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‘Who will tell?’ Rankin asks

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–We must challenge the next generation of Southern Baptists to “go tell the story of Jesus,” Jerry Rankin told messengers June 11 at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis.

Speaking to several thousand messengers and guests, the president of the International Mission Board urged Southern Baptist leaders to “fulfill the mission” by passing on the missions torch.

“What about the next generation?” Rankin asked. “Will we nurture in our children and grandchildren God’s heart for missions, or will they simply emulate the self-centered indifference of our generation?

“We are seeing God stir in the children, young people and students of today a passion for missions and [a desire] to make a difference in our world,” he said.

Messengers watched a video of a vision trip into the Peruvian Amazon that Rankin made with his 12-year-old grandson Zachary. The pair spent time visiting with Xtreme Team missionaries who worked among a remote tribe known as the Yaminahua.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if this [trip leaves] a lingering impression that has something to do with God’s call on his life,” Rankin said shortly before introducing Zachary on the convention’s stage.

Rankin also introduced messengers to 25-year-old Bobby Lane, one of the Xtreme Team members who guided them through the Amazon. Lane talked about his own call to the mission field.

“God has a role for all of us. It took me a little while to figure this out, but God finally showed me that I’m not here for me and I’m not here for them [the Yaminahua]. I’m simply here out of obedience to what God called me to do,” Lane said.


Rankin took time to reflect on the rapid growth of the Gospel in the decade following the IMB’s “New Directions” campaign. Launched in 1997, New Directions was a paradigm shift that reorganized the board’s structure and strategy in order to intensify its focus on the world’s unreached people groups.

Since that time, Southern Baptist churches have sent more than 7,300 missionaries to the field. Working closely with national partners, Rankin said those missionaries have seen baptisms double from 308,000 in 1997 to more than 609,900 in 2007. Numbers of new church starts also jumped dramatically, from 3,352 in 1997 to more than 25,000 last year.

Rankin added that 2007 also saw more people groups engaged with the Gospel than ever before. In 1997, missionaries were only working among 584 people groups. Today, they are engaging nearly 1,200, many of whom are hearing the Gospel for the first time.

“While we praise God for His blessings and acknowledge His power and grace that enable us to bring this kind of report to you, we must be reminded that it is not a matter of taking pride in statistical growth,” Rankin said.

“We must never think that we have accomplished anything by our own efforts and resources. The only measure of ‘fulfilling the mission’ is the impact being made on the lostness that remains. And that lostness is massive.”


Rankin cited South America — the board’s missions emphasis for 2008 — as a prime example. One of Southern Baptists’ oldest mission fields, the IMB has been sending missionaries to South America for more than 100 years. Rankin said history has created the misperception that the continent has been evangelized.

“We are so grateful for those people who, though the years, have come and given their lives in South America,” said Dickie Nelson, regional leader for International Mission Board work in South America. “Many, many good things have happened. But South America is a big continent. Is it reached? Not yet.”

Nelson told messengers that more than half of South America’s 700-plus people groups still have little or no Christian witness. Many are indigenous tribal groups that live in isolation, deep within the continent’s jungles or among its remote mountains. But Nelson said many are also lost in the concrete “jungles” of South America’s cities.

“There are 41 cities in our region that have more than 1 million inhabitants,” Nelson said. “There’s incredible lostness in those cities.”

Rankin underscored the urgency of lostness, reciting a litany of natural disasters that have kept hundreds of thousands from a relationship with Jesus.

He mentioned the 2004 tsunami that swept the Indian Ocean, claiming more than a quarter of a million lives. An earthquake in Pakistan in 2005 left 80,000 dead. Last month, a cyclone left more than 130,000 dead or missing when it slammed the nation of Myanmar. Days later another 70,000 lost their lives in China when a 7.9 earthquake rocked China’s Sichuan province.

“Multitudes continue to enter eternity never knowing that a Savior died for them,” Rankin said. “Do we not hear those in other countries and cultures crying out in despair and hopelessness like the disciples in the storm-tossed boat on the Sea of Galilee pleading, ‘Carest not that we perish?’

“Do we, as God’s people, not realize that one day we will stand accountable before our heavenly Father for fulfilling the mission He has committed to us?”

Despite these tragedies, Southern Baptist messengers also heard stories of God’s love and salvation.


Melissa Smith, a former Xtreme Team missionary in Peru, spoke about the power of prayer she witnessed in the life of a young woman named Sylvia.

Sylvia lived in a remote Amarakaeri village in southern Peru. The first time she met Smith, Sylvia was four months pregnant and had just been told by doctors that she would die if she didn’t have an abortion.

Doctors had found a lemon-sized size tumor growing beside her unborn baby. Though she was not yet a believer, Sylvia had heard stories about God answering prayer.

“She came to us because she believed that God would hear our prayers on her behalf,” Smith said. “We began to ask God to take away this tumor and that He would reveal Himself in Sylvia’s life.”

Smith said her prayers were soon joined by hundreds, maybe thousands of others from Southern Baptist churches who had agreed to partner with her in prayer. Just a few weeks later, doctors were surprised to find that the tumor was starting to shrink. By the time Sylvia was ready to deliver, it had disappeared completely.

“What’s even more amazing is the way God used this answered prayer to change Sylvia’s life,” Smith said. “It wasn’t long after the miracle occurred that Sylvia surrendered her life to Jesus and was baptized. She began to share the same [Bible] stories that we had shared with her.

“And now, in that same remote Amarakaeri village in southern Peru, there is a whole group of people who are going to spend eternity with Jesus because you prayed, and because our God answers prayers.”


Rankin also thanked Southern Baptists for maintaining an “impressive level” of giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering despite a tough economy.

Receipts for the 2007 offering topped $150.4 million. Though the amount fell short of the $165 million goal, it was still the largest offering in the IMB’s history, more than $231,000 above the record-breaking total received in 2006.

But Rankin pointed out that the dollar’s decline in the world marketplace limits how far churches’ Lottie Moon gifts will go. More than 70 percent of the IMB’s budget is used to support missionaries overseas, and with the dollar losing some 12 percent of its buying power, the $150.4 million offering spends like $132 million — a loss of $18 million.

“We face a dilemma of whether or not our giving will reflect the priority of what it means to fulfill our mission,” Rankin said.


Rankin closed the evening with a challenge to Southern Baptists.

“It is a dangerous and challenging world to which God is calling us to go and tell the Gospel,” he said. “We cannot wait while multitudes enter eternity without Christ. … We must involve our churches, we must mobilize our members that the world might know that Jesus is the answer.

“I pray that we as Southern Baptists will not only be found faithful and obedient, but will challenge the next generation to be faithful in fulfilling our mission task.”
Don Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.

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  • Don Graham