Eighty-seven Southern Baptists will cover the globe as they take the Gospel to ten of the International Mission Board's eleven administrative regions following their appointment September 13 during a service at First Baptist North Spartanburg in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
The event, which kicked off the church's Global Impact Conference, brings the total number of IMB missionaries to more than 5,100. Many of the new appointees experienced a call to international missions during similar church-related activities or on volunteer mission trips.
"When I boarded a plane returning from a short-term mission trip, my heart broke, I didn't want to leave, and I realized [I had a] heart for missions," said one new missionary who will serve in the Pacific Rim region. "I've found no greater joy than sharing the name of Jesus with someone who has never heard."
The missionary is one of many who cannot be identified by name because she serves in a part of the world that is resistant — sometimes even hostile — to a Gospel witness.
"We cannot identify the places most of [the new missionaries] are going," said IMB President Jerry Rankin. "Through their professional experience and training and education, they are able to gain creative access to restricted countries to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, many with people who will be hearing it for the first time."
From the rocky coast of Maine and farmlands of Canada, new missionaries Jason and Steph Cooper heard God's voice to take Jesus' love to the peoples of Western Europe.
"After many mission trips, we have seen the darkness that blankets Western Europe, and we cannot ignore their need for the Gospel," Jason Cooper said. "Therefore, in the footsteps of [the Apostle] Paul, we go to Rome, Italy."
Willing to Go
Tom Elliff, IMB senior vice president for spiritual nurture, offered a charge to the new missionaries and congregation during the service.
"There comes a time in the life of every person when God offers you something for which you and you alone are uniquely suited," he told the crowd. "And what a crime — what a tragedy it would be — if that moment finds you either unwilling or ill-prepared for what would be your finest hour. Those of us in this room want to congratulate you, for both your willingness and the extent of your preparation."
Elliff conveyed his heart's desire: that Southern Baptists will see the day when young people will have many family members and friends on the mission field, whether through partnerships or career missions. He said he believes hearing their accounts of God's work should generate such excitement that, even at a very young age, children will try to find a way to get onto the mission field. He said he prays to see the day when students so desire to serve God they will "make a date" with missions and not dare do anything that could keep them from going the moment they are old enough.
"You see, it's not about maximums, it's about minimums," Elliff said. Recalling the efforts of his seven-year-old granddaughter to stand tall enough to reach the minimum height for a ride at a theme park, Elliff asked the congregation, "What does the Lord consider the very minimums for mission involvement? Just how tall do you have to stand?"
Based on Matthew 9:35-38, Elliff said he believes there are four minimums for mission participation: (1) Christians must be able to see the multitudes as Jesus saw them, like sheep without a shepherd; (2) Christians must be able to feel what Jesus felt as He was moved with compassion; (3) Christians must be willing to acknowledge that while there is a great harvest, there is an overwhelming shortage of those willing to work in that harvest; and (4) Christians must be willing to do as Jesus commands — to both pray and participate through personal involvement.
The eighty-seven new missionaries, like many other Southern Baptists, meet the "mission minimums," Elliff noted, to reach out to the weary multitudes of today's world: 6.5 billion people in the world, and 1.7 billion of those people having virtually no access to the Gospel.
Some appointees left existing careers — some as pastors or other Christian leaders — to follow God's lead into missions service. Others left lucrative jobs in the secular market.
"In a clean-room laboratory while listening to the Bible on tape, I realized I must drop my engineering career to serve Him, just as [Jesus' disciples] Peter and Andrew dropped their fishing nets" and followed Him, said one man who will serve in East Asia.
After thirty years in the broadcast and medical fields, and sixteen short-term mission trips, one couple answered God's call to share His Good News in Northern Africa and the Middle East. They served in a short missions assignment before the wife was diagnosed with cancer, and they returned to the United States for treatment.
"Now cancer-free, we follow Jesus as we go to the Middle East," her husband said.
Another husband and wife, who also cannot be identified for security reasons, said they felt God speaking to their hearts about South Asia while both worked on the IMB staff in Richmond, Virginia.
"While visiting India last September, God confirmed His call on our lives as we watched throngs of people marching up the steps of a temple to pray before an idol, in hopes that the idol would answer their prayers," the husband said. "In this city of 14 million lost souls, we want to spread the Gospel and the light of Jesus Christ."
Several of the eighty-seven appointees have waited many years for God to fulfill a call to missions they experienced when they were younger. One appointee, a widow, sensed God opening doors to missions service following her husband's death. Four years later, she is ready to go.
"I will be serving [the Lord] in Central Asia in obedience to that call that He first placed on my life as a ten-year-old," she said.
One new worker who will serve in the Pacific Rim region offered her life to God as a missionary nurse during GA [now Girls in Action] camp in 1961.
"Forty-five years later, He has said, 'Now is the time to go,'" she said.
Her husband has served as a pastor for thirty-three years in three states.
"Three quarters of my ministry is over," he said. "Lord, my desire is to finish the last quarter strong. I want to leave it all on the field — the mission field."
New missionary Joe Vaughn Jr. was attending a missions conference in Oklahoma in September 2001 when he met a missionary looking for a pioneer to take the Gospel to students in Warsaw, Poland.
"In a moment, God made specific a calling He had been leading me toward for more than twenty years," Vaughn said.
A missionary who will serve in the Central, Eastern, and Southern Africa region first sensed God calling him to missions twenty-six years ago while he was stationed in Spain in the Navy. He served in the Navy fifteen years with his wife and four children in Spain and Trinidad, then returned to the United States.
"Now, twenty-six years later, we sense (God's) call again," his wife said. "This time, we'll be leaving not only children but grandchildren behind to follow Him to Africa."
Rankin told people attending the service that, indeed, "these are your missionaries. They've been nurtured in their walk with the Lord and called to missions in churches such as yours. It's your prayers that sustain them as they go; your gifts to the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering that support them and enable them to fulfill God's call literally to the ends of the earth."
Rankin charged those attending the service with the responsibility to support the new missionaries through prayer as they go to the mission field.
First Baptist North Spartanburg hosted the appointment service as part of "Imagine 2006," an international missions summit focusing on East Asia. This summit, and others that will follow in 2006-2007, will help any church serious about fulfilling the Great Commission through overseas involvement discover ways to engage the unreached peoples of the world.
"We are wanting to share some of the exciting opportunities in mobilization of churches taking the Gospel with the help of our team of missionaries to the ends of the earth," said Mike Hamlet, the church's pastor. "We are honored — this is a great day in the life of our church."
At the beginning of the appointment service, Hamlet introduced a missionary in Asia with whom the church has partnered for a few years. After a brief testimony of God's work in Asia, Hamlet prayed.
"All of this started for us when we just thought, 'Maybe we can do something,'" Hamlet said, referring to the church's missions mindset and partnerships with missionaries. "Maybe there is somebody here tonight who thinks, 'Maybe we can do something.'"
To learn how you can serve in international missions, visit online at going.imb.org or call (800) 999-3113.