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‘You do not go alone,’ Rankin tells 54 new IMB missionaries

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Growing up in the Soviet Union, Olga Gilbert had never heard of God or the Bible. Then she stumbled onto an opportunity to translate for missionaries. Through her relationship with them, God led her to faith in Christ and opened her eyes to her country’s spiritual void.

“Now it is my turn to take the Gospel back to my people,” she said.

She and her husband, Mark, were among 54 new International Mission Board appointees Jan. 25 at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Colonial Heights, Va.

In addition to the Gilberts, who will serve in Russia, a dental assistant, engineer, government worker, middle manager, pastor’s wife, teacher, computer analyst and others were approved for missionary service.

Tom and Lorenda Dyson will serve among an indigenous people group in Mexico. “As my daughter knelt in prayer, feeling called to missions, I trembled, realizing it was the whole family being called,” Lorenda said.

When Patrick Goodman was in seminary, he heard IMB president Jerry Rankin talk about how so few missionaries are working to reach so many lost people. “I was shocked!” he said. Now he and his wife, Janet, are committed to countering that problem as they head to Central and Eastern Europe.

After the death of their only child, Roger* and Lisa* faced debilitating grief and depression. But God spoke to them, saying, “I know My plans to give you a hope and a future.” Nine years later, in a hut in Nairobi, Kenya, God spoke again: “Go where I send you.” Today their purpose for living is rekindled as they prepare to serve in Western Europe. “I now rejoice in my hope and my future!” Lisa said.

When God called Lee**, a computer technician, to serve fulltime overseas, his wife Kathy** said, “You’re not a pastor; we’re not missionaries.” Two years later God has changed her heart as they prepare to go to South Asia. “God has told both of us He doesn’t use a ‘cookie cutter’ for missionaries. He calls ordinary people to serve Him,” Kathy said.

Rankin used the Great Commission — recorded in Matthew 28:19-20 — to challenge the new missionaries to make disciples. “Disciples are students or learners, those who become true followers of Christ,” the IMB president said.

But he emphasized that making disciples is not an easy task. Missionaries will plant their lives in new cultures, learn new languages and possibly even accept deprived lifestyles. Some will encounter antagonism from people of other religions; others will confront restrictive government policies. And some will be frustrated by people’s indifference to the Gospel.

“It is not because of your education, language skills or personal abilities that you will be able to make disciples of those who have never heard of Jesus or have no interest in following the Christian faith,” he said. “It is the power of Christ that indwells the message of the Gospel, the message you go to proclaim.”

Rankin told of one missionary who said the two most important words of the Great Commission are “go” and “lo.”

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” Jesus charged His followers. But then He reminded them, “… lo, I am with you always …”

“No ‘lo,’ no ‘go,’” the missionary had said.

“He grasped the significance of what you should realize as you are appointed to missionary service,” Rankin noted. “You do not go alone, but Jesus goes with you. You’ve got no business going to a foreign country as a missionary unless He goes with you.

“You are here being commissioned because of your obedience to God’s call, and you can be assured of the promise of the Great Commission, that His presence will go with you and empower you and use you to fulfill His purpose to disciple the nations.”

Rankin told the new appointees that other Southern Baptists should have been with them being appointed — but they haven’t taken the Great Commission personally.

People often say that they’re willing to go, but they’re just not called, Rankin recounted.

He said he’d like to respond: “To whom do you think the Great Commission was given? Just to a handful of disciples on a hillside in Galilee? Or just to a select few among all the Southern Baptists?

“As we rejoice in sending out these 54 new missionaries, we still have one missionary for every 1.2 million people around the world,” Rankin said.

“His heart is to reach every nation, every race, every tribe. Who’s convinced us that a call is a burning bush or a Damascus road experience rather than the still, small voice stirring in our hearts with a burden for a lost world and recognizing the potential in our lives of going and doing something about it?”

The Dec. 26 tsunami serves as a reminder of the Great Commission’s urgency, said Gordon Fort, IMB vice president for overseas operations.

“In the twinkling of an eye, more than 200,000 were swept into eternity. How many of them will spend a Christless eternity?” Fort asked.

Images from Asia showed survivors scanning photos of bodies — looking for lost relatives. God’s eyes, too, roam the earth, looking for lost to be found, Fort said.

“What part will you play in the search?” he asked the audience.

Rankin emphasized that many of those who died in the tsunami had never heard of Jesus Christ. “By what criteria should any people be deprived of hearing the Gospel? He died for them, but they never knew He died for their sins because no one went and told them.”
* Names changed for security reasons. ** Last names withheld for security reasons.

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  • Manda Roten Gibson