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IMB elects West Africa leader, appoints 35 new missionaries, honors Kammerdiener

TULSA, Okla. (BP)–Trustees of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board elected a regional leader for work in West Africa, broadened the agency’s Missionary Apprentice program and honored a retiring executive during a Sept. 6-7 meeting in Tulsa, Okla.

The directors also appointed 35 new career missionaries, slightly modified board policy on the Baptist Faith and Message, received a report on reorganization of the agency’s Overseas Leadership Team and heard encouraging news about the movement of God’s spirit in Central Asia.

A standing-room-only crowd — perhaps 1,850 people — witnessed the appointment of the new missionaries during a Sept. 6 service at First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Okla. About two-thirds of those workers are headed to parts of the world where 1.7 billion people have no hope of hearing the good news of God’s love.

Bill Bullington, the board’s vice president for overseas services, was elected to lead IMB efforts in West Africa. An Arkansas native, Bullington and his wife, Evelyn, served as missionaries to West Africa from 1966-87. He served as area director for West Africa and then vice president for Africa until 1993, when he assumed leadership of the overseas services section.

Bullington, 65, has served as interim regional leader for West Africa since June 30, 2001, following the resignation of Bill Phillips from that position.

“Evelyn and I are excited about returning to West Africa,” Bullington told the trustees. “For us, this is going from good to better. The best, of course, would be church planting in West Africa.

“We are not going to be marking time in this position because God doesn’t mark time,” Bullington added. “The missionaries and Baptist partners in West Africa are people of vision and commitment. And with so many people all over the world praying for Africa as part of 2001PRAY, it’s exciting to imagine what God is going to do.”

Trustees honored Don Kammerdiener, IMB executive vice president, with a Friday evening banquet recognizing 40 years of missionary service. A succession of speakers praised Kammerdiener as a man who in every way lives out the spirit of Jesus Christ.

Wendy Norvelle, associate vice president for mobilization, commended Kammerdiener as an unselfish leader of great knowledge and insight whose convictions about the lordship of Jesus Christ made it possible for him to stand firm through times of both peace and crisis.

IMB trustee Frank Gunn of Biloxi, Miss., praised Kammerdiener as a faithfully supportive man full of godly wisdom and integrity. “All of us would rather see a sermon that hear one,” Gunn said. “Don, you’ve shown us the sermon.”

Rankin recalled hearing in 1993 that IMB trustees were considering nominating him as president — and that Kammerdiener was the first person he called. “I had never been in a position like that before,” Rankin said. “I’m grateful God gave me Don Kammerdiener as someone I could look up to as a role model.”

An Oklahoma native, Kammerdiener and his wife, Meredith, served as missionaries in Colombia and Argentina from 1962-80. He served as area director for Middle America and the Caribbean and then vice president for the Americas until 1990, when he assumed his current role administering the day-to-day operations of the board. He also served as the agency’s interim president for seven months prior to the election of Jerry Rankin in 1993.

Rankin announced that the new multipurpose building at the board’s Missionary Learning Center in Rockville, Va., would be named in Kammerdiener’s honor.

In response, Kammerdiener joked: “One of the finest qualities of the human race is selective memory. I want a list of everyone who spoke tonight. I want them at my funeral too!

“I thought about expressing appreciation for everything you’ve said tonight, but I just don’t know how to do that,” he added. “There are a thousand points of grace through which all of you have touched my life.”

Kammerdiener concluded by turning the focus of his comments to his wife, praising her unfailing sense of humor, her deep-rooted Baptist sensibilities and the home environment she created for their five children, all of whom married in the faith and actively serve Christ.

Trustees also heard from Kammerdiener’s successor, John White, during the two-day meeting. A former missionary to Brazil, White had been unable to speak to trustees after his election in August because of the hospitalization of his mother-in-law, Jeannette Cathy of Hampton, Ga.

“The breadth and quality of the people God has called to this organization is breathtaking,” White said. “God is certainly up to something through the International Mission Board.”

He told trustees he intended to focus his energies on four areas: strategic planning, building a synergistic team, nurturing community and improving customer service.

White committed himself to the kind of servant leadership exemplified by Jesus when he washed the disciples’ feet. Holding up a shoe brush — which he called the modern equivalent of Jesus’ towel — he called forward the staff and trustees he would be working most closely with. One by one, he knelt in front of them and brushed their shoes.

The group then encircled White and his wife, Trudy, and trustee chairman Bob Claytor of Fair Play, S.C., led them in prayer for White’s ministry.

During their business session, trustees approved significant changes in the board’s Missionary Apprentice program, which creates overseas service opportunities for people who lack the ministry required for appointment as career missionaries.

The changes lowered the minimum age from 24 to 21 and adjusted the education requirements so students can use the program to complete requirements for “2+2” seminary missions degree plans. The changes also will make the program more accessible to professional laymen who haven’t taken seminary classes and will allow apprentices to transition to associate as well as career status after completing their three-year terms.

Trustees also slightly adjusted their policy on the Baptist Faith and Message.

The policy, adopted in January, made policy of a long-standing practice of asking missionary candidates to state whether they are in agreement with the BFM and to explain any area of difference. It requires new missionaries and elected leaders to sign statements affirming their agreement with the recently revised Baptist Faith and Message and committing themselves to carry out their responsibilities “in accordance with and not contrary to” the statement of faith.

Trustees voted to include IMB associate vice presidents in the policy because of their significant leadership responsibilities, even though they are not under the selection authority of the board. Trustees also voted that they themselves would sign the same statement being required of missionary candidates.

In an effort to better reflect the concerns of field missionaries in stateside administrative decisions, missionaries who serve as regional leaders are being integrated into the IMB’s Overseas Leadership Team, reported Avery Willis, senior vice president for overseas operations.

Instead of a four-person team composed of senior Richmond staff members, the OLT will now be a seven-member team that includes four regional leaders. Membership will rotate each year among the board’s 15 regional leaders.

In his remarks to trustees, Rankin said God’s spirit is moving powerfully in Central Asia, despite the spiritual bondage pressed upon the people by Marxism and Islam.

Christian workers are engaging only 24 of the region’s 535 unreached people groups, but God is drawing people to Christ and stirring them to take the gospel across their region themselves.

One people group, which had only about 25 believers in 1991, can count 15,000 today. Another, which reported fewer than 200 believers just seven years ago, now has more than 200 churches baptizing 1,000 believers a year. A third people group, untouched by the gospel for centuries, will have perhaps 5,000 lay evangelists by year’s end.

And as members of unreached people groups come to Christ, their Lord is sending them out to complete the Great Commission task themselves, Rankin said.

When believers learned about members of their own people group living in another region, where they had been forcibly sent by Stalin 50 years ago, they sent a team of evangelists to share the good news of God’s love with their long-lost brothers and sisters. Believers in one country sent a team to another country to share the gospel with a related people group that had similar language and customs. And believers in yet another country sent evangelists hundreds of miles to preach to descendants of troops their country left centuries ago in conquered lands.

“We have a growing number of visionary personnel, dedicated to going to the edge and, whatever the cost, bringing the gospel to this long-neglected area of the world,” Rankin said.

“While there is not a great deal we can do from a human perspective to penetrate the multitudes of unreached people groups in Central Asia, from the perspective of God’s sovereignty, this black hole of lostness could become a lighthouse for the gospel that would spread throughout the region and beyond.”

IMB chairman Claytor closed the meeting by exhorting trustees to help Southern Baptists catch God’s heart for the nations.

“We have a tremendous opportunity before us to work with our partners — Baptist associations, state conventions and Southern Baptist agencies — to mobilize Southern Baptist churches for the cause of world missions,” he said. “To do that, we must stay focused on the main thing.

“From time to time, we have to deal with tough issues. Sometimes there are things we don’t agree on,” he said. “What Satan would like to do is divide our minds and take us off the focus. We simply cannot afford to do that.

“With God’s help and with the energy we have as trustees, our focus must be to share the vision, the message of our missionaries, the commission of our Lord — and just do it.”

The next IMB trustee meeting is scheduled for Nov. 12-14 in Columbia, S.C. A Nov. 13 missionary appointment service will be held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

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  • Mark Kelly