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Passion for the lost keeps Sapp in Africa

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–It was at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary just over 20 years ago that God began to develop a heart for the nations in Jon Sapp. God would eventually lead Jon and his family to east Africa. His passion for the lost in Africa has kept him there all these years.

“God used Midwestern to expose me to the needs of the world with African students who were on campus and mission leaders David Saunders and John Mills, ” related this year’s Alumnus of the Year. Those relationships and the teaching of the late Lavell Seats, a missions professor who served in Nigeria, provided the foundation for Sapp’s call. He spoke to classes and an Oct. 5 chapel service at the Kansas City-based seminary.

Two weeks after his graduation from seminary in May 1980, Sapp, his wife Priscilla, and their 11-month old daughter left for Zambia. The Sapps originally agreed to one year as International Service Corps volunteers. They quickly discovered the great need for church planting. After their ISC commitment was complete, they immediately began seeking a career appointment with the Foreign Mission Board. They have been in Africa all but two of the 20 years since then.

Sapp is now the International Mission Board’s regional leader for Eastern Africa. He has served in that position since the FMB reorganized to form the IMB in 1997. The area includes Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Congo. In this area there are 752 ethno-linguistic people groups, many of whom are unreached. Much of his work is in developing strategies to reach these people groups.

“We are discovering unreached people that haven’t had the chance to hear about Christ,” he said. “We are trying to access those people and mobilize missionaries to get in to them — people like the Boran and Turkana.”

Exciting things are happening in Eastern Africa, Sapp said. One missionary wanted to use the “Jesus Video” as an evangelistic tool with Samburu people in Kenya. The video, however, was not available in the Samburu language. A Samburu Christian named George translated the video from Masai to Samburu in the back of a truck using a hand-held tape record. When the movie was shown in this people group’s language there was a great response, Sapp recalled. George has also been involved in translating the Bible into Samburu and is featured on the cover of the November 1998 edition of Commission magazine. Translating gospel message into the “heart languages” of the African people is one of Sapp’s main goals.

“We do believe that the power of God unto salvation is the gospel message,” Sapp said. “When we find ways to get it into the linguistic core, it’s life-changing.”

There are 286 missionaries in the Eastern African region under Sapp’s supervision. Many of these Southern Baptist representatives serve under very dangerous conditions. Sapp says that passion for the lost has to be the “driving force” of what they do in Africa. As an example, he pointed to one missionary family in Uganda who serves in a war zone and endured gunfire on three occasions. God has been faithful to protect them from harm and at times, they’ve been evacuated from crisis situations.

The family is back on the field, Sapp said, adding they do not want to leave Uganda because of their passion for the lost. “I am responsible to take care of that family,” he said. “I’ll pull any kind of resource in to help that family.”

Churches among some people groups are thriving. Sapp said that in the most responsive people group in Kenya, the IMB has handed the work over to the Africans. This people group known as the Luo has over 500 indigenous churches. They have become partners in the harvest with IMB missionaries. God is raising Kenyan Christians to reach other African people who have long been resistant to the gospel. Sapp said that he is very pleased to see God working in this way.

The Midwestern connection in Eastern Africa does not end with Sapp. As regional director, he supervises many Midwestern alumni, including Danette Cundiff, Sue Sprenkle, and Jim Albers. Cundiff serves as a church leadership development apprentice in Uganda. Based in Kenya, Sprenkle is a journalist for Commission magazine. Albers and his wife are currently going through missionary training in Virginia. He will be an associate in the strategy division.

Sapp, a Hoxie, Kan., native, accepted Christ as his Savior while a freshman at Kansas State University. Involved in the Baptist Student Union at Kansas State and College Heights Baptist Church in Manhattan, Kan., he sensed God’s call to ministry while he was a college student. He helped launch the BSU at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan.

“A passion for what’s on God’s heart can cost you,” Sapp said in his chapel address. “It cost our own Savior His life.” And yet, he said, passion must be the driving factor in what is accomplished overseas as well as at Midwestern Seminary. “What’s going to make a difference in this world today is the life-changing attitude of passion for the lost.”

    About the Author

  • Gary Myers