ORLANDO, Fla. (BP) — Who says romance can’t blossom in far-flung places?
For Brent and Lisa Williams*, it began in a tropical location. But it sure wasn’t a beach or a singles’ resort.
“Deep in the jungles of Central America, we found God’s passion for the lost, and for each other,” Brent said during an appointment service for 77 new International Mission Board missionaries at First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., Sept. 14.
Both were serving as single missionaries with another evangelical organization when they met a decade ago. They were following God individually but discovered they could serve Him even more joyfully and effectively together. Now they’re returning to missions as a couple.
“As a wife and mother of four, I eagerly accept [God’s] call,” Lisa declared. “Here am I. Send me. We are His voice proclaiming truth” to the lost.
They aren’t the only new missionary couple who found each other while pursuing a higher passion: lifting the name of Christ among the nations. Frank and Judy Bennett* were serving in different countries when they encountered each other in an Asian megacity.
“God’s miracle: We met, fell in love, returned to the U.S. three years ago and started a family,” she said.
Added her husband: “Now, we’re excited to head back to Asia, serving together to expand God’s kingdom.”
For other couples, God’s mission call has opened whole new dimensions in what it means to serve together. Kate Todd’s* husband Ronald* was an IMB staff member when he sensed the Lord’s leading to go overseas himself.
“I thought he was crazy,” Kate admitted. “I just wanted a ‘normal’ life. But after working with missionary families in the U.S. and abroad, God showed me a ‘new normal’ and a peace about going.”
The single missionaries appointed in Orlando share the same determination to obey God as the couples do — despite the challenge of going it alone.
“Last year, living in a Haitian village devastated by the earthquake, I was asked how I could leave home and live in these conditions,” recalled Timothy Stratton.* “How could I not, when so many are hurting?” His next stop is a region of the world containing many of the largest and least-reached Muslim people groups.
Lauren Moses* served as a two-year missionary journeyman in the same region several years ago. She’s going back, she hopes, for the long term.
“Even in the very difficult days, I had the peace that comes without understanding,” Moses said. “I knew that I was completely where I needed to be…. I realized this was not just a scary foreign city, but home to Muslim women I had grown to love. I am God’s heart to these women.”
The new missionaries, commissioned by International Mission Board trustees during the service, will work among people groups stretched across four continents. After they spoke of their calling, IMB President Tom Elliff put their individual stories into perspective.
“God always associates our faith with our behavior,” Elliff said. “Faith is not works, but faith works. That’s what we read in the Scripture…. Read Hebrews 11, the great roll call of men and women of faith. They didn’t make [the list] because of what they thought or how they felt. They didn’t make it because they stayed someplace and nodded in assent. They’re in the roll call because they did what God said.”
It was the same with Jesus, Elliff reminded listeners. Christ didn’t stand on the outskirts of cities, pronounce a blanket healing or judgment and head for the next place. He personally went into the dirtiest, darkest and most painful places and said, “Stretch out your hand” to the leper, and “Take up your bed and walk” to the crippled man.
“These [new missionaries] are saying: ‘I’m not interested in carving out some little comfortable spot in the world and lulling myself to sleep. I am interested in going to the hardest places,'” Elliff explained.
“We talk about these unengaged, unreached people groups — 3,800 peoples in the world who, as far as we know, we’re unaware of any strategy to get boots on the ground among them to evangelize, disciple and plant a reproducing church,” Elliff said. “But what ought to excite you is that this is the last 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups in this world out of over 11,000 peoples. Friends, you don’t even have to stand on tiptoe in this church to see the end, when every language, people, tribe and nation can be gathered around the throne of God, knowing and worshipping our Lord Jesus Christ. And these folks are saying it is a Gospel for everyone in every place. They want you to know that.”
Elliff also issued an invitation to everyone listening in the audience:
“I’m going to ask every person who will embrace whatever else God says to you about world missions to come and [say] … ‘I will join with my pastor and church leadership as God leads our church in embracing the unengaged, unreached peoples of this world,'” Elliff added “Frankly, I cannot imagine saying, ‘No, I won’t do that. I won’t join the pastor, I won’t lead the church, I will not embrace whatever else God says to me about world missions.’
“Maybe in the process of these next few moments, God is speaking to your heart and saying, ‘I have a specific task in mind. I’d like for you to go,'” Elliff continued. “You say, ‘What in the world does that mean? How does that begin?’ Well, ask one of these new missionaries. Does that mean, ‘I’m on the next jet out of Orlando’? It might. I doubt it, though. For some of you it might mean to go. For others it might mean to ‘let go,’ or help somebody else to go…. Missions is not rocket science. Just start with this: If God calls, say yes.”
As the new missionaries lined the front of the sanctuary, hundreds of people came forward.
“This room has seen a lot of incredible things,” said senior pastor David Uth, who also is an International Mission Board trustee. “But there has never been an event, I believe, in the history of First Baptist Church Orlando that has greater impact on the world than what we are doing here tonight.”
*Names changed. Erich Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board.