RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Tommy Reed* was soaked to the bone. The 27-year-old missionary was caught in a torrential downpour as he rode his motorcycle to a Bible study in a remote Philippine village.
He found shelter under a thatched-roof shed and stumbled upon the woman who would one day become his church-planting partner — and his bride.
Reed and his wife were among 46 Southern Baptist missionaries appointed by trustees of the International Mission Board (IMB) in two services, May 5 at Broadview Missionary Baptist Church in Broadview, Ill., and May 6 at First Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss. The appointment services were the last for IMB President Jerry Rankin before his retirement July 31.
Karen Reed*, Tommy’s wife, remembers that rainy night, now more than 20 years ago. The shed Reed stumbled into was owned by her family. They’d never befriended a foreigner, much less entertained an American in their home. But the Filipino family invited him inside anyway, and since he couldn’t go to his Bible study, Karen’s father asked him to share the Gospel with them instead.
Reed, a Tennessean who was working with another missions organization at the time, spent the next 16 months teaching the family about Jesus, eventually leading Karen, her mother, brother and sister to Christ. In 2006, Reed and Karen were married and are now heading to Southeast Asia to plant churches together.
Though the Reeds’ romantically inspired tale is unusual, it shares a common thread with the stories of all new appointees in the sense that every missionary’s call is unique.
Shawn Smith* remembers hearing God audibly confirm his calling to missions at age 18 while attending a youth camp.
“My Bible study leaders encouraged us to focus on prayer as a two-way conversation with God. One night, as we were singing, I was praying to God about my future,” Smith says. “I told Him that I wanted to go to the mission field, but that I would not unless He led me there.
“I asked God if that was His will for me. Then I waited in silence. After some time passed, I heard an audible ‘Yes.’ Startled, I jumped up and looked around. Everyone was still singing. I realized that God had spoken.”
Smith and his wife Elise*, along with their three children, are now bound for Central Asia.
RETURNING TO HOMELAND
As a preschooler in Taiwan, Lee Chen* first heard the Gospel from American missionaries who visited his kindergarten.
“They gave us candy, crackers, milk and pencils. They also brought the love of Jesus,” Chen says.
Those seeds finally began to grow when Chen turned 16 and was invited to church by one of his classmates. Thirty years later, Chen and his wife, Lucy*, working with another missions organization, became one of the first Chinese missionaries to South Africa. Now the Chens are returning to their homeland to spread the Gospel in East Asia.
Amy Sweet* remembers being laughed at when she told a room of accounting professionals interviewing her for a college scholarship that she wanted to use her “accounting skills to positively impact others,” possibly by working for a nonprofit organization.
“This wasn’t the first time I received this reaction, but it was what I desperately wanted to do,” the 26-year-old Texas accountant says. “I began to pray, and God opened a door for me to impact lostness.”
Sweet is now moving to South America to plant churches and serve with the IMB’s finance department.
Church wasn’t an option for Michael Kim*, whose parents strictly forbade him from attending the lone Presbyterian congregation in the South Korean town where he grew up. As the eldest son, he held the role of family priest, responsible for leading ancestor worship rituals. But he was drawn to Jesus nonetheless and became a believer at age 16, the first in 38 generations of his family.
His new faith enraged his parents, who beat him, threatened to disown him and threw his Bibles into the fire. Kim eventually smuggled a Bible into his room and read secretly in bed, hiding under the sheets. By the time he finished college, he’d read through the Bible seven times.
“In order for me to hear the Gospel, there was a long flow of blood, sweat and tears of Western missionaries to Korea,” Kim says. “As a debtor of the Gospel, I am … heading to Southeast Asia to share the Good News of Jesus.”
RANKIN’S APPOINTMENT MILESTONE
The appointment services marked a milestone for Rankin, bringing the number to 101 he’s been a part of during his 17 years as IMB president. In that time Rankin has seen more than 10,000 men and women sent out as Southern Baptist career and short-term missionaries.
“I want to thank you, Southern Baptists, because of your faithfulness in praying, for your heart for a lost world, for your faithful giving to the Cooperative Program [that] has enabled them to go in obedience to God’s call,” Rankin said.
He challenged the new missionaries to stay focused on their vision and passion for sharing the Gospel, something he found essential during his 40-year service with the IMB.
“It’s so easy [to get distracted] living in a foreign country where you get caught up in just surviving, taking care of your family and all of the bureaucracy and red tape and hassle of congested crowds,” Rankin said.
Of the Apostle Paul, Rankin noted, “Even though he was threatened, stoned, beaten, imprisoned, eventually martyred … [he] was undeterred because he had a passion for a lost world to know Jesus Christ as Savior. You’re here tonight because you had a very distinct sense of God’s call to the mission field.
“As [Paul] expressed in that final message of farewell to the Ephesian elders, ‘I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry I’ve received from the Lord Jesus Christ.’ That was [pioneer missionary to China] Lottie Moon’s life verse. My life is of no account; my only purpose, my only passion, is to faithfully fulfill the calling of God to share Christ with the lost world.”
*Names changed. Don Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.