New missionaries recount God's call in unusual to conventional settings

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)--When she joined a volunteer missions project in Guatemala in 1997, LuSinda Haskins Ray of Oklahoma sensed God calling her to become a career missionary, but she struggled with how a young, widowed mother could possibly fulfill such a call.

"God's only response was, 'Be obedient to what I have called you to do, and I will make a way,'" she said.

Then last January she met Matthew Spann, a Southern Baptist missionary to Russia and a recent widower. They fell in love and plan to marry in May.

"God graciously brought our lives alongside each other, filling a hole that had been left in our hearts and in our families' lives," Ray said. "Our losses are hard to understand, but God has generously redeemed them. When I look back on my life and see what God has done to work out his calling in my life, I am humbled and stand in amazement of an awesome God."

Ray is among Southern Baptists' 38 newest international missionaries, appointed March 31 in services at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. The appointment service capped Global Missions Week at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, which included missionaries speaking in classes and International Mission Board leaders preaching in chapel services.

In addition to the 38, three additional apprentice missionaries were presented during the appointment service. Apprentice missionaries meet all the requirements for career appointment, except for ministry experience, which they gain overseas during their three-year term.

In the appointment service, the new IMB missionaries testified how God's call to overseas missions today comes in a variety of ways -- some as traditional as an Acteens convention or a visit to Glorieta, a LifeWay conference center in New Mexico, but others as unconventional as an email relationship with a missionary overseas or a backpacking and canoeing trip into Central America.

Volunteer missions projects overseas and taking the "Experiencing God" course, meanwhile, continue to stand out as primary vehicles for leading people to missions service overseas.

And just as the means for the call varies, so do the professional backgrounds of the candidates. New missionaries today no longer fit the stereotype of pastors and church staff and their spouses.

Among the 38 appointed were a chiropractor, a childcare center director, a businessman, a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, a nurse, a clinical technician, a former independent missionary and others representing a variety of professional backgrounds, including the pastorate and church staff positions.

In his charge to the new missionaries, IMB President Jerry Rankin likened them to the apostle Paul, who made what appeared to others to be "foolish decisions" but which God used in dramatic and mighty ways to spread the gospel throughout the world.

Paul could have been a "prominent leader of the early church in Jerusalem, been at the forefront of the harvest that was sweeping Jews into the kingdom and gained an unimaginable reputation for himself, if he had not had such a passion for the Gentiles," Rankin said.

"How foolish to give all of that up to traipse about over wilderness and desert, to be attacked by wild animals, shipwrecked, subjected to hunger, deprivation, to be misunderstood, stoned, beaten and imprisoned, when he could have stayed in Jerusalem and Antioch and enjoyed a comfortable and successful pastorate!" he said.

"Many people could consider you equally foolish," Rankin told the new missionaries. "Some of you have family that just cannot understand why you would leave a successful career and an affluent lifestyle. Your church has provided well for you and reminded you how much you are needed here in America.

"But something compels you, like Paul, to turn your back on all the advantages of staying in your comfort zone in order to carry the gospel to those Christ died to save and who are still waiting for someone to proclaim to them that God loves the whole world."

Rankin also warned the new missionaries to be prepared for their missions calling to be "dynamic."

"God has revealed his will for you, and you have responded in obedience. That's why you are going to places like Budapest, Bashkortostan, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco and cities in China," he said.

"But never forget that God's will is dynamic. It is not a once for all call, and that's it," Rankin said. "That's why he demands that we walk by faith, develop a relationship of trust and in submissiveness follow his lordship. God has a right to direct your life anywhere and at anytime."

Additional photos posted in the BP Photo Library. Photo titles: AFFIRMING THE CALL and PREPARING TO GO.

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