby hospital, but doctors did little more than administer an IV. She stayed with Ila, cradling her body on a cold, stainless-steel stretcher without sheets or padding. It was a moment Johnson will never forget.
“There is nothing like a young woman your age gasping her last breath in your arms, knowing she never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus, to give urgency to sharing the Gospel,” she said.
Now that same sense of urgency is compelling Johnson to return to the mission field. She’s one of 92 new missionaries appointed by the International Mission Board April 9 in Sunnyvale, Texas.
“Why does God want the nations to know Him?” asked IMB President Jerry Rankin of more than 2,500 people gathered for the service at Sunnyvale First Baptist Church.
“It’s because of the tragedy of lostness. Here in America we just can’t imagine what it means to live in a place that’s never heard the name of Jesus. To live a lifetime in futile search for your eternal destiny, never knowing that there’s a Savior who died for you.
“We’re so grateful … that you 92 new missionaries are taking a stand. Taking a stand in obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ; taking a stand on behalf of the power of the Gospel to penetrate a lost world.”
The new missionaries represented a diverse cross-section of Southern Baptist life, coming from churches across the country and many different walks of life. But whether young or old, single or married, with a seminary degree or only a GED, Rankin noted a common thread in many of their testimonies – that same sense of urgency Grace Johnson described.
“Once God impacts your life with the lostness of the world you just can’t turn away from it,” Rankin said.
Neither could Johnson, which is why she’ll soon take her nursing skills and passion for evangelism to the Muslim world, serving among the people of Northern Africa and the Middle East.
“During my two years as a journeyman, my mind was opened to a whole new reality of the lostness of the world, as well as my complete dependence on God,” Johnson said. “I constantly had to face the urgency of providing the people I was around with the Gospel.”
It was difficult not second-guessing herself after losing Ila, Johnson admitted. She was from an area of the slums that Johnson was told was “too dangerous” to enter.
“It makes you think, ‘What if I had pushed a little harder to get to that other side?'” Johnson said. She prayed for an open door, and God soon used the tragedy to provide one.
Ila’s family was so touched by Johnson’s care for their daughter that they invited her to their home. Soon she had an open invitation to begin sharing Bible stories there. Several came to the Lord as a result of her work.
Many of the new missionaries spoke about confronting darkness -– and hearing God’s call to missions for the first time –- on volunteer mission trips with their church. Others shared their struggles to leave behind family, friends and the comforts of home for the mission field.
Kentucky native Marshall Smith* was content to be a “pew warmer” before he felt God’s call to missions. His wife, Jennifer, remembers bursting into tears whenever Marshall talked about going overseas.
“I would usually break down crying because I couldn’t get over the thought of leaving his parents or giving away our animals,” she said. “My general response: ‘No way, not me.'”
The Smiths are now on their way to serve in Northern Africa and the Middle East.
Rankin recognized separation wasn’t easy for the missionaries’ families either, many of whom traveled to Texas for the appointment service.
“We know the mixed emotions that you must be experiencing,” he said. “I’ve seen both of my children appointed and take my grandchildren to the other side of the world. Even though I have a heart for missions, there was something painful about that.
“But I want you to know that God has a special touch of grace for you. You should be very proud that God has chosen your sons and daughters to be the ones to fulfill His will and His mission.”
Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church of Taylors, S.C., also spoke at the appointment service. Quoting Hebrews 12, Page praised the new missionaries and challenged churches to faithfully support them.
“We have a purpose and part of that purpose is to undergird the work of these dear missionaries,” Page said. “My challenge is to step up to the plate more than ever before.
To pray, to give, to come alongside and go with these missionaries who are being sent to the ends of the earth.
“Why? Because we’re a ‘Jesus’ people. We’re a ‘Jesus’ church. We’re a ‘Jesus’ convention. And that means we want the name of Jesus to be taken to every corner of every spot of this globe. We will not be satisfied, we will not back away or back off until every man, woman, boy and girl gets a chance to love the Lord Jesus.”
*Names changed for security reasons. Don Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.