Southern Baptists celebrate sending 42 new missionaries
"This is our denomination at its absolute best," Pitman said. "This is the tip of the spear. We can do more together than we can do by ourselves."
Preaching from Acts 1-2, Pitman described four characteristics that enabled the early church to change the world: faith that produced obedience, passion that produced unity, desperation that produced prayer and the Spirit that produced power.
At Pentecost, a small group of people launched a church in Jerusalem that saw 3,000 people saved on its opening day, Pitman said. "That is a successful church start!" he exclaimed.
"At their second gathering, 5,000 men came to Christ, not counting the women and children," he noted. "Within six months, the church had grown to over 100,000 believers in Jerusalem.... Within a few years the Gospel had spread throughout their region of the world, and in less than 40 years, the message of Jesus had reached every corner of the known world."
Reaching every corner
Each of the new missionaries shared testimonies of how God led them to the point of giving up the comforts of their everyday lives to take the Gospel around the world. They came from large and small churches and a variety of backgrounds.
Chris and Anna Garduce, sent to serve in Madagascar by The Church at West Vista in West Columbia, S.C., shared how God "rescued" each of them and gave them each a zealousness to share the grace they received with those who have not yet heard the good news.
"So many people need to be rescued from darkness and brought into His marvelous light as I was," Chris told the standing-room only crowd.
From the moment she met Christ, "there has been a roaring fire inside my heart to see the nations worship and love King Jesus," Anna said.
"Now after years of pastoring an amazing church family here in the U.S., the Lord has made it clear that He is calling us to serve in Africa," Nathan said.
The couple is being sent to Sub-Saharan Africa by Lancing First Southern Baptist Church in Lansing, Kan.
Pleasant View Baptist Church in Waynesburg, Ky., is sending Jonathan and Rebecca McNeil to serve in Poland, where Jonathan grew up.
"Growing up as a missionary kid in Poland, God opened my eyes to the lostness of the world and the saving power of the Gospel through a personal relationship with Jesus," he said. "In 2013, God opened the door for me to return to Poland as a single IMB missionary."
"Personal Bible study and biblically faithful preaching opened my eyes to God's plans for the nations to worship Him through His Son," Rebecca said. "As I prayed for God to send workers to the harvest, He made it clear to me by sending me to serve [a two-year assignment] in Poland."
"The disciples returned to Jerusalem and devoted themselves to prayer," Pitman said. "And they didn't stop praying until God showed up to tell them how they were going to do what God told them to do."
This singular focus prepared those early disciples for the outpouring of God's Spirit that came at Pentecost, Pitman said, cautioning, "Prayer is not powerful. The One to whom we pray is powerful."
"The most important thing you carry to (your place of service) is not your training," Pitman told the new missionaries. "The most important thing you carry with you is your intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus."
The next IMB Sending Celebration is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, in Richmond.