45 ‘ordinary’ people answer God’s call as new missionaries
TAMPA, Fla. (BP)--Forty-five “ordinary” Southern Baptists answered the call of their extraordinary God, signified during an International Mission Board appointment service March 22 at Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla.
The service culminated an IMB trustee meeting conducted in Tampa -- and kicked off an international missions summit focusing on West Africa held at the Idlewild church.
“I was just a regular guy living my life for myself,” said one new missionary who will serve in the Last Frontier -- that part of the world with little or no access to the Gospel. “But then God saved me, changed my heart, and He showed me there was more to being a Christian than just going to church on Sunday.
“Burdened with a heart for missions, last year, as soon as I got off the airplane on a short-term trip to Asia, I immediately knew that I was standing where God was calling me to go to serve Him.”
Of the 45 new missionaries, 41 will serve in areas resistant –- even hostile -– to a Gospel witness, and they cannot be identified for security reasons. Brady and Andrea Nurse of Kingwood, Texas, will serve in Portugal, while Rick and Jill Thompson of Abingdon, Va., will work in Brazil. They bring the total IMB overseas count to 5,050 missionaries who seek to bring new souls into God’s kingdom.
While vacationing in Italy, the Nurses visited some of the largest and most ornate churches in the world. The churches were awe-inspiring –- and empty.
“Millions of people in Europe believe it’s a family heritage that will lead them to heaven,” Andrea Nurse said. “They’ve heard of Jesus, but they don’t have a relationship with Him. They know where the churches are, but they’ve never been inside. Our hearts ache for the Portuguese people. Our desire is to show them a Jesus who wants to know them and be known by them.”
Some of the new missionaries formerly served as pastors or in other church-staff positions. However, IMB President Jerry Rankin pointed out that many of them were leaving secular jobs to follow God’s call.
The group included an accountant, a computer systems administrator, a benefits specialist, two UPS supervisors, a medical secretary, a housewife, an environmental engineer, a kindergarten teacher, a library assistant, a French teacher and a former U.S. Marine.
Their new role: To be on mission with God to lead people to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Rankin challenged the missionaries to have the mind of Christ, who took the form of a bondservant. He also reminded them to emulate the Apostle Paul’s passion to know Christ and to serve Him without shame -- regardless of the circumstances or results of their life work.
“God’s primary concern is not your comfort, your safety, your health, your success,” Rankin said. “God desires to be glorified in your life. And sometimes the best way is bringing you to your knees to depend upon Him, that He might be glorified as you experience His sufficiency and what He is doing through you.”
Rankin reiterated that God will use the new missionaries’ circumstances for His will. He warned them, however, to be aware of circumstantial prisons: government control and bureaucratic restrictions that limit what they can do, debilitating illnesses that inhibit fulfilling assignments, being temporarily displaced in a way that interrupts a plan or vision.
“Our God reigns, God is on His throne, and whatever circumstances you are subjected to, His will cannot be deterred,” Rankin said. “He knows what you are going to go through, and He already knows how He’s going to use that to advance the Gospel and the kingdom of God. Whatever God does in your life is for His purpose to be fulfilled.”
Rankin noted that in Philippians 1:20-21, Paul stated that his earnest expectation and hope was that “with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."
“Really, what your missionary call is all about is that God may be exalted in your life,” Rankin said. “The most effective strategy and witness we could have is your planting your life among people who are lost and allowing them to see the reality of a living Savior in your life.”
One new missionary couple who will serve in the Last Frontier discovered that truth firsthand in 2002 while working in a major coastal city in East Asia. Teaching English one muggy afternoon, they met a young lady named Maggie. After accepting Christ immediately upon hearing the Gospel for the first time, Maggie joyfully told them, “Now I finally know the God who’s always known my name.”
One of the new missionaries said: “A few weeks later, we climbed a mountain behind our apartment building. Overlooking our sprawling city, we realized there were millions of ‘Maggies’ who have still not yet heard God’s name for the first time. On that mountain, God broke our hearts over the lostness of our city, and we committed our lives to serving Him overseas.”
During the appointment service, Gordon Fort, IMB vice president for overseas operations, gave a glimpse of ongoing missions work. He told about his recent trip to the Jibla Hospital (formerly Jibla Baptist Hospital) in Yemen, where Southern Baptists have been involved in medical work for nearly 40 years.
On Dec. 30, 2002, three Southern Baptist workers -- hospital director William Koehn, physician Martha Myers and purchasing agent Kathleen Gariety -- were killed by a gunman at the facility.
Myers had requested, if she died in Yemen, to be buried there. “If you bury me here in America, my grave will be just that –- it will only be a grave. But if you bury me in Yemen, my grave will be a testimony,” she reportedly told her father. Koehn also had asked to be buried in Yemen.
“It was a moving experience to stand at the graves of those two faithful missionaries, and observe behind us at the fence of the property, several Yemeni ladies pausing to stop,” Fort said. “You could just sense the meditation of what was happening at that place.
“If you take the life of one of God’s chosen, those who come behind will find fruit in the blood of those who have gone ahead.”
“Those who don’t have an opportunity to know that Jesus died for them [are] a massive sea of lostness and darkness without Christ that are bound for hell,” Rankin told the new missionaries. “… [T]hey have never heard. No one has ever gone. No one has ever accepted the responsibility of going [to them].”
No one was appointed to West Africa during this service, Rankin noted, and no one has answered the call to be appointed to West Africa in the near future. That region of 22 countries –- 287 million people -– is home to 355 people groups without access to the Gospel.
The service kicked off a West Africa Summit held at the Idlewild church March 22-25. 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.
“Ask God: ‘God, will you put (a particular) nation on our heart?’” Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church, told summit participants at the appointment service. “I was praying yesterday for (an unreached people group). I can tell you in my heart, I had never prayed for them before.
“Something happens in a pastor’s heart when he starts praying for a people he has never seen before. God put that people and that country on my heart.”
Three additional regional summits are planned for 2006, and Southern Baptists are invited to attend: Sept. 13-15 at First Baptist Church, North Spartanburg, S.C., focusing on East Asia; Sept. 27-29 at Silverdale Baptist Church, Chattanooga, Tenn., focusing on Central, Eastern and Southern Africa; and Nov. 1-3 at First Baptist Church, St. Charles, Mo., focusing again on West Africa.
“As a pastor for 17 years, I always took a conventional approach to missions: I preached about it, I supported it through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program, I took a couple of overseas missions trips,” said one new missionary, who cannot be identified for security reasons.
“But last year I was in Asia, and in conversation with a new believer she asked me simple questions about Jesus. As I answered, her face lighted up with the joy of a new understanding. She looked at me and said, ‘We need someone like you to come over here to teach us the truth about Jesus.’ Conventionality has now been replaced with a desire and commitment to personally take this truth to the nations.”
To learn how you can serve in international missions, visit going.imb.org or call (800) 999-3113.