Life's lessons prepare 62 new IMB missionaries

LAS VEGAS (BP) -- Amid a celebration with a South African flair rivaling a Las Vegas stage show, International Mission Board trustees appointed 62 men and women as overseas missionaries.

The Feb. 27 service at Hope Church in Las Vegas increased to 4,894 the number of IMB missionaries worldwide and highlighted the commitment of new appointees who shared how God used European vacations, parental loss, milky water and chili peppers to teach them to value a lost world.

William and Sharon Vandiver* are one example. A financial adviser and a graphic designer from Nashville, Tenn., the Vandivers know the value of the American dream. Vacationing in Europe, they began to understand their call to be God's heart to the nations. Training in their local church reinforced it.

"We saw many religious sites [that] had been forgotten," Sharon Vandiver said. "Cathedrals -- adorned with intricate sculptures and stained glass windows -- are dark and cold and filled with tourists."

The young couple's first exposure to international missions was at a Baptist church in Franklin, Tenn., and they soaked up training offered there. One course helped the Vandivers define unreached people groups in their community. Leaders encouraged them to spend at least 10 hours a week building Gospel-focused relationships with non-believers.

The couple chose a place in their community where non-believers frequently gather, a local gym. They set apart time each week to pray specifically for those they met, and they consulted several times a month with church staff who offered advice, counsel and support. Through the process, the Vandivers, who will serve in Europe, became more than just physically fit. They gained confidence to share Christ daily and came to understand that God had called them to a greater purpose. Serving internationally was the next logical step.

For Jessica Breckenridge*, God used the painful experiences of her mother's death from cancer and her father's subsequent suicide to help her understand the urgency to be God's hands to those who are spiritually dying. Although her mother was a Christian, her father didn't claim to follow Jesus. His death in particular made "heaven and hell very real," Breckenridge said.

"I never want to waste this precious life that God has given me," Breckenridge said. "I want people to experience the restoration and deliverance I have experienced in knowing God."

While Breckenridge learned the urgency of her calling through the deaths of her parents, others like Henry Baker* and Caroline Anderson* came to understand God's heart growing up as children of international missionaries.

Baker, a third-generation missionary whose parents and grandparents served in Africa, learned as an 11-year-old that his African friends would not drink water to which he had added a few drops of milk. Put off by the discoloration, Baker's friends couldn't accept that the water was fit to drink.

Years later while sharing the Gospel with a young man in Asia, "the image of the rejected, discolored water came leaping into my mind," Baker said. "Years before ... God had given me an object lesson" -- even a few drops of sin makes us unfit before a holy God.

This experience helped Baker, who will serve among North African and Middle Eastern peoples, realize how God called him from childhood and prepared him to be His voice.

While Baker's childhood memories of discolored water solidified his call, Anderson's memories are, quite literally, spicier.

"My childhood consisted of two very important ingredients: loving Jesus and braving hot Chinese chili peppers," said Anderson, who grew up in Asia.

Anderson learned from a young age the importance of stepping out of her culinary comfort zone to build cross-cultural bridges, recalling a banquet where, as a child, she risked tasting the chili peppers. As her mouth burned and her eyes watered, she tugged at her mother's sleeve, whispering, "Mommy, have we told them about Jesus yet?"

Such experiences prepared these appointees for God's special purpose of reaching the nations, said John Brady, IMB vice president of global strategy. Preaching from John 17, Brady highlighted the value God places on reaching a lost world -- nothing less than the life of Jesus.

Also a child of missionaries, Brady recounted personal challenges as he struggled with the deaths of 14 colleagues who served among North African and Middle Eastern peoples between 2001 and 2004. While assassins targeted seven, others died from illnesses or accidents. In the months that followed, Brady questioned his role and purpose, finding hope in Jesus' prayer in John 17.

However, simply understanding God's purpose isn't enough, Brady said. Facing the challenges of being God's heart, hands and voice cross-culturally requires tenacity and faith.

"It may be hard. It may be long.... You will go through suffering," Brady said. But, "there will be results" because Jesus has already paid the price.

"Because Jesus died, the pathway to God opened up," Brady said. "Hell is not the only option. That is why we go to the world, to make sure they know this Good News."


*Names changed. Tess Rivers is an International Mission Board writer.