Be 'Totally His,' Elliff urges Baptists
HOUSTON (BP) -- International Mission Board President Tom Elliff challenged Southern Baptists to commit to being "Totally His" and cooperate for the sake of the Gospel during the mission board's report at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Houston.
Now is the time of greatest lostness in the world, Elliff said, when nearly 1 billion people are likely to die without ever hearing the Gospel in a way they can understand or respond. But also during this time, access has never been easier and resources have never been more abundant.
"God has given Southern Baptists something incredible, and that is an understanding of what it means to cooperate," Elliff said. "... The essence of [the Cooperative Program] is that we found out how to work together. Are we going to let that slide? Are we going to retrench in this day of the world's greatest lostness? Are we going to refuse to sacrifice?"
It started in Montana
Elliff began telling a story that spans decades, lives and continents -- from Montana to the mountains of Ecuador to southern Asia. At the heart of this story, he said, are two issues: first, people who are totally His and, second, people who have learned "the secret" of cooperating -- a secret that Southern Baptists need to recapture.
The story began in a church: Paramount Baptist Church of Amarillo, Texas. Sam Cordell* had been taught about missions by his church and even went on two international mission trips. One day, Cordell was intrigued by his church's planned mission trip to Montana and decided to join them.
Something happened there, Elliff said, that meant Cordell was going to personally multiply exponentially. Dub Finley, a church planter in Montana, explained through a video how his daughter Debbie* met Cordell during his mission trip and eventually married him.
"It was obvious when they decided to get married that missions was going to be in their lives very much," Finley said. "At that point, we weren't sure just how, but we knew where his heart was and my daughter's, too."
After seminary, the Cordells returned to Montana as church planters. There they formed an important relationship with the Montana Woman's Missionary Union. For more than 30 years, members of the Montana WMU have been prayer partners with the Cordells in their ministry. Paula Rasmussen, director of Montana WMU, shared in the video how partnering with the Cordells had impacted her.
"The best part of my relationship with Sam and Debbie has just been the fact that you feel like you're a part of a missionary adventure," Rasmussen said.
It spread to South America
Sam and Debbie became burdened for the world and were appointed as IMB missionaries to South America in 1991, first serving in Chile then in Ecuador where they worked with the Quichua Indians. Since Sam and Debbie have a "unique ability to invite people in on the journey with them," Elliff said, they began to partner with many Southern Baptist short-term mission teams.
Gary Hollingsworth, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Trussville, Ala., and now pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., spoke about how both churches had partnered with the Cordells in Ecuador.
For Immanuel, getting involved in missions was "our first step in terms of really going beyond giving," Hollingsworth said. "We'd always been a strong giving church, but it really set a high standard on our going."
Through the work of partners like Immanuel Baptist and the Cordells, "God began to bless among the Quichua," Elliff said. In less than a decade, Cordell had discipled and trained 200 Quichua believers to share the Gospel, and trained 41 Quichua to plant churches. In the process, one of the men began to stand out -- Cebrián Bolívar*, who planted and led 26 churches himself.
After some time, the Cordells began to realize their work among the Quichua was drawing to a close, and they began to think about serving in another area of the world.
"We're not to be settlers, we're to be pioneers," Elliff said. "We're not to just settle down and enjoy the light ... Sam wanted to be a person who punched holes in the darkness."
When the Cordells announced they were leaving South America for southern Asia, Bolívar asked if he could come with them. Cordell sensed that Bolivar was truly called -- but warned him it would not be easy.
Bolívar was not an obvious choice as a missionary candidate -- he grew up on a small farm in the Andes Mountains where farmers eke out a meager income. Of the 20 Christian families who would be supporting him, only two had any kind of motorized vehicle.
And then his father, although a believer, opposed his going. Bolívar, one of 10 children, was expected to take over his father's farm and care for him in old age.
One day Bolívar asked his father: "If you had 10 sheep, how many of those belong to the Lord?"
"One," his father answered.
"What about 10 chickens?" Bolívar asked.
"Well, one," his father responded.
"Father, you have 10 children," Bolívar said. "Shouldn't one of them go to the Lord?"
And his father said, "So, son, it must be you."
It moved to Asia
Bolívar has now been working in southern Asia with Cordell for nearly two years, making new friends and learning English and Hindi. In a video, Bolívar said he is there because of God's calling in his heart, and sharing God's love is the "most beautiful thing" we can do.
"It was unbelievable how God could touch the life of a young man like this and put that call -- that he just has to do it for God," Cordell said.
Even with the Quichua believers bonding together, there was not enough money to fully support Bolívar, Cordell said. But Immanuel Baptist Church has helped support him as well.
Elliff then asked if the crowd would like to meet Bolívar, and he appeared on the screen through Skype.
At first, Bolívar said through translation by Cordell, "It was so hard for me to really believe that God was calling me. It was tough. But I felt love for these people so far away in South Asia that I knew God was calling me."
When Elliff asked if they would pray for Bolívar, the crowd of several thousand overwhelmingly indicated they would.
Cordell said Bolívar has had many opportunities to share his faith with people in southern Asia. One young man named Chaggi has accepted Jesus Christ through a relationship with Bolívar and is now the third generation of witness in this legacy of faith.
The Cordells' story is not the story of just one church or one man and his wife, Elliff said. It is the story of Southern Baptists cooperating to touch the ends of the earth -- through the work and partnership of Southern Baptist churches, Southern Baptist seminaries, WMU, IMB, the Quichua of Ecuador and the people of southern Asia.
"This is only a microcosm," Elliff said. "... This could be repeated time and time and time again.
"... Are we going to retrench? Are we going to back up?" he asked. "... Would it not be the case that if we would give ourselves to putting our hot hearts around the stackpole of international missions that God might smile on Southern Baptists and give us more days?
"Oh, God, I pray that that would be the case. And I pray that you and I would decide to be totally His, absolutely surrender to Him."
In closing, Elliff gave the crowd five challenges:
-- Pray for the unreached and your Southern Baptist missionaries working among them every day.
-- Engage with your church in support of global mission every week.
-- Pray with your church for a genuine revival that produces laborers for the harvest every month.
-- Participate in one of your church's global missions projects every year.
-- Offer yourself as a faithful witness every day, for the rest of your life.
People willing to commit to those five things can find resources to help in their journey at www.totallyhis.imb.org.
*Names changed. Laura Fielding is a writer for the International Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).