FIRST PERSON: Will Southern Baptists rise to the challenge?

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- One billion is a big number. It would take you 37 years to count to one billion at one number a second. Seven billion is an even larger and more significant number. That is the number of people currently inhabiting the globe. In 1804 the world reached its first billion in population. Now we are adding about one billion to our population every 12 years.

This is the harvest Jesus wants us to lift up our eyes and see ... 7 billion people, 330 million in the U.S. and 6.67 billion outside our borders. Yet over half the world's population has only a slight chance to hear the Gospel. In fact, 1.7 billion people are likely to die without hearing the Name of Jesus!

And they are dying! Two people die each second. The equivalent of a city of 150,600 people disappears into eternity every 24 hours. Without Christ they will enter Hell, forever lost. This is why Jesus said the fields are white unto harvest.

The simple facts above are why I am so deeply concerned about our Southern Baptist giving through the Cooperative Program and our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO) for world missions. Last year's LMCO was the fourth highest in history, yet the decline in CP giving eclipsed that gain, resulting in a net loss.

Is this how Southern Baptists will be remembered? Will it be said of us that at the hour of greatest need for the Gospel we did not rise to the challenge? Will it be said that as people groups become increasingly closed to the Gospel and countries became more difficult to enter, we just turned aside to our own interests? Have we really concluded that we can accomplish more by ourselves than we can together?

IMB seeks to provide the best screening, training, sending and supporting available anywhere in the evangelical world. Yet IMB does not determine the number of missionaries we deploy. Southern Baptists make that decision each time they give. Churches and state conventions make that decision each time they approve their budgets.

Does anyone in the darkest corners of this broken world have a legitimate reason to believe that, if they can hold on just a little longer, we will get there with a message of hope and salvation? This is the question with which each Southern Baptist individual, church and state convention must grapple. I shared this recently while standing before a group of missionaries who had returned from the field for a brief time of respite, training and connecting with churches and families.

People are eager to go to the ends of the earth! Each year I am privileged to speak to multiplied thousands of college students. They respond with passion, dedication and sacrifice ... eager to go out with the Good News. In record numbers young couples, many with families, seminary training and experience, tell us of their call to missions. Maturing adults, having enjoyed success and now wanting to exchange mere success for Kingdom impact, are asking if we have a way to train and deploy them to the ends of the earth.

IMB's assignment to "assist the churches" through a great missionary enterprise means that we are inviting all to the Great Commission table. Through "Embrace," churches and entities are being mobilized to reach unengaged, unreached people groups. Through Global Strategic Mobilization, business professionals are discovering how to join forces with us in venues all over the world. Ready Reserves will now strategically mobilize former IMB personnel in key areas when and where specialized skills and experience are needed. We are now training others around the world in evangelism, discipleship and church planting. Soon our "School of Prayer for All Nations" will generate a "blast furnace" of constant prayer.

But the question remains: How will we answer the Lord, the lost and those eager to share Jesus with them? Let's make it personal. Does anyone in the darkest corners of this broken world have a legitimate reason to believe that because you care someone will soon be there with the Gospel?


Tom Elliff serves as International Mission Board president. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).