RICHMOND, Va. (BP)– Baptist Press asked the International Mission Board to select 10 of its key news and feature stories of 2014 as the year comes to a close. The following list for 2014 includes a brief description with each subject line and link.
IMB’s key stories for 2014:
IMB names David Platt as its new president
David Platt, 36, a Southern Baptist pastor and author of Radical, succeeded 70-year-old Tom Elliff as president of IMB on Aug. 27, 2014. The 169-year-old organization is the largest denominational missionary-sending body among American evangelicals.
The trustee chairman said the search committee was excited by the influence Platt can have among thousands of Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders, especially to an emerging generation of young missionaries and new givers to global missions through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
Responding to the refugee crisis in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan)
IMB launched a campaign in 2014 to encourage Southern Baptists to “help refugees now,” utilizing the technology of a text to give $10 (by texting imbrelief to 80888) to help those in dire need in Syria and Iraq after being run out of their homeland by militant extremists. Also, believers around the world joined in a prayer emphasis for Afghanistan, Sept. 1-11. See centralasianpeoples.imb.org/explore/view/afghanistan-introduction.
The appeals to look beyond the headlines to the people affected by them and to get beyond any prejudices that Americans might have about peoples of the Middle East struck a chord with a Southern Baptist named Lisa.* Lisa once wanted nothing to do with the Middle East, calling it “a forsaken land.” Then, she realized that it was she who had forsaken it — not God. Her heart became burdened by the plight of refugees who’ve lost loved ones and who struggle to make it through a single day. She began to pray that the church would rise up and do something to help those who are being forced out of their homeland. At first she thought the solution was the church in the Middle East rising up in obedience. But she said the Lord responded to her, “You are the church.” So she went, volunteering to distribute aid to refugees who had fled Syria.
Ukraine-Russia conflict escalates amid year of Berlin Wall anniversary and Winter Olympics
A Malaysian airliner being downed in Ukraine brought home the reality of how most modern-day conflicts can quickly become global in scope and impact.
On one hand, this year, the free world commemorated that it has been 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the end of the Iron Curtain era. On the other hand, factions in Russia and Ukraine spent much of the year battling over territory and independence.
Cities in eastern Ukraine that had been held for months by pro-Russian separatists struggled to recover economically and emotionally from the attacks and occupation of the cities. Southern Baptist disaster relief representatives, including a team of IMB workers, were there to help residents recover in both ways with humanitarian aid and with spiritual counsel.
Christians in Ukraine, including a Baptist preacher who served as interim Ukrainian president, also were active in urging prayer and peace. “We are standing on our knees,” evangelical pastor Sergey Kosyak said. “The only weapon that we have is prayer.”
As the conflict between Ukraine and Russia began to escalate, an event designed to bring the world together in Sochi, Russia, was coming to an end: the 2014 Winter Olympics.
But for IMB’s Engage Sochi team, the core of their endeavor was just beginning: follow-up. During the Olympics, three people committed their lives to Christ and more than 130 people expressed a desire to learn more about Him.
Praying for peace in ‘the Holy Land’
While airstrikes, cease fires and the end of cease fires seemed to follow an endless loop in Israel, the biggest tragedy is the cycle of revenge fueled by hate, a Christian in Israel said.
Ben Martin,* a Southern Baptist representative in Israel, emphasized that this conflict isn’t between the Jewish and Palestinian peoples but between Israel and Hamas, the hardline Islamist terrorist organization controlling Gaza.
“Terrorism comes because people give their hearts over to hate. They hate their enemy more than they love their own people,” Martin said. “My prayer is that people on both sides of the conflict would not fall into the trap of hate, which is a dark prison.”
Baptists respond to Ebola with education in West Africa
To combat false beliefs about the spread of Ebola in West Africa, IMB missionaries in conjunction with Baptist Global Response, started a campaign in Togo to distribute 15,000 Ebola information brochures across the country.
Lily Ronaldo,* a Christian worker in Guinea, said she uses storying and role-playing as a means to teach Africans about Ebola prevention.
“We have been hosting workshops, teaching the believers in our church a story of two women who react very differently about Ebola,” Ronaldo said. “Through the story and the discussion that follows, we are able to share what Ebola is, how it is transmitted, simple things people can do to protect themselves from being infected, and how to help stop the spread of the disease.”
Nigerian Christians find hope amid persecution, violence of Boko Haram
“Parts of Nigeria are in crisis due to the violence of Boko Haram and their attacks on churches and schools. They also kill other Muslims who do not agree with them. However, the work of the Gospel goes on and goes forward,” Aaron Bryson,* an IMB worker in Nigeria, said.
Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group, is responsible for the abduction of more than 200 girls, ages 16-18, from a Nigerian school.
In a country with such harsh religious and tribal strife, it’s inspiring to see believers there working together to follow Christ in the face of difficulty, said Charlotte Cearley, IMB prayer strategist for sub-Saharan Africa.
Christians in South Sudan help their countrymen amid worst famine in world
An escalating civil war prevented humanitarian aid from reaching those most affected by famine in South Sudan.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, its neighbor to the north, in 2011. There are nearly 1.5 million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) because of conflict in South Sudan, according to U.N. sources.
South Sudanese Christians are taking a lead role in helping the refugees.
“We took their burdens to be ours — we are crying with them,” said Tolbert Alochi, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Nimule, South Sudan, a border town that refugees travel through to flee to Uganda.
Among the changes in Egypt: Openness to Gospel because of forgiveness
A year after more than 85 churches and Christian institutions across Egypt were destroyed and burned, and three years after the country’s longest serving president stepped down in the wake of nationwide protests, Christian workers there are finding an openness rarely experienced before.
Some workers noted that forgiveness — along with persistence in sharing the Gospel — shown by local Christians toward Muslims has played a large role in the change.
World Cup outreach: Yellow card illustration causes people to stop and think about faith
Hold up a yellow card and a Brazilian will typically respond, “What did I do?” In soccer, a yellow card is displayed as a warning that a player’s bad conduct could lead to expulsion from the match.
In Brazil during the World Cup, Brazilian Baptists led American volunteers to use the illustration among the matches’ attendees and in surrounding neighborhoods, including in a drug-infested area called “Crack-land,” to talk about Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (HCSB).
Overall, they estimate they’ve led more than 100 people to faith in Jesus Christ, simultaneously connecting new believers with local churches where they can be discipled. Many more have heard the gospel, some for the first time.
Long haul to healing begins in Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan
Throughout 2014, disaster relief volunteers from numerous states worked alongside IMB and Baptist Global Response workers in the Philippines to help residents rebuild after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Southeast Asia country on Nov. 8, 2013. Southern Baptists’ giving to Global Hunger Relief provided the resources to reestablish access to clean water and to help rebuild schools and homes.
Because IMB missionaries already were serving year-round in the country, their presence there supported through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the disaster relief response was not only able to start immediately but to continue steadily.
“In disaster relief, we often sort of race to the event. It’s Southern Baptists who stay. It’s Southern Baptists who continue to work,” said Larry Thomas, a disaster relief representative from the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists.
Though much has been accomplished through national and international relief organizations, IMB missionary Carl Miller said full recovery is still a long way away.
“Long-haul healing is needed,” he said.