RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–On Nov. 13, 2001, barely two months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, a record number of new missionaries — 124 — were appointed by the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
The catastrophe of Sept. 11 didn’t cause any of them to drop out. From Columbia, S.C., those new missionaries scattered to every point on the compass, all 15 of the regions in which the IMB works.
But how has the past year gone for them? How have they been affected by the events of Sept. 11? We e-mailed some of them to ask.
As news of the attacks spread worldwide, Cal and Patty McIntire began receiving e-mails asking if they still would be going to West Africa.
“Our answer never wavered,” they wrote. “It was always ‘Yes!’ Somehow an attack such as the one on 9/11, no matter how devastating, could not overshadow the call of God.”
John Arnold, now a missionary in western South America, shared similar sentiments.
“The attacks did not cause me to waver in my commitment to my calling to go to foreign lands,” he wrote. “On the contrary, my call was confirmed by these attacks!
“As I saw firefighters [in New York City] risking their lives to save others from the fire, I realized that as Christians we are also involved in risking our lives to save millions of lost people from an eternal fire.”
A missionary in southern Asia wrote, “My initial reaction to 911 was just that, reactionary.” He expressed his surprise that Islam would condone such horrible actions.
“I cynically wondered who of those we knew in Asia had cheered such horrific things,” he said. “But the deep-rooted desire my wife and I have — a conviction that God wants us to live and work among them — overpowered our worries. We also realized that the only way these ideas would change would be if someone would share the message with them.”
A missionary in the Middle East shared that people in his region now have a greater respect for foreigners who would live outside of the United States.
“Now, when I walk the streets of our city, I get looks of amazement as they see a ‘real live’ American,” he wrote. “The people wonder, ‘Why would you be here with so much turmoil in the world?’
“As I communicate that I am there to share the love of Jesus Christ, it is obvious that they are searching in their hearts. The people are curious about the gospel of Jesus Christ and are wondering if their religion may just be wrong.”
Other missionaries have not found their ministries greatly affected by the attacks.
“Our daily activity hasn’t been disturbed,” wrote one couple in Southeast Asia. “Due to the struggles for daily survival and the history of turmoil and atrocities, the people avoid issues that the rest of the world deals with.
“The only time we are aware that Sept. 11 took place occurs when we have to travel. Travel worldwide will never be the same.”
The change in worldwide travel hinders missionary work in some areas, like Middle America, where Cleve Turner works.
“I am afraid that too many Southern Baptists have turned inward since 9/11 and are unwilling to step out and commit themselves to the Great Commission,” he wrote. “We are seeing this with the decrease in the number of volunteers coming, although the number is slowly returning to normal as time passes. We are a volunteer-driven project and depend on volunteers to survive.”
The Sept. 11 attacks didn’t diminish the world’s need for Christ, Turner reminded.
“The fact that there was a terrorist attack on the United States doesn’t affect the level of lostness in the Middle America region at all,” Turner continued. “Just as many people are lost and going to hell. The need for a missionary presence and a plan to reach these people is only underscored by the attacks.
“I think that [through the attacks] God is telling us that it is urgent that we carry out the Great Commission now.”
In some areas, American missionary presence is less welcome.
Steve Warren, who was appointed in November to serve in Eastern Europe, wrote that the attacks gave him and his wife a sense of urgency to return to the mission field.
“Our zeal for Christ remains strong and the urgency to share the Word is still great,” he said. “But with other countries in our region becoming more unreceptive toward missionaries, we really do not know how long we will be welcome here.”
Ronald Davis, a missionary in southern Africa, summed up his feelings about the attacks by noting: “The key has been not to focus on fear or the work of Satan, but to remember the calling of God upon our life and see the providence of God and the moving of the Holy Spirit in the midst of such tense times.”
Iva Kimbrough, who also serves in western South America, said being a part of the first group of missionaries to be appointed after Sept. 11 deeply affected her.
“To learn that we were the largest group of missionaries to ever be appointed by the IMB — and that this was not an expected occurrence, as the groups before us and after us were about half the size that we were — was awesome,” she said.
“We were able to get a glimpse of the fact that God was up to something big and that he was including us! It brought home the fact that the events of Sept. 11 were no surprise to God.
“As the terrorists were preparing for the attack, God was preparing [us] to go out into the world — a large portion going out among unreached people groups.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: A YEAR LATER and NO TURNING BACK.