SHREVEPORT, La. (BP)–Southern Baptists are sending their 63 newest missionaries into a world where God is at work like never before, yet there is a tragic gap between the need for workers and the number of Southern Baptists answering God’s call, a standing-room only crowd was told March 10 at Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, La.
“We crossed the Zambezi River to visit some villages where the gospel has never been preached before,” said Avery Willis, senior vice president for overseas operations at the International Mission Board. “And everywhere we preached, the people said, ‘That’s not enough. You need to go longer.'”
Willis delivered an update on Southern Baptist overseas missions effort during a missionary appointment service held in conjunction with an IMB trustee meeting in Shreveport March 8-10. More than 1,700 people jammed the sanctuary, overflow rooms and even the hallway to participate in the service.
Willis recounted visiting Zambia missionaries Mike and Lindy Howard, who have seen 176 churches spring up from nothing in just one year.
“All around the world, God is at work in ways never seen before in history. We are seeing unprecedented things happening,” Willis said. “The 451,301 baptisms we saw this past year represent three Pentecosts a week! This is harvest time all around the world!”
The testimonies of the new missionaries showed that God is calling out workers to bring in that harvest — but many people are resisting the call.
“While I was at work, the Lord gave me an assurance that he would lead and guide me if I would follow him and become a missionary,” recounted Elliott Nichols, a new missionary to West Africa who has been pastor of Grace Community Baptist Mission Church in New Orleans. “He already had told me to go, but because of fear I refused. That day God gave me an assurance, and that’s why I’m here tonight.”
A new missionary from Tennessee who is heading to a country where a missionary presence is unwelcome told the audience, “I knew God was calling me into international missions when I saw on a short-term mission trip what it meant for 5 percent of the trained Christian leaders [in the United States] to try and reach 95 percent of the world’s population.
“The fields are truly white unto harvest,” the worker said.
“In 1999 I was building my corporate career, my 401K, my children’s education funds,” said a new missionary from Georgia who also is planning to serve in a country where missionary access is restricted. “I was choosing which Christian school my children would go to, picking out an SUV and deciding how to expand my house. We were involved in a great church.
“Then God said to me, ‘Even though I have blessed you, is all this important to you?’ That’s when I realized what God wanted me to do.
“There are people all around the world who are more important than all your stuff,” the worker told the congregation. “Despite all my objections, [God] changed my attitude, he changed my priorities and he changed my heart.”
His wife, who like her husband is a native of South Carolina, said God used a statistic to call her to overseas mission service.
“In our church’s first Global Impact Conference, God used one of those boring statistics that we typically ignore to show me what his plan was,” she said. “I heard the speaker say that out of 16 million Southern Baptists, there are fewer than 5,000 international missionaries.
“I thought, ‘Where are all those people and why don’t they go?’ God said, ‘Why don’t you go?'”
People know God has a plan for their lives, but they wait to answer until they know how he is calling them, said IMB President Jerry Rankin. “God’s will for your life may or may not be for you to be a missionary, but you’re waiting for God to reveal that before you decide whether to accept his will.
“God doesn’t play that game,” Rankin said. “He won’t reveal his will to you until you give him a blank check.
“In spite of the tremendous harvest we are seeing all over the world, there is a tragic gap in the number of Southern Baptists who are responding to God’s call to work in the harvest. Two thousand people groups have not yet heard the name of Jesus because no one has said, ‘I’ll be the one to go.’
“God has told us to pray out the laborers for the harvest, but how can we see the need for missionaries to take the gospel to the ends of the earth and ask why so few are going, when we are not willing to be the one who will go?
“Appointing these 63 new missionaries brings Southern Baptists right to the edge of having 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries serving around the world,” Rankin said. “But that’s only .03 percent of Southern Baptists. Are these the only ones God is calling?”
Rankin said God is calling remarkably diverse people to overseas missions.
“It’s amazing to see the vocational background of some of these new missionaries: a construction worker, a pharmacist, a business manager, a teacher,” he said. “They have come to realize that their plans and success are not what’s important in life, but it’s making Christ known to the nations and having a significant role in reaching the darkness with the light of the world.
“If Jesus is lord of our lives, he has every right to lay claim on us for what he wants us to do and to use us wherever he desires to send us,” Rankin said. “If the Lord is speaking to your heart, the response is not optional.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: BLANK CHECK, ASSURANCE and STANDARD BEARERS. Explore needs for new missionaries http://www.imb.org/FPNeeds/default.htm