82 new missionaries answer God's call
Ten years ago, the Texas-born businessman remembers knocking on the door of a quiet, thatched-roof home in a small Russian town. It was his first mission trip. An elderly woman answered and Michael offered her a Bible. That's when his life changed forever.
"She fell on her knees, crying, thanking me," he said. Her eyes glistening with tears, the woman explained she had lost her husband during World War II and didn't have money to buy a Bible. For years, she prayed someone would bring her one.
"[That] will be with me until the day I die," Michael said. "I never thought in a million years God would use me to touch someone's life in another country, but He did."
Michael believes the Lord used the encounter to call him to the mission field. Now, he and his wife are headed to Asia.
The couple were among 82 new missionaries appointed by the International Mission Board Nov. 7 in Springfield, Ill., during the annual meeting and 100th anniversary celebration of the Illinois Baptist State Association.
"You are here tonight because you've recognized God's call as a personal call," IMB President Jerry Rankin told the missionaries before a gathering of more than 1,500 people at Springfield's Prairie Capital Convention Center.
"You've felt God's call in diverse ways.... He took your background and your experience and said, 'I've got a place for you.'"
Rankin's point was made evident as the missionaries shared stories of their personal call to missions.
Michael's wife, Jennifer, said she knew the Lord was leading her to go overseas when she was suddenly overwhelmed by an urge to write a $500 check for a cow. At church one Sunday, Jennifer remembers her pastor talking about the needs of a missionary in India. Cows were valuable to the missionaries there, the pastor explained, but too expensive to buy. He asked the church if they would donate the money for the cow.
"I remember being so excited when I put 'for a cow' on the memo line of that check that I felt like I could cry," Jennifer said.
But the story of their calling was just one of many shared during the appointment services. For instance:
-- "It began with one cup of coffee on the very last day of a vision trip to [Northern Africa]," said Jason*, a member of First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ark. "The missionaries said, 'We need college students,' and as a collegiate minister, I promised I would send them. Five years and over 70 student summer missionaries later, God has called me to go back." Jason will return to Northern Africa with his wife, Amanda.
-- "I was a teacher desiring to do more for God. He showed me the need as I served as a journeyman in South Asia. I went, I smelled the poverty, I saw the masses and I heard their emptiness," said Erick,* who will now return to South Asia with his wife, Colleen.
-- "I came to Christ as a child through a missionary's testimony," said Heidi.* "As a short-term missionary in Western Europe, I saw the look of wonder and hope on a refugee woman's face as I shared God's amazing love. God called me to stay."
-- "One day God spoke, telling me I had run out of reasons to not go overseas. Terrified, I waited a week before telling my wife," recalled Jason.*
Said Jason's wife, Kelli, "Finally, he confessed his calling to me, only to discover what God had confirmed in my heart a week earlier through the Book of Jeremiah. We are obeying God's call and moving to Central Asia."
-- "We were told that you don't have to be a seminary graduate to be a missionary. You can be a treasurer, a teacher or in music. Turns out, we are all three," said Tracy Delac, a member of McGregor Baptist Church in Fort Myers, Fla. Tracy and her husband, David, will serve in South Africa.
-- "I was Jonah ... a financially successful project manager who felt God's call to missions. I ran. After a whale incident, God opened my eyes to His true treasure -- people," said Philip,* who, along with his wife, Alisa, will soon be sharing Christ in the Middle East.
-- "As a preschooler ... I gave my mom a note while skating on our driveway: 'God's sending me to the mission field.' Now 48 years later, God's sending us to Guatemala," said Glynis Miller. Glynis and her husband, David, are members of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, Ga.
-- "While homeschooling our four children, God used the missionary biographies we read around the family dinner table to lead us to a forgotten people group," said Becky.* She and her husband, Scott, are headed to East Africa.
-- "As an ISC couple, basketball opened the doors to a closed Buddhist village. Softball got us into a Muslim school. Today, God continues to use my passion for sports to share Christ's love," said Clint,* who will serve in the Middle East with his wife, Natalie.
-- "Ten years ago, a scarred temple servant in Taiwan grabbed my hand. Hopelessly lost, he was begging me for help. Right then, I asked God to use me to penetrate this darkness," said Rob,* who will minister among the people of Asia with his wife, Alicia.
-- "In Asia in 1999, I played guitar all night long with a local rock band. One week later I was able to share Jesus with the bass player, my friend Shaddad. God used his resistance to the Gospel to increase my passion for reaching Muslims," said Tanner,* who is leaving for Western Europe with his wife, Audrey.
Rankin, the IMB president, compared the missionaries' call to that of Moses -- one of providence, purpose and empowerment. He admonished them not to lose focus and reminded the missionaries that just as the Lord promised to go with Moses, He would go with them, too.
"The purpose for which you're going is to deliver a lost world from bondage and sin and set them free by the power of Jesus Christ," Rankin stressed.
"Why would Jesus tell us to be His witnesses, even to the ends of the earth? Because it's predicated on the fact that we have received the power of God's Holy Spirit."
NO ONE EXEMPT
Rankin also commended the missionaries for their obedience to God's call, while lamenting the number of Southern Baptists who don't follow the Great Commission.
"It's not unusual that after an appointment service or a missions conference someone will come up to me and say, 'Dr. Rankin, I would be willing to go as a missionary, but God has not called me,'" Rankin said. "I've never figured out how to respond to that tactfully. What I want to say is, 'Excuse me? You're a child of God? To whom do you think the Great Commission was given -- just a handful of disciples on a hillside in Galilee?'
"We reason that if we haven't had a burning bush or a Damascus Road experience, we're exempt," he explained.
The 82 missionaries join the ranks of more than 5,300 other Southern Baptist missionaries already serving around the world. Rankin pointed out the number represents only .03 percent of all Southern Baptists, less than one out of every 3,000.
"We need to examine our hearts and our willingness to bring our lives into alignment with the heart of God," Rankin said. "If God is calling you to go, it's not enough to say, 'I'll pray more; I'll give more generously; I'll go on an occasional short-term mission trip.' You don't argue with God.
"A lost world is waiting for someone who's willing to say, 'I'll go.'"
*Last name withheld for security reasons. Don Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.