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Vision of lost nations leaves lasting impression on messengers

GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–It was a moment that impacted thousands for the Kingdom.

Southern Baptists attending the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Greensboro Coliseum were in awe June 14 as 60 International Mission Board missionaries, personnel and volunteers stood throughout the crowd. Each was holding a sign representing a different unreached people group of West Africa, the IMB’s focus region for 2006.

“I was so taken by it,” said Joyce Johnson, wife of Ed Johnson, director of missions for the Ogeechee River Baptist Association in Georgia. “It makes people realize how many (groups) aren’t reached.”

Patti Barrett, a volunteer IMB consultant for West Africa, held the sign for the Gera people of Nigeria and recalled being deeply touched by the sight of so many unreached groups. She said it gave her a renewed burden for the lost in West Africa.

While holding her sign, Barrett said she began to sob during the prayer for the unreached people groups and could no longer keep the sign raised on her own. Then she felt the hands of those standing nearby lifting her arms for her.

“It was a reminder to me that we are not in this task alone and that God uses people to collaborate,” she said. “It was a great feeling to know other people will be there to help.”

IMB staffer Joye Russell had a similar experience. When she became tired of holding her sign for Nigeria’s Gurmana people, a young boy standing next to her extended his arm straight up in the air to support her right arm, while another individual gently supported her left.

Immediately Russell thought of the situation in Exodus 17 when Aaron and Hur help Moses keep his arms raised in order for Israel to defeat the Amalekites.

“It was neat to know I had support from people of every age,” she said.

“The people around me really took it seriously,” said Herman Russell, IMB candidate consultant, who also was struggling to hold his sign for the Dukawa of Nigeria. He noted that individuals who had stood around him in prayer were later searching for the proper spelling and pronunciation of the Dukawa, so they could later pray specifically for the people group.

Roger Haun, Richmond associate for West Africa, held the sign for the Senara people of Burkina Faso. He said he is especially excited to hear what smaller churches are doing to make an impact in the region and hopes they all will realize that they can make a difference.

“You don’t have to be a big mega church to take on the responsibility of reaching a people group,” he said.

Ed Johnson agrees and said it excited him to see such an opportunity for members of churches in his association to share the Gospel overseas.

“This is an excellent way to introduce them to foreign ministry,” he said.

Within a week Johnson had called the IMB to learn how his association can adopt an unreached West African people group and support them through prayer and, potentially, through hands-on service.

Johnson hasn’t yet presented the idea of people group adoption to the pastors of his state association, but he said he has ordered West African items from the IMB’s website and looks forward to pursuing this avenue of following the Great Commission.

Johnson’s association may be small in number — 35 churches with an average Sunday attendance of approximately 125. But Terry Sharp, who directs the IMB’s state and association services, said he believes Johnson’s initiative could be an encouragement to other churches across the country.

“It’s showing how a church, no matter what the size, can be extremely strategic … and make an impact,” Sharp said.

The purpose of the sign-holding portion of the program was for individuals to see other people groups that are in the same situation as the Sokoto Fulani people of Niger were a year ago — before the 65-member Wickland Baptist Church of Bardstown, Ky., started praying for them and before Danielle Koepke followed the Lord’s call to serve there as a journeyman. Billy Kruschwitz, IMB mobilization strategy associate, noted that nine personnel are working with the Sokoto Fulani people group.

Kruschwitz and Barrett both say they hope those in attendance for the IMB presentation grasped the idea that the same could occur with each one of the other 60 unreached people groups.

“People around me were visibly moved — men and women were in tears,” Barrett said. “Hopefully they were able to take it back to their churches and it won’t be just emotion, but they will put their prayers and feet into action and will give financially, too.”

For more information about the peoples of West Africa, and to subscribe to the West Africa Prayergram, visit GoWestAfrica.org. To get daily prayer requests and updates about missions worldwide, visit imb.org/compassionnet.

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  • Natalie Kaspar