SPARTANBURG, S.C. (BP) — Jessica Wolfe’s life changed forever on her first international missions trip nearly a decade ago.
“I had the opportunity to share Jesus with a college student in Asia who asked me, ‘Who is Jesus?'” Wolfe recalled. “After being asked that question, the Lord began to tug on my heart to reach out to those in the world who had never heard His name. It broke my heart and continues to do so after all these years.”
But at 28, Wolfe isn’t just shedding tears over the world’s lostness; she’s doing something about it. Along with her husband Taylor, she’s going to sub-Saharan Africa to tell others who haven’t heard the name of Jesus.
The Wolfes were among 59 new international missionaries appointed May 14 by IMB trustees at First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, S.C.
The new workers come from a dizzying variety of personal and professional backgrounds: a firefighter, a state trooper, a financial planner, a surgeon, a scientist, a senior pastor, a photographer, a writer, a petroleum engineer, a pediatric nurse, a college teacher, a software developer — even a would-be comedian.
“We’re here before you tonight because God called an atheist and a Buddhist to be his missionaries to East Asia,” one new missionary couple announced together.
“I went from someone who did not know God to someone whose life is telling others about God,” he said. “I left a life of wealth to store up treasures in heaven.”
His wife added: “I went from someone who worshiped many gods to someone who teaches others about the one true God. I left Eastern religion to follow the Savior of the world.”
What unites them all? A desire to obey Jesus Christ and a deep burden for peoples across the world searching for Him.
“As a 10-year-old girl, I thought missionaries must be superhuman to go across the world and leave their families,” said a new worker — one of several who cannot be identified for their security. “But now I stand before you as a single lady who simply desires to obediently follow God’s call to serve among Muslim women in Asia. I’m not superhuman.”
Another new missionary headed to Asia with his wife and children put it this way: “We’re humbled that our extraordinary God has called our very ordinary family to fall in love with [lost people] so that they might come to know Him.”
For some, the call of God has been bubbling below the surface for a long time.
“When I was in high school, God instilled in me two desires: to preach His Word where it has never been heard and to pursue a career in medicine,” said a 39-year-old physician headed for North Africa. “After many years of training and preparation, now is the time! I’m excited to be ‘His hands,’ bringing physical healing and spreading seeds of the Gospel.”
For others, the Lord’s leading overseas seemingly came out of nowhere.
“Most of my life, missions was not even on my radar,” another new missionary going to Asia said. “But as God opened doors and we began going on short-term trips, the seed was planted.”
Growing up, his wife admitted, “I didn’t even know what a missionary was. But God had a plan. As I grew, my heart for the lost softened and He called.”
Come, take, learn
After listening to the missionaries’ stories of how they heard and responded to God’s calling, IMB President Tom Elliff directed an invitation to obedience to the many relatives, friends and church members attending the service.
“What is the Lord’s invitation?” he asked. “We read in Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 11, beginning in verse 28, ‘Come to Me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.’ I’m giving this invitation on behalf of our Lord, of course, but I’m also giving it on behalf of our appointees.”
The passage contains three imperatives, Elliff said: Come, take and learn.
Come — “Your children are not going overseas to spread religion,” he reminded the parents of the missionaries. “They are not going to subject people to the bondage of a religion. They are encouraging people to enter into a personal relationship with the One and the only One who died on the cross for them to pay for their sins and is risen from the grave and is alive today and can give them abundant and eternal life if they will repent and believe in Him. That’s why they’re going.”
Take — “‘Take My yoke upon you.’ It’s not just an invitation to salvation; it’s an invitation to service,” Elliff said of Jesus’ words. “You know what a yoke is. It fits an animal to a task, whether it’s pulling a cart or a wagon or a plow. ‘Take My yoke upon you,’ says the Lord Jesus. ‘I have a plan for your life. … Enter into what I’m doing in this universe.'”
Learn — “There’s an invitation to surrender, to learn,” Elliff continued. “Sometimes we talk about the importance of the fear of God. It doesn’t mean to cower before Him as a slave would cower before a master. What does it mean? It means to have such a big idea of God that you just surrender. … Jesus is saying, ‘Surrender. Give up. My way is best. Just surrender to Me.'”
“What’s it all about?” Elliff asked. “It’s about salvation, if you’ve never trusted Christ. It’s about service if you have. And it’s about surrender if you’re serving Him. Just give up and follow His plans. Surrender your plans to Him. … Is it going? Is it letting go? Is it helping go? Is it praying for others who go? If you are willing to embrace the next thing God tells you about missions, I’m going to ask you to come to this altar right now.”
Hundreds responded to the invitation, coming forward to surround the new missionaries with prayer and to obey what they heard God telling them individually.
The next missionary appointment service will be August 27 at Colonial Heights (Va.) Baptist Church, also known as The Heights Baptist Church.
Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).