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NAMB commissions 71 missionaries, 17 chaplains to serve 32 states and Canada

LENEXA, Kan. (BP)–Some of the stories of redemption and new beginnings seemed to have the kernel of a Hollywood movie script when 71 missionaries and 17 chaplains were commissioned by the North American Mission Board at Lenexa (Kan.) Baptist Church on Sunday, May 16.

Steve Dighton, senior pastor of the Kansas City-area church, welcomed about 1,000 people to the service, which included special music by the church’s 130-voice choir, soloists and orchestra.

The newly commissioned missionaries and chaplains will serve in 32 states and two Canadian provinces.

Richard Harris, NAMB’s interim president who delivered the commissioning sermon, quoted the words of Jesus as recorded in John 14:12: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I’ve been doing. He will even do greater things than these because I’m going to the Father.”

“God wants every missionary and chaplain to be successful in ministry,” Harris said. “But when God gives you a vision, you need to move out. I don’t know what’s more important in your ministry than praying, ‘Lord, what is it You want to do in and through me in the coming days, months and years?'”

Harris reminded the missionaries of their heritage on a continent where, now, some 258 million people are lost without Christ — three out of four North Americans.

“Southern Baptists in churches, associations and state conventions — like the Kansas-Nebraska and Missouri conventions — have sacrificed so you can have the privilege, honor and freedom to be on the front line,” Harris said. “You’re not here just to have a good religious experience but to penetrate lostness in North America … to make a difference between heaven and hell … to make a difference in the Kingdom.”

Harris told the missionaries and chaplains not to live in fear but in faith.

“I feel sorry for those people who never expect great things from God. They go through life or through their ministries — which is even sadder — and never expect God to work miracles in their lives,” he said. “Remember this as the day at the missionary and chaplain commissioning at Lenexa Baptist Church in Lenexa, Kan., when God began a new work in your life — when God set you on a journey and a mission. You’re not the same nor will you ever be the same,” he said.

“Twenty years from now, you won’t look back and be disappointed in the things you did, but in the things you didn’t do in obedience to God,” Harris said. Voicing a word to the chaplains, he noted that “you’re going out to be in places us preachers and pastors will never be, so take the lead and boldly present the Gospel.”

One of the stories a Hollywood movie could tell would focus on Stacey Smith, who was commissioned as a Mission Service Corps missionary to serve as a chaplain at the 800-inmate McPherson Women’s Prison in Newport, Ark., about 80 miles north of Little Rock.

It’s the same prison where Smith spent 12 years after a conviction in the 1990s for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

“I was actually sentenced to a 60-year sentence as a first-time offender,” Smith recounted in an interview. “I had a $500-a-day drug habit. Though I came from a good moral family, I had been in five drug rehab facilities.” Though a seemingly harsh sentence for a first-time offender, Smith still believes “it was perfect for me,” explaining. If I had gotten what I deserved … for all (the drugs) I didn’t get caught with….”

Smith served 12 years of her sentence but, with the intervention of then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, was released in 2005. While in prison, she accepted Christ, thanks to a NAMB-endorsed chaplain who shared the Gospel with her.

Two years later, she went back into the prison as a volunteer.

“I didn’t know that up ahead all along, God had planned for me to go back into the prison in regular clothes,” Smith said. “Now I’m unmarried, my children are grown and this is my life -– spending 55 hours a week at McPherson. It’s not just a job.”

How do hardened women inmates — convicted of crimes ranging from forgery to murder — respond to Smith and her story of redemption?

“It brings them hope. We have an immediate connection. It helps me to encourage and share the Gospel with them and allows them to hear me immediately. It reminds them that prison is not the end of the world or the end of the story … [or] just another chapter. I just share with them that God can use anybody. Anyone can do something for the Lord. I’m just as amazed at my story as others are,” Smith said.

As did all the 88 new missionaries and chaplains during the two-hour commissioning service, Smith crossed the church’s stage to say a few words about her ministry. Breaking with emotion as she ended her brief remarks, she received the warmest ovation of the night from a crowd clearly moved by her story.

Mission Service Corps missionary Nick Williams’ personal story of grace and forgiveness began in a dark bedroom in Cambridge, Ohio, back in 2004. In his hands was a shotgun — the safety off — ready for him to pull the trigger. He had been a successful businessman, was “well off,” but miserable.

But instead of pulling the trigger, Williams surrendered his life to Christ. He and wife Bethany later founded “Quiet Love,” a ministry that presents the Gospel in American Sign Language to the hearing-impaired and hearing alike.

“Our goal is to spark revival regardless of whether the people can hear or not,” Williams said in an interview. “We have two deaf people in our ministry who lead people in worship and singing although they cannot hear the music at all. They sign ‘Amazing Grace’ and it’s so powerful. Everything in the room is done in darkness with black light only, which prevents distractions and allows the audience to focus on the real light of Jesus. People can’t help but pay attention,” Williams says.

With the addition of the 71 new NAMB missionaries and 17 new chaplains, NAMB now supports some 5,300 missionaries across North America and some 3,000 endorsed chaplains –– not only military chaplains but also chaplains ministering in prisons, law enforcement, hospitals and other health facilities and in corporations.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.

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