RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The stench of dead bodies and human waste filled Mike Reid’s* nostrils as he stepped inside a filthy, rundown medical clinic in the South African bush. A cholera outbreak was ravaging area villages and the then 18-year-old college freshman had volunteered to help provide clean drinking water.
So far the job had been easy, even fun — pump river water into large steel tanks, then add chlorine tablets to kill any germs. Until now, Reid hadn’t encountered any cholera victims, but the clinic brought a sobering dose of reality. As he scanned the room his eyes locked on a gaunt, South African girl lying on a gurney. She was dead, but her eyes were still open.
Dehydrated and exhausted from days of cholera-induced diarrhea, the girl had collapsed under a tree. By the time she was brought to the clinic it was too late. Reid didn’t know anything about her — where she was from, how old she was, not even her name. But as he stared into the girl’s lifeless eyes, God awakened something inside him.
Reid shared the story of his call to missions at Mandarin Baptist Church in Los Angeles, Calif., May 22, as Southern Baptists honored 26 newly appointed International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries including Reid and his wife, Laura.* The couple will soon trade their Jacksonville, Fla., home for southern Europe where they will work among Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East.
“This girl most likely died having never heard the Good News of Christ,” Reid says. “I was just overwhelmed with an urgency that there are people — real people — who are dying because they’re drinking dirty water, but they’re dying into a Christ-less eternity. And as that [truth] sat on me and filled my senses … God confirmed in my heart that this is what I’m going to spend my life doing.”
THEIR SON CONVICTED THEM
Like Reid, many of the new missionaries spoke of first hearing God’s call to missions as teenagers or even children. For Ben and Olivia Harrison,* God used the couple’s son, Matthew,* to ignite one of the first sparks that would eventually lead them to leave their Georgia home to share Christ in Central Asia.
Two years ago, Matthew caught his parents off guard while the family was praying for Muslims during Ramadan.
“We were explaining to the kids how there were Muslims in our own community,” Harrison says, referencing a mosque less than a mile from the church where he serves as an associate pastor. “My son, Matthew, who was 5 at the time, looks at me and says, ‘Daddy, we’ve got to go there and tell those people about Jesus.’
“My wife looked at me like, ‘So, what are you going to tell him?'” Harrison laughs. “Immediately my mind fills up with a million reasons about why that’s a bad idea.”
Harrison promised Matthew he’d think about it; soon he found himself face to face with the mosque’s inter-faith liaison who was curious to know why Harrison wanted to meet him.
“I’ve lived in this community for five years. I drive by the mosque and every Friday the parking lot is full of cars — I’m ashamed to say I don’t know a single Muslim in my own community,” Harrison told him.
But that was just the beginning. While Harrison built relationships at the mosque, the Harrisons’ children asked if the family could continue praying for Muslims after Ramadan ended. Two years later, it is still part of the family’s evening devotion, a habit they credit for “breaking their hearts” for the Muslim world.
“Every night we’re praying for an unengaged, unreached people group and asking the Lord to send somebody to go. Eventually we came to realize, He’s calling us to go!” Harrison says.
LAWYER TURNED MISSIONARY
Dustin Jones* was an attorney in Atlanta, Ga., before he and his wife, Miriam,* answered God’s call to share Jesus in North Africa and the Middle East in 2008. During the couple’s two years as short-term missionaries, Jones says he learned God can use anyone to spread the Gospel — even a lawyer.
As proof, Jones tells the story of a young Arab student named Fadi* whom he led to Christ. Introduced by mutual friends, Jones spent months delving through the Bible with Fadi, meeting at a tea shop every Sunday from 7 p.m. to midnight — or later.
Fadi wrestled with some of the things Jones was teaching because they were contrary to the small bit of Gospel exposure he’d received growing up in his country. Eventually, Jones and Fadi agreed to go to a priest to settle the issue. Jones was stunned by what he heard.
“Finally the priest turned to him and said, ‘Here’s the problem, Fadi — you’re ignorant and you can never understand the Bible. You need to quit reading it because it will only confuse you. If you have a question, you need to come to one of us priests and we will tell you what to believe,'” Jones says.
For several months afterward, Fadi would come right to the edge of making the decision to accept Jesus but would pull back. Finally, after 18 months of one-on-one discipleship and untold gallons of hot tea, he embraced Christ.
“Since that time, whenever I go out [to share the Gospel] Fadi goes with me. He goes as my interpreter,” Jones says. “We’ll go out for seven to eight hours at a time and I keep asking him, ‘Is this OK? Is this messing up your school?’ He says, ‘all I want to do is serve God.'”
After hearing the missionaries’ testimonies, IMB President Tom Elliff challenged the crowd gathered at Mandarin with a question: “Does your heart beat for missions?”
Speaking from Romans 1:14-17, Elliff outlined the qualities at the core of Paul’s missions-driven heart, calling the Great Commission a “profound and personal debt” that every Christian must pay.
“Sometimes we think we can discharge the debt by being in a church that does mission work,” Elliff said. “Soon there will be 7 billion people on this globe. Over half of them have very little access to the Gospel; 1.7 billion of them will die without hearing the name of Jesus, unless you and I join [these missionaries] who go to share the Gospel.”
For missionaries like Reid, that debt often involves personal sacrifice.
The semester after returning from South Africa, Reid remembers wrestling with his call to missions late one night in his dorm room — a letter of acceptance from a Bible college in one hand and a contract to play semi-professional soccer in the other.
“That was always my dream,” Reid says. “Growing up I always wanted to play soccer at a high, high level and had pursued that in college.”
But he says the image of that South African girl’s face weighed heavily on him — like an anchor tied to his heart. He turned down the soccer contract and decided to transfer to the Bible college.
“There were several times in my life when I needed to make a big decision and that girl’s face would stick out…. It’s something that I’ll remember for as long as I live.”
*Names changed for security reasons. Don Graham is a senior writer at IMB.