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In Katrina’s shadow, IMB trustees appoint 86 new missionaries

PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP)–Eighty-six new Southern Baptist missionaries were appointed Sept. 13 by International Mission Board trustees at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla. — a Gulf Coast city east of the region battered by Hurricane Katrina.

“We were all moved by the devastation of that storm, and we’ve heard that in Mississippi and Louisiana some 900 churches had some form of destruction,” Gordon Fort, IMB vice president for overseas operations, told the crowd attending the first appointment service held in Florida since 1998.

Still, “that means there was a Baptist church to be destroyed,” Fort added. “When the tsunami swept in on Dec. 26, and 250,000 people were swept into eternity without Christ, how many Baptist churches do you think were destroyed? To my knowledge, not one.”

Fort explained the killer tsunami hit long stretches of Asian coastline the Christian Gospel has yet to touch.

“That means we still have a lot of work to do as Southern Baptists,” Fort said.

He said the new missionaries, the sixth-largest group ever appointed by the board, will help take the good news of Jesus to those coastlines — and many other places — in the power of God’s Spirit.

“We’re sending out a force across the earth through these 86 appointees that’s more powerful than a thousand Category 5 hurricanes,” said IMB trustee Chairman Tom Hatley. It’s not a force of destruction, he stressed, but of “construction of the Kingdom of God all across this world.”

The new missionaries are a diverse group with a variety of professional backgrounds: a former policeman, a chemical engineer, several computer specialists, a lawnmower repairman, a school principal, a small-town doctor. One couple is well into their 50s; a single woman is only six years out of high school.

In his charge to the new missionaries, IMB President Jerry Rankin told them that “there’s one thing you have in common with all of those backgrounds and diversity of testimonies: a passion to be obedient to God’s call to reach a lost world for Jesus Christ.”

Missionaries who persevere through stresses and trials, however, need more than a passion for reaching the world, Rankin stressed. Like the Apostle Paul, they must have a passion for God Himself. Paul described it in Philippians 3:10: His highest aim was not to evangelize the Roman world of his time, but to “know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings….”

The new missionaries told the crowd of supporters that filled Hillcrest Baptist Church how God’s loving power compelled them to go to a lost world:

— One couple, who can’t be identified because of where they will be serving, recalled their short-term service in a land where Christians often suffer persecution. Even so, they witnessed “students boldly singing ‘I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,’ … baptisms and new believers leading their friends to Christ,” they reported. “Now we will return there to begin a new work as strategy coordinators in an unreached city.

— Another couple returning as career appointees remembered the language teacher they had when they first went to their country in 2000 for short-term ministry. “On our first day of language school, our teacher declared, ‘I’m a proud member of the Communist Party,'” the husband said. A year later, at her baptism, the teacher declared even more proudly, “I’m a born-again child of God.” The couple said they are going back to touch many more lives like hers.

— “God broke our hearts last year during the Lottie Moon focus when we learned that the largest pocket of lostness in the world was in South Asia,” said Debbie C., another new missionary. A few weeks later, the tsunami struck that region, sweeping thousands into eternity without salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

“Who’s going to tell the millions of others who are left behind of the hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ?” asked Debbie’s husband, Steven. “Along with our children, we will.”

Rankin told the missionaries, “You can’t make Him known unless you know Him. That must be the passion of your life.”

When lost and searching people see that kind of passion — and the power that goes with it — in the lives of missionaries, they will reach out to the Jesus they see demonstrated, he said.

“It’s not your strategies, it’s not your gifting,” Rankin said. “It’s the power of God’s Spirit in your life.”

In her testimony, a new appointee said that “seeing the destruction of 9/11, I realized two things. One, life is unpredictable and the time to share is now. Second, God is calling me” to do just that.

Her husband, who has Asian family roots, remembered praying during a volunteer mission trip to Asia, “God, help my ethnic brothers know Jesus. Send willing workers.” God replied, “What about you?” So they’re both going in obedience.

Another new worker originally from Asia said he also is returning to his home region in obedience.

“A missionary brought the Word of God to my school when I was 13,” he recalled. “It is now my duty — and privilege — to take the good news back to the people of East Asia to finish what he started.”

Another new missionary was raised a Muslim. “I heard the name of Jesus for the first time in my life from my brother,” he said. “I was attracted to His power and miracles that brought hope, life and security beyond what Islam could offer.”

Now he and his wife, Leslie, plan to share Jesus’ name with others.

Rankin reminded the new workers that God may require suffering — perhaps even death — in His service. Paul experienced both as he sought not only Christ’s presence and power but also the “fellowship of His sufferings.”

“Paul had no death wish or martyr complex, but he was willing to suffer for the sake of the Gospel,” Rankin said. “It goes with the territory.

“We’re not sending you out with any guarantee of safety, or success” — just the promise that God’s Spirit will go with you.
To hear some of these new missionaries in their own words, click on

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  • Erich Bridges