RINCON, Ga. (BP)–The North American Mission Board conducted the largest commissioning service in its history when 144 missionaries and chaplains were sent forth Feb. 22 at First Baptist Church in Rincon, Ga., about 20 miles north of Savannah.
The 136 missionaries and eight chaplains filed into the sanctuary to the tune of “Victory in Jesus” amid bright-colored flags representing the places they will serve. Most were husband-and-wife teams from 29 state Southern Baptist Conventions, the Canadian National Baptist Convention and the Convention of Southern Baptist Churches in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.
With nine being commissioned, the Kentucky Baptist Convention led the way in the number of new Kentucky-based chaplains and missionaries. The Georgia Baptist Convention was second with eight, followed by the Alabama Baptist State Convention with six and the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia with five.
Among the Kentucky contingent: Charlie Edmonds, who serves as pastor of Consolidated Baptist Church in Hazard and is the first African American pastor to plant a Hispanic church east of the Mississippi River.
Another missionary commissioned was Lon Vining, who, with his wife Amanda and four children, serves in Montreal as a church planter and student ministry advocate.
“Montreal is the most spiritually lost city in North America,” said Vining, an Arkansas native. “With a population of 3.5 million, only 0.5 percent of the people there are evangelical Christians.”
Ashley Emmert, a single 22-year-old fresh out of Baylor University and a native of Georgetown, Texas, has just moved to the Bronx where she is part of Graffiti 2, a ministry in which she conducts afterschool programs for first- through third-graders, a program for women in nearby Bronx apartments and a ministry for teens.
Some have wondered if Emmert is scared to live in the Bronx.
“It doesn’t faze me a lot,” she said. “I do get strange looks from people, but I love New York and I plan on staying here for a long time.”
Then there was Carlos Whitley, who is serving in the U.S. Army as a chaplain to the 92D Engineering Battalion at Fort Stewart, Ga. Whitley, who expects to be deployed to the Middle East next year, and his wife Pilar have a 3-year-old son, Carlos Jr.
“When you’re a pastor, you have to work extra hard to go visit your people,” Whitley said. “But when you’re a chaplain, the commander says go and you get your boots on the ground and go be with your soldiers. It’s a great ministry.”
Whitley added that the deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are having a tough impact on families. Suicides in the military are up along with the number of broken marriages among soldiers, he said.
Before an audience of about 1,000 people at First Baptist Rincon, Geoff Hammond, the mission board’s president, told the missionaries that it is with “a tear in my eye that I know we are sending you out into the most difficult economic situation we’ve ever sent missionaries to in the last 60 years. I know how hard you have worked, the sacrifices you and your families have made.”
Hammond said missionaries are just as affected by economic hardships as other Americans.
“One in nine homes in the United States is vacant,” Hammond said. “Housing prices have dropped. Many of these missionaries need to sell homes since they’re moving to new assignments. Five million people are unemployed. Many of these are Baptists, and we pray for them.
“But ironically, it’s in these tough times that people become the most desperate for God and when our missionaries will have the most opportunities to share Christ,” he said.
Using Matthew 6:25-33 as his text, Hammond advised the missionaries not to worry about “all these things” Jesus mentioned in the Scripture — what to eat, what to drink, what to wear, etc.
“I know your 401Ks are not what they used to be. Maybe you’ve lost 40 percent of your investments. But if Jesus were here tonight, He would say, ‘Don’t worry about all these things.’ To worry about all these things is to be unworthy of the Savior you follow.
“Remember what Jesus said in verse 33: ‘But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you,’” Hammond said. “If you don’t believe that, you might as well just put your Bible away.”
Bob Rogers, pastor of First Baptist Rincon for 10 years and a former NAMB trustee, said his church has been missions-minded for a while.
“But for us, the commissioning service has ramped it up another notch,” Rogers said. “People are going to be even more excited because now it’s personal. They know a missionary personally. It puts flesh and blood on the missionaries they’ve been praying for. It also encourages our people to realize that ‘Hey, the missionaries are just like me. If they can go, I can go serve and be on mission for God.'”
J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, attended the service in Rincon.
“Every commissioning service is electric, but this was one of the greatest worship services I’ve ever been part of,” White said. “The church was packed, the house was excited in the Lord, the music was great and the missionary testimonies are always a highlight. I am so thankful for Bob Rogers and this great missionary church.”
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.