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Trading ‘American dream’ for God’s vision

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)–Five years ago, Jack and Joni were living the “American dream” — great careers, comfortable home, predictable future.

Their dream changed radically during a short-term mission trip overseas.

“God revealed to me the needs among unreached peoples,” said Jack (last name not used for security reasons). “On a mountaintop overlooking God’s creation, yet seeing the lostness, I knew that I needed to be a part of God’s plan for the nations.”

Joni admitted she wasn’t sure about becoming a missionary.

“Then I attended a missions meeting at our church,” she recalled. “A mother of two who had been a (two-year missionary) journeyman said, ‘Being a missionary is not a sacrifice but an honor — an honor that God has called you to work for Him all day, every day.’”

Now, with their two daughters, Jack and Joni are going to share the Gospel with an unreached people group in a tough part of Asia. They were among 49 new Southern Baptist missionaries appointed March 21 by International Mission Board trustees during a service at Kirby Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn.

Another new missionary couple, Don and Jana, also struggled with giving up the things America has to offer.

“I was scared -— scared of sacrificing the American dream for our children,” Jana told more than 2,000 missionary family members, friends, church members and other Tennessee Baptists gathered at the church. “But God gently reminded me that He had created those children with their special gifts and abilities, and that He was going to develop them. They would miss nothing in the center of His will. Overwhelming peace flooded over me, and I was ready to go.”

Don and Jana will join two other new missionary couples headed for West Africa, the special regional focus of Southern Baptists’ prayers in 2006.

The new workers range in age from 23 to 60. Many of them come with previous experience as short-term missionaries. Two former career missionary couples were reappointed for service. They come from a variety of backgrounds and professions: pastors, teachers, full-time moms, an insurance agent, a purchasing manager, a personal trainer, a veterinarian.

They will take the Good News of Jesus Christ to lost people across Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East. The new appointees bring the total number of IMB overseas workers to 5,160 worldwide, including more than 4,000 long-term missionaries.

Brief testimonies by other new missionaries outlining their journey of obedience to God included these:

— “I’m the legacy of women who live for God’s glory,” said Laura, who told of some of the women who guided her to Christ. “For God’s glory Louisa shared the Gospel with me. For God’s glory Heather pointed me to the Scriptures. For God’s glory I joyfully go to pour my life into some of the least-reached women of the world (in Central Asia).”

— “As a youth, I struggled to believe that God was relevant to my generation, that I had as much to gain in following Him as early Christians,” said Stephanie, who is going to Asia. “As a journeyman, I found Him to be intimately involved and of infinite worth, and became passionate to see my neighbors know His love. It’s His intimate concern that sends us.”

Her husband, Chris, recalled meeting Asian villagers who were “terrified when they saw photographs of a funeral, because they feared that the spirit of the dead person could harm them. We’re returning to Asia to declare the wonderful news of the God who is able to deliver them from the bondage of fear.”

— Larry and Melinda Ewing spent two years in Hungary, working among young adults who openly declared, “We are a faithless country.” Yet students who came to their apartment to practice English and enjoy their hospitality eventually became a house church.

“Now, by God’s grace, we are selling our home and business to join God as He establishes His righteousness among Hungarian university students,” Larry said.

— “Walking the dusty, overcrowded streets of a city in South Asia, I saw people without hope, worshipping idols made by their own hands,” said Lelanette, who is returning there with her husband, Mark. “I thought, ‘God, how can You bear to watch these people worshipping their idols?’ He reminded me, ‘How can they call on Me without believing? How can they believe without hearing? How can they hear unless someone tells them?’”

— “On a hot day in Mexico in the summer of 2005, I baptized a woman who had been beaten by her husband the night before because of her faith,” related Jason. “The woman’s obedience to God challenged me: What was I willing to give up to be obedient to Christ? My wife and I have heard God’s call and with our children are going to West Africa.”

— Paul told of the day 61 years ago when his grandmother in Taiwan received Christ through the witness of American missionaries there. “After three generations, so did I,” he said. “Now God is sending me to serve in Asia so others, as I did, can come to know Jesus Christ.”

Tom Elliff, IMB senior vice president for spiritual nurture, spoke to the missionaries during the service.

“I cannot tell you how excited all of us are as Southern Baptists that you have chosen the path that God has laid out before you and surrendered yourself entirely to His will,” he said. “What an incredible adventure.”

Elliff reminded his listeners that Christ always asked people for a tangible expression of their faith -— “Stretch out your hand. Go and show the priest (you’ve been healed). Take up your bed. Rise up and walk. If you take the time to read the 11th chapter of Hebrews, that roll call of the faithful, you will discover that not one person famous for his or her faith is famous for what they thought or what they felt. They’re famous for what they did in response to what God said.”

During a closing invitation, more than 100 people came forward to make various spiritual and mission commitments.

Elliff challenged everyone in the sanctuary —- including himself -— to ask God what He would ask them to do to demonstrate greater commitment to world missions.

“It may be going. It may be helping go. It may be letting (someone else) go. It may be praying more intensely,” he said.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges