ST. LOUIS (BP)–God is empowering Southern Baptists for his mission and they are responding in obedience as never before, but vast multitudes have yet to even hear of salvation in Jesus Christ, International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin told messengers to the 145th Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis June 12.
During 2001, more than 34,000 volunteers and 1,155 new missionaries joined 5,100 long-term overseas workers, Rankin said. Southern Baptist missionaries and their co-workers overseas started 5,775 churches, 33,000 outreach groups and baptized more than 1,000 new believers every day.
God is moving in remarkable ways throughout the Muslim world, said a missionary who coordinates efforts to get the gospel to a Muslim people group.
In the Muslim world, “God is calling people to himself, many times through dreams and visions,” the missionary, who was not named for security reasons, said. “He is calling entire villages to himself. God is saying that it’s intolerable that these people do not have the gospel.”
Rankin told the assembly, “We are seeing that God is shaking the nations to destroy spiritual strongholds, but not only in the Muslim world. One of the greatest challenges we face is in China, with 1.3 billion people. Even though we read of a harvest [there] unprecedented since New Testament days, most of those people have yet to have access to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Yet even in remote areas of China, God’s spirit is moving and drawing people to Christ, said a missionary who focuses on a people group in southern China.
That people group has a history of being headhunters and today produce most of the opium sold worldwide, the missionary said. Until 2000, they had never had a gospel witness.
“As of now, this year alone, we have seen 1,632 of those people come to faith in Christ and be baptized,” he said. “God is at work, even though they are remote and hard to get to. We are reaching them with the gospel.”
Even though there are more Southern Baptist workers in China than ever before, they are too few to effectively reach the country, Rankin said. And Southern Baptist churches are stepping up to fill the gap — working with strategy coordinators, adopting people groups, sending volunteer teams, praying for the unreached and giving to missions.
A vision trip to China “really changed my life,” said Gary Longnecker, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lebanon, Mo. “For the first time, I really saw darkness, lostness. I saw people who had never even heard about Jesus. I had to do something.”
Longnecker invited a strategy coordinator to come tell his church about the lostness of that people group.
“As he shared with us, our church became burdened and we began to pray. God led us to adopt this [strategy coordinator] and his family, his city and his province,” the pastor said. “Our church began to give like we’ve never given before. Last year we gave twice as much as we’ve ever given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
“And then our people began to go,” Longnecker continued. “In fact, next month our fourth mission trip to China will take place. One of our young ladies will be going this week to begin her training to join the team in China.”
Many American Christians know that believers in China often face tremendous persecution and harassment, Rankin said, and that suffering usually strengthens their resolve to share Jesus Christ with others.
He introduced Pastor Yun, a Chinese evangelist who works with several house church networks in China — two of which are larger than the Southern Baptist Convention with its 16 million members. Messengers to the 2001 Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans had prayed for Yun, who has been jailed and tortured for his faith and was, in fact, in prison at the time the messengers prayed for him.
Rankin explained that Yun is challenging members of China’s house churches not only to take the gospel to all of China but also to send 100,000 Chinese believers to take the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to the Muslim world and back to Jerusalem, Rankin said.
Yun closed the board’s presentation with an impassioned prayer in his native tongue that God would give Southern Baptists that same vision and commitment to share the gospel.
During a question-and-answer period, John Pettigrew, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Edgefield, S.C., asked Rankin about his letter earlier this year that asked Southern Baptist missionaries to affirm the 2000 revision of the Baptist Faith and Message.
“Have any missionaries been terminated for failure to sign the support for the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Pettigrew asked, “and what is the policy in regards to those missionaries who may have expressed some areas of disagreement?”
Rankin replied: “We have always been accountable to this convention, and in processing, our missionary candidates have always had to express agreement and affirm that they will work in accord with the Baptist Faith and Message.
“Of course, [the BF&M] having changed in 2000, we felt an obligation of accountability to this convention to assure you that the missionaries your churches send and support are working in accord with the Baptist Faith and Message and are teaching and believe consistently with what Southern Baptists confess to believe.
“Most of our missionaries overwhelmingly have been understanding and cooperative, have complied with the request, have willingly affirmed they will carry out their work in accord with the Baptist Faith and Message. No missionary has been terminated for failure to sign it. Several have resigned or retired rather than express that accountability to the convention. There are likely to be a few others.
“We have yet to find serious doctrinal discrepancies, but many have misperceptions about the nature of the confession of faith and the nature of our request,” Rankin said. “We are continuing to confer with them, but our assurance is that the missionaries you send and support will be compatible with what we as Southern Baptists believe and will work in accord with it.”