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‘Wave of divine power’ propels 885 to overseas fields in 1998

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Southern Baptists are realizing how God’s heart aches for the world’s lost billions and in 1998 responded to his call to missions in numbers that dwarf any previous year.
The 885 new missionaries sent overseas in 1998 represent a 33.4 percent increase over 1997 — more than double the highest net growth of any previous year in the Southern Baptist International Mission Board’s 153-year history.
“A wave of divine power is at work throughout the world,” said IMB President Jerry Rankin. “I am overwhelmed that God is allowing Southern Baptists to ride the crest of that wave as it hurtles toward the 21st century.”
At least 1 billion people who face eternity without Christ live in places where they have little or no access to the good news of salvation, he said. Several billion more have never been asked if they want to receive God’s free offer of eternal life.
Southern Baptists are understanding God’s love for the lost and record numbers are joining his mission of bringing them to himself, Rankin said.
One example is a former journeyman who now is going back overseas as a career missionary to a restricted-access country.
“During my travels, I saw many villages in the middle of nowhere,” said the new missionary. “I was burdened by the fact that they may not know about God’s love for them.
“In January 1997, the train I was on stopped, and many of the children from a nearby village came to the train to sell their fruit. I asked God, ‘Do they know about you? Who is reaching them for you?’
“At that moment, He told me, ‘You will.'”
The sudden jump in missionary appointments is God’s answer to the prayers of many Southern Baptists, said Avery Willis, the board’s senior vice president for overseas operations.
“This dramatic increase in the number of new missionaries is another evidence that God is doing a new work at the end of the 20th century,” Willis said. “Southern Baptists have been praying that God would send out laborers for the harvest, and he is answering in a dramatic way.”
The 885 new missionaries included 338 long-term workers — a 22.9 percent increase over 1997 — and 547 two-year workers — a leap of 54.9 percent in that category. The appointments brought the total number of IMB workers on the field to 4,581 at year’s end.
The 547 two-year workers included 200 journeymen — an increase of 53.8 percent over 1997 — and 347 serving in International Service Corps — a jump of 55.6 percent. Not included were 171 ISC workers assigned for less than two years.
Also not included in the count were 732 college students who served in overseas summer missions or semester missions assignments during 1998 — a 30.2 percent increase over 1997. Another 19,000 Southern Baptists participated in short-term overseas volunteer missions projects in 1998.
The phenomenal increases in long-term missionary appointments are being fueled by spectacular growth in the number of Southern Baptists serving overseas in short-term projects, said Lloyd Atkinson, the board’s associate vice president for mission personnel.
“One of the things God has taught us in recent years is that he uses short-term experiences to call out long-term missionaries,” Atkinson said. “We have seen this phenomenon continue to grow.
“In 1998, the vast majority of those appointed as missionaries had already been overseas on mission trips. Many had been on partnerships, volunteer trips or served as summer missionaries. Twenty-eight percent of those appointed already had served at least two years, as journeymen or International Service Corps workers.
“The Lord uses these short-term experiences to touch people’s hearts with the lostness of this world and with his ability to use them.”
Southern Baptists must not think this dramatic increase in the number of new missionaries meets the need for overseas personnel, Rankin said, noting, “While we rejoice in these record numbers, they parallel unprecedented numbers of unfilled needs, requests and opportunities.
“We literally need to double the number of missionary units if we are going to complete the task of proclaiming the gospel to every unevangelized people group in the world.
“God is breaking down the barriers and opening the doors. The question is whether or not Southern Baptists will respond in faithfulness and obedience and continue to provide the financial and prayer support to reach a lost world.”

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  • Mark Kelly