ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Across the vast expanse of the Orange County Convention Center hall in Orlando, Fla., people rose to their feet June 15 in a show of commitment to getting the Gospel to the 6,426 people groups around the globe still unreached with the Gospel.
After 17 years as president of International Mission Board, Jerry Rankin closed out his last Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting with a challenge. Rankin, who will retire July 31, challenged the crowd to consider how they will help finish the task so every tribe, tongue and nation can one day hear the Gospel.
“Are we there yet?” Rankin asked. “Have we walked every road? Climbed every hill? Have we told every soul?”
Baptisms around the globe have more than doubled to nearly 500,000 each of the last three years, noted Rankin, who has seen more than 10,000 IMB missionaries appointed during his tenure. In 2008, missionaries and their national partners baptized more than 506,000 believers and started 24,650 new churches across the globe.
We are not there yet, Rankin said, but the remaining people groups have been identified and now need someone to go and tell them about Jesus.
There has never been a better time to spread the Gospel, Rankin said.
“God has blessed and prospered us with numbers and resources and the potential for reaching the whole world,” he said. “By what criteria can we justify depriving a lost world of the opportunity to hear and respond to the Gospel?”
IMB recently announced that Southern Baptists had given their third-largest total — $148.9 million — to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. This amount will help sustain the 5,000-plus Southern Baptist missionaries currently on the field.
Many people around the world are simply waiting for someone to tell them about Jesus, said “Timothy Hostetler,” a missionary who real name is withheld for security reasons. Hostetler leads 10 teams among Muslims in North Africa and the Middle East.
Speaking from behind a screen, Hostetler contended that people in many Muslim-dominated countries are open to the teachings of Jesus Christ — they just haven’t heard those teachings yet.
“Wherever we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Muslims are following Him as their Savior,” Hostetler said. “If there is a place with no believers, it is a place with no personal Gospel witness.”
David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., told messengers that every Southern Baptist church must accept responsibility for its own piece of the world if the Gospel is going to spread. Platt said Brook Hills is partnering with the International Mission Board to help spread the Good News in regions such as North Africa, Central Asia and East Asia.
Platt said he challenges his church to give 2 percent of their lives each year to making the Gospel known outside of their home city.
“What they find is that for some of them, God leads them to give 98 percent somewhere else, and they come back to Birmingham for a 2-percent visit every year,” Platt said.
“What happens when our churches define success — not by how many people are coming into a building — but how many people are leaving a building to take on the nations with the Gospel?”
For John Younker, a 23-year-old student at the University of Georgia, sometimes making a difference simply means showing up at the right time.
Younker gave a summer to work with IMB missionaries among the Basotho people — many of whom are infected with AIDS — in the Maluti Mountains in Lesotho, Africa. Fewer than four out of 1,000 Basotho have a relationship with Christ.
“Our mission was to be imitators of Christ,” said Younker, a member of Burnt Hickory Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga. “We just wanted to show them we loved them.”
At the end of a meal with one Basotho couple, the husband asked John, “How do I become a believer in the one true God?”
“He and his wife had full-blown AIDS and less than 18 months to live on this earth,” Younker said. “With all of the hardship, the poverty and AIDS, the Basotho are completely surrounded by death,” he added. “What they need to know is how to have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ — where they truly know what it means to live, not just what it means to die.”
People are searching to find purpose and feel love — not just have their physical needs met, Younker said.
“The world and the church throw money and pills and food at these people like a businessman drops his money into the cup of a homeless man on the side of the street,” Younker said. “We must go and meet earthly needs, while filling hearts with the heavenly truth of our Savior Jesus Christ.”
Alan James is a writer for the International Mission Board. A video of the presentation is available at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/112/11298/11298-61490.flv.