EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated after its initial posting.
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — In many ways, 2015 was not significantly different from 2014. Terrorism, war and natural disasters dominated headlines. Newsfeeds were filled with images of refugees in flight — many of them children — seeking safety and shelter from militants and terrorists.
God often uses the displacement of people to bring them to a saving knowledge of Him, says Kevin Rodgers, an International Mission Board strategist in Sub-Saharan Africa. Rodgers visited several camps in South Sudan and heard harrowing tales of people running from villages with only the clothes on their backs. See related story. While the destitution in these camps moved him, something else impressed upon him more.
“The thing that kept coming back to me over and over again as I was there was not so much how people were suffering, and they were, but just that people were asking the big questions of ‘Why?’ and ‘What are we going to do now?'” Rodgers said. “This time will be something that will be a defining moment in their lives and probably in the life of the kingdom of God for all of eternity.”
Though lives continue to turn toward Christ in global cities and extreme places like jungles, deserts and war zones, economic circumstances called for the retirement of 600-800 IMB missionaries and home office staff through a voluntary retirement incentive this year. See related story . Amid challenges, the IMB shared the following links to images, stories and videos that represent a sampling of the hope that IMB missionaries, students, church partners and local believers shared with a world in desperate need of a Savior in 2015.
In remote Amazonian villages
In a remote village in the Amazon region, the Jansen* family often sit outside their home to feel a cool breeze in the late afternoon. Four hours away from the nearest place to buy supplies, the family learned to depend on their adopted “family” — a tribal people group with less than 2 percent evangelical Christians.
Among the Roma in Eastern Europe
With the encouragement and support of IMB missionaries and U.S. missions teams, Roma Christians are increasingly sharing the Gospel with other Roma. The Roma, who are often referred to as “Gypsies,” are scattered across nearly every continent. Students from across the United States have partnered with IMB missionaries in global ministry to the Roma, including an International World Changers team in Medgidia, Romania.
In a Sudanese village
Shannon and Carrie Lewis, IMB missionaries among the Toposa people in South Sudan, taught young Toposa men to craft songs using the Word of God during a StoryTogether conference. Less than 5 percent of the Toposa can read or write, but clapping, singing and dancing are part of their culture. Songs created by Toposa believers draw the attention of many villagers as the young men sing stories of hope and of Jesus.
Through missionary jobs you might never imagine
Would you be surprised to learn that most missionaries are NOT preachers? Missionary journalist Susie Rain writes, “Jesus was a carpenter … John a fisherman … Paul a tentmaker.” Some of today’s missionaries are scientists, mechanics and big game hunters. God uses the gifts and interests He gives people to reach the nations.
As a missionary mom
Motherhood isn’t easy in the best of circumstances, but for missionary moms in South Africa, malaria, intensifying heat, cultural differences, sporadic power outages and bucket baths make the challenge of motherhood even greater. Still, missionary moms in South Africa often face these types of challenges with humor, wisdom and grit. They are living in obedience every day — through the good, the bad and the funny of motherhood in Africa.
Through natural disasters and amid great human need
The 7.8-magnitude earthquake that shook Nepal on April 25 affected more than 8 million people, according to estimates from the United Nations. More devastation came 17 days later with a 7.3-magnitude earthquake on May 12. One tiny Nepalese congregation of believers understands the greater magnitude of the disasters — more than 9,000 people died, and less than 1 percent of Nepal’s nearly 29 million people profess faith in Jesus. As a result, the congregation pledged to share God’s love even more diligently.
In cultures that have “outgrown” the need for faith
Postmodern Norway is home to a people who are spiritual but not seekers of truth, said IMB church planter Zack Dove. “I would say people are very spiritual, and they’re open to spiritual things as long as they don’t feel restricted by those spiritual things, as long as they don’t feel like they’re being set up to follow a lot of rules and regulations,” Dove said. His strategy is to do evangelism not as an event but to live it as part of his everyday life. Zack and Jennifer Dove serve in the Norwegian town of Sandefjord, which is rich in maritime culture and tradition, as depicted by the fountain in the photo above.
By mentoring Chinese believers to persevere in global ministry
Zhao Chang Pu,* Zhao Hui Fang* and their two daughters moved from China to minister in Southeast Asia. They noted it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done. The Zhaos shared cultural stresses with Phil and Ruth Wardell,* who came from another Asian country to train believers. Just like Westerners, Chinese workers experience culture shock and struggle to adapt to a new environment. The Wardells encourage the Zhaos to persevere.
Among the Deaf in Southeast Asia
There are more than 35.5 million Deaf worldwide, with 60 percent living in Asia. Most are not followers of Christ, and Deaf leaders and Deaf churches are sparse. IMB missionary Jon Valjean* says one clear reason for this is that they don’t have access to the Bible in their own language. Valjean makes words from the Bible into pictures so Deaf can visualize and contextualize the stories.
Through the first missionaries sent by Cuban Baptists
Javier had never left the island of Cuba. But he and his wife Yaima answered God’s call to go to Ecuador on mission. “What I desire most in my life is to take the Gospel to the nations, to wherever God calls me,” Yaima said. They are among the first missionaries sent out from the mission boards of the island nation’s two Baptist conventions.
Among Syrian refugees
In July, three recent college graduates were sent as Hands On student workers from their home church in Alabama to serve Syrian refugee families. The three women, who are health care professionals, learned that one of the main ways to minister is “to be where they are … being beside them, holding their hand.”
In mountain villages in southern Mexico
When IMB missionaries Christy Willis and Rebecca Harrod met pastor Esteban Carrasco, he told them he had been praying for 15 years for someone to join him in planting churches in an unreached area of southern Mexico. “You are here. You are an answer to my prayers,” he told them.
Through significant partnerships
Teamwork of churches in Panama, Colombia and the U.S. made possible the sending of two indigenous Panamanian missionaries to Colombia from the Emberá people group, which has a population in both Panama and Colombia. The photo link below shows a Panamanian couple’s grandchildren play in a hammock while IMB missionaries Kenny and Cheryl Morris share Bible stories with the couple.