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IMB’s 55 newest missionaries reflect SBC’s ethnic rainbow

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BP)–One couple sold a farm they had worked hard to acquire. Another sold most of their possessions. And others gave up lucrative careers, including one who was a special assistant to a prominent governor in the South.
All took these steps for the same reason: to follow the Lord’s command to serve overseas and share Jesus Christ with unbelievers.
But for others of Southern Baptists’ 55 newest career and associate international missionaries — appointed Nov. 17 in the Sacramento, Calif., convention center — the ways Christ’s call changed their lives were equally dramatic.
“I was brought up in a Buddhist family in Korea,” said one of the missionaries, who is going to an undisclosed country. “I became a Christian at 40 years of age when the Holy Spirit utilized John 8:32 to convict me.”
Said that new missionary’s spouse: “I also was reared in a Buddhist family. I became a Christian in 1983 through the witnessing of a friend.”
Rob Burns, who speaks with a thick British accent, recounted his call this way:
“I dreamed of a long career in professional soccer, but after serious injury at age 24, I wondered how God could use me. Ten years ago I left England, answering a call to America, to preach the gospel using soccer as a medium.
“Now, God is calling us to South Wales in Western Europe as an evangelistic resource using sports.”
Said Burns’ wife, Jenny: “God is combining my sports background and the wondrous things he has done in my life to reach a nation that once sent pioneer missionaries into a lost world but have now themselves have sunk into a post-Christian era.”
Ramel Cuenca, an American-Filipino married to the daughter of IMB missionaries to the Philippines, said: “When I was in high school, I was listening to the testimonies of a group of young missionaries from the United States at one of the meetings during a spiritual emphasis week. It was then that I knew that God was calling me to international missions.”
As the 55 were commissioned during the closing session of the California Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, Southern Baptists’ ethnic rainbow was clearly visible.
Near the end of his commissioning message, International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin noted that African Americans, Korean-Americans, a Filipino-American, New Zealand-Americans and British-Americans were among the appointees.
His observation echoed comments by California Baptist Executive Director Fermin A. Whittaker, who opened the commissioning service by noting his Panamanian background and thanking Southern Baptists for caring enough to send missionaries to his country. He pointed out that 54 different language groups make up California Southern Baptists.
Whittaker noted this was the final missionary-commissioning service in the 20th century and that the new missionaries appointed in Sacramento would be in the vanguard of missionary work around the world in the third Christian millennium.
National Baptist conventions around the world are joining Southern Baptists in sending missionaries cross-culturally, said Avery Willis, IMB senior vice president for overseas operations.
A hallmark of the new millennium will be the missionary work of non-Western Christians, he said.
“Very soon there will be more missionaries from other countries than from the United States, Canada and Europe” — the traditional centers of missionary-sending for the past 200 years.
“It is going to take the whole body of Christ to reach the whole world for Christ,” he said. “Around the world we are hearing, ‘We were once the receiving church, but today we are the sending church.'”
Willis noted that he was in Mexico recently at a meeting of Mexican Baptists who today have workers serving in such places as Yemen, Iran and Pakistan.
“We are in a day when God is breaking out among all races, among all peoples all over the world.”
Addressing the new missionaries, Rankin said, “We cannot publicly identify places where many of you are going, but you are going to places where we could not even imagine sending representatives just a few short years ago.
“As you go, you know that God is already at work there.
“All over the world, the gospel is multiplying and bearing fruit,” he said.
Rankin reminded the missionaries their lives overseas will bear witness to Christ among the nationals they are seeking to reach.
“Those difficult experiences you encounter overseas may be your key to witnessing,” he said.
When nationals see missionaries practicing their faith amid difficult circumstances, it captures their attention and points them to God, he said.
“Your greatest witness is that they might see Christ in your life, that they might see the reality of the spirit in your life,” he said.

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  • Louis Moore