NAMB commissions 30 during AK service
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (BP)--Against the backdrop of a land as rugged and wild as it is spiritually lost, the North American Mission Board commissioned 30 new missionaries and chaplains, many of whom will serve Alaska and its northern neighbor, Canada.
The service took place at First Baptist Church in Anchorage, which was Alaska's first Southern Baptist church, started in 1943 by a small group of GIs stationed at nearby Fort Richardson. The church has since built a legacy of starting sister churches in Alaska.
"It's a real privilege for us to have this group of missionaries here at this point in your sending process -- to be a part of that is a wonderful blessing," FBC Anchorage pastor Ed Gregory told the audience. "Thank God for this privilege and for the fact that He is indeed at work across our land, and we get to be in on it."
"For 60 years the Alaska Baptist Convention has had a close relationship with first the Home Mission Board and now the North American Mission Board," said David Baldwin, executive director of the Alaska Baptist Convention. "I want to say on behalf of the 105 Southern Baptist congregations scattered across Alaska -- welcome. We are so happy to have this moment here tonight."
Baldwin told the new missionaries and chaplains, "You are in a friendly crowd. Probably every person here tonight has been touched by the Home Mission Board or the North American Mission Board because of the church planting and all that has gone into our state. We do not take that for granted."
Half of Alaska's population of nearly 700,000 is concentrated in the metro Anchorage area, with 365,000 people, in a state that is larger than Texas, California and Montana combined. Alaska's next two largest cities are Fairbanks (31,000) and Juneau (30,000).
Alaska's vastness creates formidable challenges for the 105 Southern Baptist churches and missions trying to reach the state's residents. Alaskan culture and lifestyle also bring challenges. Many of the state's citizens who transplanted from the "lower 48" came seeking solitude and independence, making evangelistic outreach difficult.
On the other hand, many of the state's native Alaskans live in remote villages that cannot even be accessed by car.
Luke and Sarah Stewart, Mission Service Corps missionaries, moved to the remote Eskimo village of Kobuk in 2008 to minister at an SBC mission church. The Stewarts and their young family faced temperatures during their first winter that plunged to 65 degrees below zero. The village is inaccessible by car, so supplies must be flown in when weather allows.
Stewart said ministry in Kobuk requires a slow approach, serving the village's citizens while trying to share Christ as relationships develop.
"I am trying to be an encouragement to the believers and help them grow in their Christian lives," Stewart said. "Beyond that, we are trying to serve the other people so they will see by the way we live and the way we treat them that we love them and that God loves them."
Other missionaries commissioned to Alaska during the Jan. 24 service will work in Kodiak and Girdwood. Others who were commissioned will be ministering in Oregon, North Dakota, Hawaii, Washington state, Utah, Canada, California and South Carolina.
Carlos Rodriguez and his wife Paola serve in Seattle as church planting strategists, nurturing new congregations for Hispanics, Slavic, Russian and Ukrainian people in the area.
"The Northwest is the most unchurched area of the United States," Rodgiguez said, describing Seattle is "a very diverse area of the nation and very multi-cultural."
"Many of the Ukrainians and Russians come from a Christian background," he noted. "Their parents and grandparents suffered for the Lord when they were a communist country. And some come from a Russian Orthodox background or communist background. Many of them have left the faith and are unchurched."
The Rodriguezes relocated to Seattle last fall, after serving as language church planter strategists in Portland, Ore., for five and a half years. Carlos said the area needs prayer for more church planters among the 1.5 million Hispanics living in the Northwest. In addition, he asked for prayer in reaching the second-generation Slavs, Russians and Ukrainians in Seattle. Rodriguez said he and other SBC church planters in the region are in a race with Mormon's and Jehovah's Witness missionaries actively working in the region.
NAMB's newest missionaries and chaplains arrived in Anchorage two days before the commissioning for a time of training and orientation hosted by leaders of the mission board, including Richard Harris, NAMB's interim president; Frank Page, vice president for evangelization; and Ken Weathersby, vice president of church planting. Tim Patterson, chairman of NAMB's trustees, also attended the sessions.
The missionaries fanned out across the greater Anchorage area on Sunday morning, visiting with and preaching in local Southern Baptist churches.
Harris voiced a charge to the newly commissioned workers: "Whatever else you are trying to accomplish in your ministry, as we send you out tonight, it is to proclaim the Gospel of Christ by way of life and by word of mouth."
Harris encouraged the missionaries to approach people with "gentleness and respect."
"You are going to confront all kinds of people with all kinds of backgrounds. Go to them in humility. Remember who you are. Remember whose you are."
But spreading the Gospel is not only a missionary responsibility. Turning to those from area churches who attended the commissioning service, Harris said, "Every year, 3 million precious souls are added to North America's population. You say, 'I can't reach everybody.' No, but you can reach somebody, and if you are willing to share, God will bring a harvest field into your life."
In all, more than 5,300 missionaries serve with the North American Mission Board, most of them through partnerships with state Baptist conventions. In addition to the missionaries, NAMB is the endorsing entity for more than 3,300 Southern Baptist chaplains in military, hospital, professional, corporate, public safety and institutional settings.
Mike Ebert is the communications team leader for the North American Mission Board.