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‘Stay focused on the task’ of reaching the nations, Rankin says

GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–God is moving as never before with opportunities to carry out the missions task, International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin said during the closing session of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., June 14.

Rankin thanked Southern Baptists for their involvement and partnership in witnessing to a lost world.

“Most significantly in our report tonight, Southern Baptists, you gave the largest Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in history with a total of $137,939,677,” Rankin said. “This reflects your heart for reaching a lost world, your passion for our mission task and your obedience to our Lord.”

Highlighting the more than 17,000 new churches planted and 459,000 new believers baptized last year, Rankin credited the growth to the IMB’s firm commitment to discipleship and leadership training, emphasis on theological education and faithful support of Southern Baptist churches.

“Thousands of your churches have responded to the Acts 1:8 challenge and are being empowered for Kingdom growth through partnership with the International Mission Board, sending tens of thousands of volunteers to work alongside our missionaries,” Rankin said. “Last year, 137 previously unreached people groups gained access to the Gospel for the first time.

“May we continue to stay focused on the task and be found faithful in sending out missionaries, praying for the nations and giving of our wealth to proclaim the Gospel until all have heard,” Rankin said.


But Rankin stressed his report was more than numbers.

He shared a story of God’s work among the Saramaccan people who make their homes in Suriname’s isolated rainforest. Heavy rains in May caused massive flooding throughout the country, forcing thousands from their homes. The IMB was among the first to provide aid.

Rankin detailed how God used the flood to lead the chief of the Saramaccan people to saving faith in Jesus.

“As our team delivering aid stopped to pay respects to the paramount chief of the Saramaccan people, he ignored all protocol and asked to speak with them in private,” Rankin recounted.

“He said, ‘I have many sins that need to be forgiven. I believe God has sent this flood, this disaster to bring our people to know Him and worship the true God.’ And he knelt there on the floor and gave his heart to Jesus Christ.”


Rankin asked SBC President Bobby Welch about his recent visit to several Southern Baptist mission fields.

Overall, Welch said, his trip was characterized by a conversation in the Pacific Rim. Looking for a chance to witness, Welch met a woman who spoke some English and began talking with her.

“I soon got into it and realized I was just going to have to get to it,” Welch said. “I said to her, ‘Ma’am, do you know anything about Jesus?’ … And she said, ‘Does he live around here anywhere?’ Of course it is sort of comical, but it’s also tragic.”

Welch also talked about an opportunity he and an IMB missionary had to share the Gospel with a group of businessmen standing outside a Hindu temple.

“Five of the men were saved on the spot,” Welch said.


Though grateful for the work of thousands of volunteer mission teams and record Lottie Moon giving, Rankin told Southern Baptists he wants churches to surrender something he considers even more valuable — prayer.

“I continue to be intrigued that God, a sovereign God, would link His activity over the nations to the prayers of His people,” Rankin said. “But are we willing to move beyond a simple ‘God-bless-the-missionaries’ and pray to invoke His blessings on their efforts?

“Prayer is not simply a way to bless the strategies and methods of our missionaries. It is the foundation of the strategy,” he added. “Missionaries go to tell the story and to reap the harvest, but if the doors are to be opened, the barriers are to crumble, if hearts are to be softened, it’s our responsibility to pray them into the Kingdom.”

Rankin cited two churches that have made the commitment to pray for an unreached people group in West Africa.

Pastor Rick Hedger and his wife, Sandee, joined Rankin on stage and told the audience how God led Calvary Baptist Church in Neosho, Mo., to pray for and engage the Mandyak people of Senegal. Though only a short time ago there were no believers among the Mandyak, there are now nearly 100, thanks to the Lord’s work through the faithful witness of Calvary’s volunteer mission teams.

“Every time somebody trusted Christ as their Savior, we would look down at our watch and it was the exact time back here in Missouri when Calvary members were on their knees praying,” Hedger said.

Sixty-five-member Wickland Baptist Church in Bardstown, Ky., adopted West Africa’s Sokoto Fulani people. Rankin explained that thanks to Wickland’s faithful prayers, God called Danielle Koepke to be the first IMB missionary to share the Gospel with the Sokoto Fulani.

Koepke said she believes Wickland’s prayers have since opened many Sokoto villages to the Gospel. What’s more, the Lord has also brought 10 new Southern Baptist missionaries to join her work among the Sokoto.

“God has done more than I could have ever dreamed or imagined,” she said.


Despite these successes, West Africa Regional Leader Randy Arnett told the convention much work remains to be done. West Africa is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the world. More than 1,500 people groups call it home, but 300 have no Gospel witness. Worse yet, Arnett said, is the loss of career missionaries — 70 units in the past seven years.

“Missionaries aren’t coming to West Africa, and we need to reverse that trend now,” he said. “We’re looking for that church who will say, ‘We will take the Gospel to this people group. … We’ll go, we’ll witness, we’ll plant the church among them.’ It’s a challenge but it’s doable.

“The devil has a hold on West Africa, but we’re going to break it, and we’ll break it by the grace of God,” Arnett said. “They need a witness. West Africans need Southern Baptist churches to stand up and shout, ‘I’m it!’”


Rankin concluded his remarks with a challenge.

“We’re grateful for God’s faithfulness in continuing to call out missionaries and for your faithful support enabling them to go to the field,” Rankin said. “But we’ll never have enough missionaries to touch all the nations and the peoples of the world.

“But 43,000 churches and 16 million Southern Baptists can lift their voices to God and touch the nations. …

“Would you and your church accept the responsibility of praying into the Kingdom an unreached people group? Would you adopt one who doesn’t have missionary witness and pour out your hearts before the Father and stand in amazement to watch what He does?” Rankin said.

Dressed in bright West African clothing, IMB missionaries and staff scattered throughout the Greensboro Coliseum holding signs bearing the names of West African peoples in need of adoption.

“We’re going to ask you to begin tonight,” Rankin continued, asking the convention to stand for prayer and lay hands on those holding the names of unreached people groups.

Tom Elliff, IMB senior vice president for spiritual nurture and church relations, admonished the audience before leading the prayer.

“Don’t you think it’s time we all went? Don’t you think it’s time you got involved?” Eliff said. “It would be foolish for you to pray if you’re not willing to go. Don’t pray, ‘Lord send others,’ unless you’re willing to say, ‘Lord, send me.’”

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  • Don Graham