DALLAS (BP)–Southern Baptist churches are catching a vision of taking the Gospel to people groups that have never heard –- even when there is no missionary to help them, International Mission Board trustees were told during their April 7-9 meeting in Dallas, Texas. In the past two years, about 125 congregations have accepted the challenge of taking the Gospel to unreached people groups in West Africa.
Bartlett Baptist Church near Memphis, Tenn., is one of many churches nationwide that has taken responsibility for getting the Good News to a people group in West Africa that has no long-term missionary, said Randy Arnett, the IMB’s leader for work in that region.
“In 2004, I looked at our region and asked how we were going to reach all the micro people groups there,” Arnett said. “I looked at the numbers and saw there was no way we were going to put missionaries with all those people groups. We just didn’t have the personnel.”
Arnett’s team began recruiting churches to take responsibility for developing a strategy for those people groups that would not hear any other way, and the Bartlett congregation was one that responded.
Bartlett pastor Michael Priest and missions chairman Becky Babcock led the church to adopt the Vigue people group of Burkina Faso and sent teams several times to get acquainted with village leaders, Arnett said. They found no openness to the Gospel until this past December when four women from Bartlett gave up Christmas with their families to visit the Vigue. On Christmas Eve, the first Vigue woman accepted Christ.
“There has never ever, ever, ever been a Vigue who has stood before the throne and sang, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lamb,'” Arnett said. “Was there a missionary there leading that? No, [the Bartlett women] did it on their own.”
Churches of all sizes are accepting the challenge of fulfilling the Great Commission themselves, Arnett said. In 2006, 15 congregations agreed to take responsibility for West Africa people groups; in 2007 that number jumped to 86. In an early April summit meeting in Greenville, S.C., an additional 35 congregations signed on, bringing the current total number of churches focused on West Africa to about 125.
“God says that every language, every people, every tribe, every nation will stand before His throne,” said Gordon Fort, the board’s vice president for overseas operations. “What do you think would happen if God reignited 46,000 Southern Baptist churches with fire from heaven and that group was unleashed in this generation? Do you think it would make a difference?”
With 5,903 people groups yet to hear about salvation in Jesus Christ –- and unprecedented opportunities to reach them -– this is no time for Southern Baptist churches to “sit in a spiritual rocking chair and watch this opportunity pass us by,” Fort said.
Southern Baptists have made tremendous strides in fielding new missionaries for service abroad, said Clyde Meador, the board’s executive vice president, who brought the 2007 Field Personnel Report to the trustees. A lower-than-average attrition rate of 4.4 percent resulted in a net personnel gain of 163, bringing the total number of overseas workers to 5,271 at year’s end.
Almost 80 percent of Southern Baptist overseas personnel are serving in long-term assignments, Meador noted, and, with the exception of 2000, the number of long-term missionaries has increased every year since 1993. A quarter of the long-term workers on the field at the end of 2007 were in their first term of service, and the number of short-term personnel overseas exceeded 1,000.
The appointment of 92 new missionaries in an April 9 service at Sunnyvale First Baptist Church near Dallas brought the current international missionary count to 5,318. Seven of the new appointees are Korean-Americans, part of a growing stream of new missionaries emerging from Korean congregations around the United States.
IMB President Jerry Rankin, who recently returned from a Korean Baptist global missions summit in Tacoma, Wash., told trustees that the board has sent out almost 300 Korean-American Southern Baptists and an additional 500 have made commitments to overseas missionary service. The summit brought together key Korean Southern Baptist leaders, pastors of Baptist congregations in South Korea and leadership from the Korean Foreign Mission Board, Rankin said.
Korean-American response to the need for overseas workers is so strong that IMB leaders are planning to add Korean-language missionary training courses to serve Korean Southern Baptists, Rankin said. Four of the newly appointed missionaries gave their testimonies in Korean –- a first in an IMB appointment service.
With such great missions opportunities before them, Southern Baptists must be sure they are pleasing to God and usable to Him in advancing His kingdom, Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page told trustees.
“It is incumbent on all of us to say, ‘Father, I want nothing to distract from the call to win this world to You. Forgive me for those times I have allowed my own agenda to cause You to be displeased,'” Page said. “I pray God will continue to work in our hearts for a true Holy Ghost revival, in which we are willing to allow Him to do what He wishes to do.”
In other business, the trustees:
— Elected new officers: chairman, Paul Chitwood of Mount Washington, Ky.; first vice chairman, Simon Tsoi of Phoenix, Ariz.; second vice chairman, Mike Smith of Jacksonville, Texas; secretary, Debbie Brunson of Jacksonville, Fla. All were elected by acclamation and will take office after the June 10-11 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Indianapolis.
— Adopted resolutions of appreciation for Linda Lipscomb and Jim Lay, two IMB workers who died earlier this year in active service. Lipscomb, who served in Asia, died Feb. 14 of complications following a bus accident. Lay, who served in Tanzania, died Feb. 22 after a battle with brain cancer.
— Conducted their annual memorial service for missionaries who passed away the previous year. In 2007, 33 emeritus missionaries and former stateside staff members died, representing a cumulative 992 years of service. The trustees also remembered Jan Moses, a missionary in the Philippines who died of cancer Feb. 8, 2007. Moses left five children, ages 11 to 22, and her husband, Mark, who also is battling cancer.
— Heard board treasurer David Steverson report on the effect turmoil in financial markets and a weakening dollar have had on missionary support. While missionary “field parity supplements” – which adjust missionary compensation for the varied costs of living around the world – must be changed 150 to 200 times in a typical year, more than 400 changes were made in 2007, most of them increases.
— Reviewed a DVD created for this year’s Day of Prayer and Fasting, held each year on Pentecost Sunday. This year’s emphasis focuses on unreached people groups in South America’s Amazon Basin.
— Heard a report from Overseas Committee chairman Chuck McAlister that more than $2.7 million was allocated in the first quarter of 2008 for 98 human needs projects around the world.
The next trustee meeting and coinciding missionary appointment service are scheduled for June 23-25 in Richmond, Va.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor for Baptist Press.