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‘Never the same again’ after overseas experience, Merritt says

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–When James Merritt was first elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000, he set a goal of visiting all the International Mission Board’s 15 overseas regions during the two years presidents usually serve.

He accomplished his goal in May with a visit to China — home to almost 500 people groups with little or no access to the good news of God’s love.

Fifteen regions of the world in less than 24 months is a lot to take in. Merritt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church of Snellville, said the experience has affected him profoundly.

“I will never, ever be the same for having gone literally around the world,” he said. “I’ve seen every single one of the 15 regions. To have seen what God is doing — it will be one of the greatest, lasting experiences of my life, for now and for all eternity.

“To see the work our missionaries are doing has been absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “It has given me a much deeper appreciation for missionaries and the tremendous work we are doing around the world in trying to carry out the Great Commission.”

Christians cannot say they have made every effort to fulfill the Great Commission until they have helped take the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ overseas, the 48-year-old Georgia native said.

“The call of Christ is the call to discipleship, the call to take up the cross and follow him,” Merritt said. “And while there certainly is a special calling to go into fulltime work in foreign lands, the fact of the matter is that we have all been charged with the responsibility of carrying out the Great Commission.

“I don’t believe any Christian can truly say, before they go to heaven, that they have truly attempted to fulfill the Great Commission until they leave their home country and go somewhere to a foreign land with the express purpose of taking the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“That’s why Jesus said go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: VISITING NATIONS, PREACHING and PRAYING FOR CHINA.
— The ultimate purpose of missions: http://www.imb.org/ime/dayofprayer/ime.htm.
— How can I serve as a missionary? http://going.imb.org/howserve.asp.
— Cooperative Program missions: http://www.cpmissions.net/2001/index.htm. The International Mission Board is a Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

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  • Mark Kelly