FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Fears of personal injury and death are no deterrent to the spread of the Gospel, International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin said during chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Sept. 18.
A graduate of the Texas seminary, Rankin concluded the seminary’s weeklong foreign missions emphasis. He shared his experiences among field missionaries over the past year, marked by tremendous opportunities and tragic losses for Southern Baptists.
Four Southern Baptist workers have been killed in the last nine months. Martha Myers, Kathy Gariety and Bill Koehn were shot to death by an Islamic extremist last December. In March, 25-year veteran missionary Bill Hyde was killed during a terrorist bombing of a small airport on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.
“There have been others of our personnel who have been kidnapped and injured in bombings around the world that are not publicized because of their identity … and you’d be amazed at the number of our churches and pastors who send me letters telling me to bring the missionaries home,” Rankin said. “They just don’t get it that there is a cause worth dying for.”
“Each day those missionaries lived and shared the love of Jesus [and] they died to self. That gunman could not take from them what they had already given.”
Rankin preached from Romans 15:18-21, exhorting the seminary community to envision their ministries according to the apostolic example.
“Paul had a vision that was consistent with God’s purpose, characterized by God’s power and compelled by God’s passion. He understood that the redemption of Jesus Christ on the cross was not just to save you and me, but that it was necessary for Christ to die and be raised again so that repentance and remission of sin would be preached in His name unto all the nations,” Rankin said.
God’s purpose has always included the Jewish nation, but it has never been limited to the chosen people, Rankin said. And it was this missionary heart in the Apostle Paul that broke the early church out of being a localized faith.
“Paul was the one God chose when it was time for the Gospel to break out of that narrow Jewish context,” Rankin said. “It was Paul that said to those in Rome, ‘I am coming to preach the Gospel to you … I’m going beyond you to Spain.'”
Paul was not unconcerned about his own Jewish people, Rankin noted. But it was Paul’s passionate commitment to the cross-cultural purpose of God that made his life and ministry radically different.
“Why do we do missions as Southern Baptists?” he asked. “It’s not simply to deliver them from hell. It’s not putting another notch in our annual statistical reports, but it’s so that Christ, who is being deprived of the worship and praise and glory that He is due, will be exalted among all people.”
Many seminary students rightfully want the power of God in their ministries, but there is only one way to ensure that power, Rankin said.
“Certainly we pray for God’s power and blessing on our ministries,” he said. “But Jesus said we would receive power for only one purpose: to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost end of the earth. We must never forget that the Great Commission is preceded by a promise of God’s power.”
There are several factors that work against those who share God’s purpose and passion, Rankin said. But of greater concern than any form of spiritual opposition or limited financial resource, Rankin said the most difficult part of strategic missions is the awareness of people groups that are still untouched by the Gospel message.
“By what criteria should any people be denied the privilege of being exposed to the life-changing message of our Lord Jesus Christ?” he asked. “What excuse will we give personally to tell God why we were unwilling to consider that purpose and call on our lives?”
Missionaries do not ever truly plow new ground, Rankin said, adding that the nations are being prepared beforehand to receive the Gospel.
During a recent visit to Nigeria, Rankin visited with a missionary team that was responsible for covering a remote area of the countryside. The missionary told Rankin how multitudes in the worst living conditions imaginable were responding to the good news of the Gospel.
“Those impoverished, destitute and superstitious people in bondage to darkness do not get much good news where they live,” he said. “But when the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed to them with power … they are glad to hear the joyful sound.”
The awareness that God has gone before His missionaries to prepare people’s hearts has spawned a new expression among IMB overseas personnel, Rankin said.
“When faced with a challenging situation or a dangerous, restrictive environment, they simply just say, ‘wigtake.’ It’s become a colloquial shorthand for, ‘whatever it’s going to take’ to bring redemption to a lost world.”
Rankin noted that there are many political, spiritual and financial obstacles to taking the Gospel to the nations, but these are not excuses for denying people the life-giving message God intended for them to hear.
“Some people, when they hear about a restricted country, say, ‘You cannot go there. You might get arrested; you might get killed.’ But what would the Apostle Paul say? Is there not a call that drives us with a passion that’s worth giving our lives for?”