COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP)–The largest group of career missionaries in Southern Baptist history was appointed Nov. 13 during the annual meeting of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
But while record numbers of Southern Baptists are coming forward for career missionary service, the supply of new workers doesn’t begin to match either the needs or the opportunities, International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin said.
An overflow crowd at First Baptist Church in Columbia watched as 124 new workers — including six apprentices — were appointed to overseas assignments. Thirty-four people made public commitments to missions at the conclusion of the emotional two-hour service.
The new missionaries told the audience how a love of missions had been planted in their hearts, how they had come to understand how much God loves the lost, how they had heard him calling them to share the good news of his love overseas — and how they had decided to obey.
Among their testimonies:
— “As an active GA and Acteen, I dreamed of being a candle in a dark world, which illustrates Jesus. Now God is honoring our family by sending us to share his light,” said Mauri Johnson, who will work with her husband, Kerry, in Middle America.
— “In 1986, I was confronted with the lostness of the world,” said Rob Brandon, who will serve with his wife, Sotheary, in the IMB’s Southeast Asia and Oceania region. “While living in Korea, God sent me on a mission trip. I learned then that many will not hear unless a missionary goes. God called me to be that missionary.”
— “We’ve always thought being a missionary was great — for someone else,” said Susan Goodman, who is going to serve in Western Europe. “Through working with college students in Baptist Student Ministry, going on mission trips and challenging students about missions, we realized that we were that someone else,” added her husband, Michael.
— “Questioning how I was investing my life led me to hear God’s call to share the gospel with the people of East Asia,” said another new missionary. “We must be obedient to God’s call.”
— “Can God use a fuel injection mechanic and a bookkeeper with two teen age children to serve him on the mission field?” wondered James Thompson. “Yes, after stepping out on faith and serving two years in Zambia, we discovered that God desires obedience, not perfection,” said his wife, Jane. “Our desire is to obey his call and return.”
— “I love to imagine the day when there will be people from every tribe and tongue and nation before the throne of God,” said another new worker, who is headed for service in Southeast Asia. “My burden is to see them worshiping with me on that day.”
The new career missionaries will join more than 5,000 other long-term International Mission Board workers already engaging 1,125 people groups in 185 countries.
The International Mission Board has seen an amazing increase in the number of Southern Baptists serving in short-term overseas assignments, but career missionaries remain the foundation of the board’s work, said IMB President Jerry Rankin.
“Seventy-five percent of our total missionary force is career missionaries,” Rankin said. “We are the only major missions agency that has not experienced a recent decline in long-term missionaries.”
On the contrary, the agency is appointing more long-term missionaries each year than ever before, Rankin said.
The board expects to approve 392 long-term missionaries in 2001, only the fourth time in its 156-year history that more than 300 have been appointed in a single year and 54 more than the next largest number, 338 in 1998.
God is using the events of Sept. 11 to break down spiritual strongholds and create spiritual openness among many people groups, Rankin told the assembly. But the number of people coming forward for missionary service doesn’t begin to match either the needs or the opportunities overseas.
“Sept. 11 has created disillusionment and spiritual need all over the world. People are searching for hope and security and can’t find it in traditional religion,” Rankin said. “God is creating a situation where they can find it only in Jesus Christ.
“But where are the people who are willing to go and tell them about Jesus Christ?” he asked. “Our regional leaders’ most difficult decision is seeing the limited number of missionaries and deciding which people groups will be deprived of hearing the gospel.
“God’s call to go is to whoever will hear and respond in obedience. If God is calling you to go, it’s not enough to say, ‘I’ll give and I’ll pray.'”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: TESTIMONY, READY HARVEST, COLOR GUARD and HAND SINGING.
— How do you fit into what God is doing around the world? http://www.imb.org/FPNeeds
— Opportunities for service: http://www.imb.org/you/Going
— Video: Come and Plant Now! http://www.imb.org/ime/default3.asp