MT. WASHINGTON, Ky. (BP)--I was raised in the mountains of East Tennessee. I was never very conscious of the sky because, frankly, I couldn't see it without looking straight up. The view of the sky over the mountains is very limited. As a teenager on a family trip driving through the flat cornfields of the Midwest, I suddenly realized something had changed. The sky had grown. It was enormous.
Although it is obvious that the sky hadn't really grown, nor was it falling, a similarity can be found between that experience and overseas missions. What once seemed so far away and distant years ago is now more accessible than ever through advances in technology and travel. The opportunities for us to take the Gospel to the nations have grown. In fact, they are enormous.
Churches of like faith and practice formed the organization that is today the Southern Baptist Convention primarily for the purpose of doing just that: getting the Gospel to the nations. For 163 years now, Southern Baptists have been engaging the lost overseas through what we know today as the International Mission Board. The work of the IMB is the primary thing that brings us together. While the statistical analysis -– and the analysis of the analysis -- of the current state of the Southern Baptist Convention continues, I fear the most important statistics are escaping.
Is there any good news to tell concerning the work that brought us, and yet holds us, together? Indeed there is.
The number of Southern Baptist missionaries serving overseas is 5,359. Our most recent statistical analysis reveals overseas baptism totals at an all-time high of 609,968. The number of new believers being discipled overseas totaled 567,413, another all-time high. Last year's new churches overseas totaled 25,497. You guessed it -- an all-time high.
When it comes to missions, the sky is not falling. It is exploding -- with opportunity.
So get on a plane, take to the skies and help spread the Gospel among the nations. It's still a good day to be a Southern Baptist. In fact, analyzing the statistics, it's the best day to be a Southern Baptist.
Paul Chitwood is chairman of trustees for the International Mission Board. He is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Mt. Washington, Ky., and assistant professor of evangelism at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.