'Obey God, fill the gap,' Baptist missionaries urge

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)--The gap that separates 1.7 billion people from the good news of God's love and salvation in Jesus Christ must be filled. And there is a voice that must be obeyed, the voice of Jesus who says, "As the Father sent me, so send I you."

"The question is," Southern Baptist missionary Lynn Kennedy asked, "Will you obey?"

Amid a parade of majestic banners and colorful national flags swirling to a stirring medley portraying God as a mighty warrior, the message was seen and heard in the International Mission Board's June 13 presentation to the Southern Baptist Convention at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

Straggling behind the parade came a somber procession of gray flags, carried askew and dragged along by young people in distorted masks. They represented the people groups of the world with little or no access to the Christian message of hope.

A montage of dramatic sketches, video segments and personal testimonies combined to challenge Southern Baptists to become "Partners in the Harvest" and take the gospel to those who face an eternity separated from God because they have never heard.

Leaders of key Southern Baptist agencies led out with affirmations of their roles as "Partners in the Harvest," the theme adopted for the 75th anniversary of the Cooperative Program. The Southern Baptist unified giving program allows more than 40,000 churches to accomplish together a broad range of missions initiatives they could never approach alone.

A series of dramatic sketches emphasized the difficulties faced by the too few people working to "fill the gap" between God and the masses who suffer in spiritual darkness. A lone worker struggled to bridge the gap with a heavy cross she inched across the stage. Though a succession of indifferent onlookers discouraged her, she persisted in her task.

Laypeople testified to the ways missions had changed their lives.

Stan Gillcash, a pastor from Watertown, N.Y., told messengers how his congregation's involvement in missions projects had stirred them to new heights of passion and excitement.

A student with cerebral palsy, Cindy Richards*, explained how a volunteer project in Mexico convinced her she had put too many limitations on herself and that God was calling her to career missions overseas.

Helen Yates, president of Florida's Woman's Missionary Union, declared it was easy to give money to missions but hard to keep a commitment to intercede for the world's unreached in prayer.

Brazilian pastor Amaro da Silva Vianna, speaking through a missionary interpreter, thanked Southern Baptists for 100 years of missionary partnership in Para state. Because of the collaboration with Southern Baptists, "missions is not just a part of our convention, it is our convention," da Silva Vianna said.

Paige Patterson, outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention, spoke through a video segment taped during Carnaval, an annual street party in Brazil. He worked with missionaries, Brazilian Baptists and volunteers from the United States to proclaim the gospel in the chaos of the festival. Patterson challenged congregations to pray that God would raise up families from their churches to serve as missionaries and that the churches would then join them in their overseas work.

Four missionaries, their voices filled with emotion, told messengers about the people to whom they witness and minister.

Connie Robbins talked about a Christian teacher in Eastern Europe who finds ways to share God's love with her students, even though outright evangelism is illegal.

Fred Shultz shared about a woman in North Africa whom Jesus saved from suicide and now shares her joy and hope in Christ with other young women in her Muslim village.

Keith Jefferson explained the spiritist bondage afflicting villages in eastern South America and how God is beginning to slowly bring people to Christ.

Lynn Kennedy asked messengers to listen to the voice of a West African, who told her: "God could have sent you anywhere, but he sent you to us. He must love us."

IMB President Jerry Rankin challenged the assembly to imagine a massive harvest of people from every people group as they gathered around God's throne in heaven to sing his praises and glorify his name.

"If we will bridge the gap, we must join as partners in a worldwide harvest," he said.

"The darkness will be dispelled. The task will be completed. But will we be found faithful? Will you and your church be part of the harvest?"

As actors on stage finally bridged the gap with their cross and ministered to those who once had never heard the gospel, messengers filtered to the front of the convention hall to register commitments to missionary service or support.

Counselors registered 42 commitments at the end of the evening, adding to the swelling tide of Southern Baptists hearing God's call to take the message of salvation in Jesus to the ends of the earth.

More than 900 new missionaries joined Southern Baptists' overseas team in 1999, the largest annual number ever appointed and the seventh record year in a row. About 4,900 missionaries currently focus on gospel witness and ministry in more than 150 countries.


*Name changed.

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