Mary Lou Retton, rappelling missionaries key NAMB presentation to Southern Baptists

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)--A live interview with Mary Lou Retton and a foursome of missionaries rappelling from the ceiling highlighted the North American Mission Board's annual presentation to the Southern Baptist Convention June 14, closing out the convention's 2000 annual meeting.

Retton, a gold medal-winning gymnast in the 1984 Olympics, was featured two years ago in a NAMB commercial portraying Jesus Christ as "the only perfect 10." The popular spot has been used since as part of the Celebrate Jesus 2000 evangelistic campaign.

"My Christianity was something I really kept inside," Retton told NAMB President Robert E. Reccord from the stage of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. "I didn't realize until doing that [Celebrate] Jesus 2000 commercial with you all that I was not only called to be a Christian, but I was called to share it with everybody now."

Retton's current connection with Southern Baptists' domestic missions agency is the forthcoming FamilyNet television program "Mary Lou's Flip-Flop Shop," designed to teach preschoolers the joys of physical activity, singing and learning biblical values. "I want parents to feel comfortable knowing they can leave their children watching Mary Lou," said Retton. "... and we're going to get the kids up and moving!"

Retton's appearance was part of a segment on "air support" in an adventure-themed presentation highlighting "spiritual rescues" of individuals caught in what Reccord termed "the deep crevices that always accompany the highest peaks."

The presentation included a brief clip from a recent segment on the television newsmagazine "20/20." Reccord and Jewish evangelism missionary Jim Sibley were interviewed sharing Southern Baptists' controversial stance that Christ is the only path to salvation.

At the close of the segment, show host Barbara Walters refers to Southern Baptists' "tough dilemma" of subscribing to a high view of Scripture in an age when such views are increasingly unpopular.

"The implication is that if we are going to get along with other religious groups, and not be labeled as narrow-minded or intolerant in today's culture, that we must stop insisting that Jesus is the only way to God," Reccord said.

"A tough dilemma? The North American mission field may be tough, but there is no dilemma," he said. "We must obey the Great Commission of our Lord, and we must share the gospel message with the more than 200 million people in the United States and Canada who do not yet have a personal relationship with the true and living God."

The "rescuers" during the presentation including four missionaries who rappelled down from the high conference center ceiling in front of the stage. With lights flashing and sirens blaring, they joined Reccord on stage to share some of their own stories of how Christ is working.

The missionary foursome were Debbie Wohler, a resort missionary in Tahoe City, Calif.; Bill Black, a missionary in Gatlinburg, Tenn.; Ken Weathersby, a Nehemiah Project church-planting professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; and Brad Lartigue, a resort missionary at Yellowstone National Park.

Wohler told about the training two young girls received who later found themselves alone in a truck camper shell after their father had gotten lost trying to get help. But while they waited, they repeated the verses they had learned, and the songs they had sung.

"The incredible thing is that Kristin [one of the girls] told us that one night when she was sitting in that camper shell, she asked Jesus to come into her heart," Wohler said. "She was baptized late last summer. Aren't you glad that you sent us out to the field."

Reccord also spoke about the "base camps" in Southern Baptists' arsenal of rescue efforts -- the new congregations "sometimes on the edge of our comfort zones."

"If we're going to reach the fallen climbers of North America, we have to go beyond the notion that they will all find their ways into our existing churches," he said.

Weathersby said he has seen 200 students participate in the short-term internship program at the New Orleans seminary, and 80 students have been deployed in long-term internships as church planters.

"We seek to equip church planters with the best academic training possible, as well as give them practical experience so they can share the gospel of Jesus Christ in the most practical way," Weathersby said.

The presentation closed with a time of prayer for all college and seminary students, as well as the pages assisting in the SBC proceedings.

"Would you as adults," Reccord urged, "reach out to those kids, the next generation, preparing them for the mission of rescue?"

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