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IMB appoints largest-ever group of missionaries; BMT goal in sight

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (BP)–With the 21st century looming, the International Mission Board appointed its largest group ever of new missionaries — 90 — strongly indicating the agency’s total active missionary force will eventually top the Bold Mission Thrust goal of 5,000 missionaries.
The Nov. 17 appointment service, held in conjunction with the Florida Baptist Convention, quickly pushed the IMB’s total number of missionaries to 4,523. This will be the sixth consecutive year of record-setting appointments. This year’s total is expected to exceed 700, including the largest number of career and associate missionaries ever to be sent out.
Since becoming IMB president five years ago, Jerry Rankin has presided over the appointment of more than 1,000 new career missionaries — a significant number because of the high rate of retirements during that same period stemming from a “bubble” of appointments 30 to 35 years earlier when unprecedented numbers of new career missionaries were sent out.
Rankin said no appointment service has touched him the way the Florida one did, not only because of size but also because the Rankins’ only daughter and son-in-law were in the group.
The appointment service illustrated yet another major change that has occurred in Southern Baptist international missions since 1975: This was the first time more than half of those appointed were going to areas of the world where it is too dangerous to ministries or lives for the board’s Baptist Press bureau to release their names. The number of such appointments has been growing steadily the past two years, but until this service it had never topped more than half the total appointees in one service.
In 1975, the board was limited to sending missionaries to less than half of the world, largely because communist and Muslim countries were inaccessible to traditional missionaries.
Today, the board counts only a handful of countries where it does not have some sort of presence, and even those isolated countries are expected to be touched soon. In addition to changing world political dynamics such as the fall of communism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the board’s “New Directions” policies have allowed for creative, flexible methods to open up other frontiers.
The Florida service also marked the second time missionaries — in this case, a married couple — were appointed secretly, without being presented to an audience larger than trustees. This was done because of extremely serious security concerns in the area where the couple is going.
In his charge to the 90 new missionaries, Rankin cited Hebrews 12:1-2 and challenged them to run the race and the mission God has given them with a goal of endurance.
“Satan knows how to make us stumble,” he said. Among the greatest dangers are pride, self-sufficiency, lack of faith in God’s abundant care and conflicts in interpersonal relations, he said.
He encouraged the new missionaries to:
— put aside any weight, encumbrance or besetting sin;
— look to those who have gone before and bear testimony of their faith and endurance; and
— keep their “eyes on Jesus Christ … following his example … for the joy of seeing a lost world come to Christ.”

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  • Louis Moore