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Rankin to new missionaries: God wants people ‘to be set free’

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (BP)–God has called missionaries to the nations to “declare they can be free in Jesus Christ,” International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin told 89 new Southern Baptist workers appointed Nov. 15, as well as the crowd assembled in the Von Braun Center in conjunction with the annual meeting of Alabama Baptist State Convention in Huntsville.

“All peoples of the world can be free from the sin and despair and the bondage and the spiritual darkness in which they are enslaved,” Rankin declared. “And you are going to speak to the truth of salvation in Jesus Christ to nations all over the world. God wants them to be set free.”

Against the background of a pounding storm and tornado watch, Rick Lance, executive director-treasurer of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, called Alabama “an Acts 1:8, Great Commission ministries convention.” He reported Alabama Baptists contributed more than $20.5 million to international missions last year through the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and designated gifts.

Tom Hatley, chairman of the IMB trustees, acknowledged the approaching storm but declared, “The storm we’re sending out today is more powerful. We’re sending out the next ‘front’ of God’s greatest missionaries who are going to be pushing back the edge of darkness and extending the Gospel. They’re going to take this world by storm — taking it away from the enemy and giving it to the Kingdom of our Lord.”


Rankin told the congregation that the 89 newly appointed missionaries come from 30 states, while six were born in foreign countries. They are businessmen and teachers, pastors, engineers, computer analysts, a farmer, accountant, building contractor and even a policeman. And, he said, they are not going into a safe and secure world.

“We used to be able to identify the places of risk and danger where missionaries may be serving, but that’s no longer the case, for wherever they go, they are vulnerable,” Rankin said. “No longer [are they at risk] simply because of their Christian witness, but because they are Americans in a world that is hostile to freedom-loving democracies.”

About three-fourths of the new workers are going to share their faith with people groups in countries with limited or restricted access to the Gospel. Only 23 of the 89 new missionaries can be identified with their ministry assignments.

“Some of these are going to places we can’t even mention publicly,” Rankin acknowledged. “Restricted nations. Last frontier people groups. People that have never had access to the Gospel before. They’re going all across Africa and Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and Asia to declare that Jesus can set them free.

“But God would say to you, ‘Be strong and courageous because I go with you. Walk in the power of My spirit.’ And in the power and authority of our Lord Jesus Christ that goes with us. And in the power of God’s spirit to follow His plan.”

Drawing on the biblical account in Joshua, Rankin compared the new workers with the theme in Joshua 1:7-8 as He challenged the people of Israel in sending them out to claim the Promised Land. The passage tells of God’s assurance that the Israelites’ way would be prosperous and they would have success wherever they went.

Rankin noted some of the newly appointed personnel had been to the mission field as volunteers on short-term trips. Others had served in short-term missionary service as IMB journeymen or International Service Corps workers.

“But now you are going to give of your life,” he said. “You’re going to stay. You’ve burned your bridges behind you. Dedicate yourself to the Lord because you have never passed this way before and that old life is left behind.”


Bill Blankenship said that after hearing an agricultural missionary speak in chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he knew God wanted him to use his God-given talents to draw others to Christ.

“While on a summer mission trip in the mountains of Mexico, I realized the rest of my life would be spent taking the love of Christ to the ends of the earth,” said his wife, Dana.

Blankenship will serve in field support in Central, Eastern and Southern Africa, and his wife will be involved in community and home outreach.

“God has used missions as a major part of our lives and relationship,” Sonia Grady said. Her husband, John, felt called to missions on a volunteer trip; he and Sonia both felt the call on another trip; and on a third mission trip they were engaged to be married.

Now they will serve among the 2.3 million unreached Aymara Indians of Peru.

“For years I knew God was calling me into missions, but I didn’t know how or where I was to serve,” Todd Brain said. “Then God showed me He does not need me to be ready, just willing, and He will show me the next step.”

Brain will serve as a strategy coordinator in Central, Eastern and Southern Africa.

Rob and Donna Thommarson said they told their children who were home for Christmas: “Kids, God’s calling us to Russia. What do you think?”

“We wondered when you’d get around to it,” their children replied. “We love you. It’s God’s plan. So go.”


One worker, who cannot be identified for security reasons, said, “Hundreds of years ago the Queen of Sheba went to seek the light of God’s wisdom. She found it, but later her nation was overcome by darkness.”

“Today,” his wife continued, “God is filling the darkness of individuals’ hearts with His Son, Jesus. Now God is filling our hearts with light to share with people of the Middle East.”

A worker going to Central and Eastern Europe said, “In my police cruiser listening to Billy Graham, God’s call was to ‘sell everything and follow Me.’ Our desire is Christ for every heart and a church for all peoples of our region.”

His wife told of leading a Bible study with teachers in Europe. “One teacher said, ‘We have no one to teach us the Bible,’” she recounted. “I committed to go and teach.”

A single worker headed to Western Europe said, “From Acteens to BSU missions conferences, through mobilizing teenagers on mission trips and much affirmation, God has connected the dots in my heart to draw a passion for the nations. I’ll continue mobilizing students and sharing Christ with unreached peoples.”


A Togo-born missionary was the first Christian in his family. However, 14 of his family members accepted Christ when he and his wife, a former journeyman, witnessed to them.

“We are returning to West Africa that others may be saved,” he said.

Another worker born in the Middle East is returning to her home region.

“As a young girl, an American missionary in the Middle East shared the Gospel, and I believed,” she said. “Now I’m returning as a missionary to share with others so they may believe.”

Her husband said as a boy in Royal Ambassadors, he wondered how God used regular people to share His love around the world.

“I’m amazed He can use me,” he said.

One worker going to Russia accepted Christ at an underground Bible study at age 14.

“In 1992, God destroyed communism in Russia. My friends and I started a church in Moscow.”

Her husband will serve as a strategy coordinator and she will be a community and home outreach worker.


In his charge to the missionaries, Rankin highlighted four things that will assure success as they follow God’s call overseas: acknowledge the providence of God; accept the promises of God; adhere to the plan of God; and experience the presence of God.

Rankin said God knows where the missionaries are going. He knows what they are going to encounter. He knows exactly what is going to happen in their lives and ministry. He knows why He has called them at this time. And, He knows what it’s going to take to bring people into the Kingdom of God.

“He wants you to claim the peoples of the nations for Him,” Rankin said. “As you set your foot on that land, claim it for our Lord Jesus Christ. Your task is to acknowledge the providence of God and walk with Him and trust Him as you go.

“The power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ will prevail wherever you go. Just like turning on a light switch in a dark room, the light always prevails over darkness.”

    About the Author

  • Michael Chute