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Response to prayer guides reflects ‘blindness of the world,’ Rankin says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Reaction to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Jewish and Hindu prayer guides demonstrates how the world is spiritually blind to the gospel, said Jerry Rankin, president of the SBC’s International Mission Board.
Rankin, speaking at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 8, was on campus as part of the school’s Global Missions Day. In addition to Rankin’s address, several IMB missionaries spoke to different classes and other IMB personnel were on hand to talk to students about careers on the mission field.
Rankin touched on the prayer guides, which were published to aid Christians in praying for Jews and Hindus. The guides drew national media coverage as well as criticism from Jewish and Hindu leaders. “We have come to realize the blindness of our world as never before in the last few months,” Rankin said. “We are told there are 800 million Hindus in the world. We probably heard from half of them. They are absolutely irate, demonstrating before many of our Southern Baptist churches all throughout the nation of India and Nepal — totally offended that somebody would be so arrogant as to claim access to truth and to care enough that the eyes of the world be opened to know the truth that we know in Jesus Christ.”
The apostle Paul, Rankin said, spoke about this spiritual blindness in Acts. “I think that’s why Paul defined his call to missions in Acts 26:18 as a call to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God,” Rankin said. “We need to understand that’s the task of evangelism and missions.”
Despite the reaction to the prayer guides, Rankin said that God is opening doors to foreign countries like never before in Christian history, and countries such as Iran, North Korea, China, Cambodia and Tibet are now accepting missionaries.
“[These are] places we would have never imagined [missionaries going],” he said. “But more than that, they’re finding a people not resistant to the gospel, but are finding God’s Spirit moving in mysterious ways.
“We will come close to commissioning and sending out 1,000 new missionaries this year — the seventh consecutive year of record missionary appointments. But what is exciting to me are the places they are going,” Rankin said.
Tunisia, a country in North Africa, is one example. “Our missionaries in Tunisia … told of how they would find a few inches of water out in the desert, and they would press the new convert down into the sand in order to get the water to cover them to be baptized,” Rankin said.
In many places, Rankin said, nothing is known about the Christian faith. He told about traveling to Iran and going into the home of a Kurdish family who had not heard the gospel.
“The people were intrigued to have American visitors in their homes for the first time in 20 years,” he said. “The conversation turned to America, and our culture and our interests. They talked about Madonna and Michael Jackson, but they had never heard of our Messiah. They had never heard the name of Jesus. The Bible says these are people that are lost, without hope and [are] alienated from God.”
Rankin said that more missionaries are needed in such places. “We get requests for 150 church planters in every district of Russia, and have only four missionaries respond to those requests,” he said, noting that Christians can also be spiritually blind — perhaps as blind as the Pharisees were to Jesus’ teaching in John 9:39-41. “Our greatest sin may not be unlike that of the Pharisees or religious leaders — in that thinking we see, we may be the ones that are blind,” Rankin said.
People who feel called into Christian service should be completely open to God’s will, Rankin said.
“Perhaps our greatest sin is not just our blindness to the world or to the work of God, but to the will of God for our lives,” he said. “I continue to be amazed at how we can take a clear command and mandate of our Lord for his people, and make it optional for our lives personally.
“Seminary students, pastors and others will say, ‘Dr. Rankin, I would be willing to go as a missionary, but God has not called me.’ I’ve never learned to respond to that tactfully,” Rankin said. “I would really like to probe how someone has received a revelation that God has communicated, ‘You’re exempt from my overriding, primary purpose of reaching the nations.'”
Rankin said a change of attitude is needed among Christians. “We need to dispel [the] myth that a call to extend our ministry overseas, cross-culturally, is something unique and special for a very small minority.”
Rankin said Christians also need to dispel the myth “that God has given us permission to pursue our own aspirations and plans … in the context with which we know church life and ministry. The reality of the fact is that the will of God is a matter of following his leadership and lordship. It’s a willingness to plant our lives wherever he would lead.”

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  • Michael Foust