Month: August 2021

IMB fights cruel realities in global cities

In 2020, 4.3 billion people lived in cities – that’s 56% of the global population. By 2050, it is estimated more than two billion people will be added to that number.

The cruel reality is that 86,765 city dwellers die every day without a relationship with Christ. These city dwellers include many unbelievers who travel to cities in search of jobs to support their families. Their home countries are often resistant to Christianity, and they may never have heard of Jesus. To address these realities, the International Mission Board committed to engaging 75 global cities as part of the organization’s five 2025 Targets.

Victor Hou, the IMB’s associate vice president for global advance, said the goal of this target is to engage every people group, every community and every segment of cities, including business professionals, factory workers, students, migrants and slum dwellers. Hou explains that “cities are the intersections where population segments and people groups come together.” The combined population of the 75 cities will exceed one billion.

To help reach these cities with the gospel, IMB’s global engagement team is facilitating cross-regional cohorts of IMB city leaders to accelerate learning and increase knowledge of how best to minister in cities.

Cohorts seek to equip the city leaders to engage their city and provide opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, ministry tools and a forum for discussion and the sharing of ideas. The cohorts also include coaching for city leaders as they form comprehensive plans for reaching their cities. Fifty-five city leaders are participating in these cohorts, and more leaders will join in the coming months.

Collaborating with other organizations and local churches and believers is another core component of reaching cities, Hou said.

“Engaging the cities is really a God-sized task,” Hou said. “It’s huge. How do you go about engaging a city like Johannesburg with more than 12 million? We can’t do it ourselves.”

Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa, is one of the 2025 Target Cities. IMB missionaries Kurt and Janna Kay Holiday have served in Johannesburg for 21 years.

The Sub-Saharan Africa affinity set a five-year goal to begin ministry among 55 unengaged and unreached people groups (UUPGs). While researching his comprehensive plan for reaching Johannesburg, Holiday discovered 49 of the 55 people groups live in and around the city.

Three hundred languages are spoken in and around Johannesburg.

Holiday also discovered that Johannesburg is home to people who represent 32 out of the 50 countries on the Open Doors’ World Watch List of persecuted countries.

There is an urgency to reaching the city – 200 people die every day in Johannesburg.

“The city is 7% evangelical, which means 186 people are dying daily outside of a right relationship with Jesus, so that accelerates what we’re trying to do,” Holiday said.

“One of the Scriptures that is really meaningful to us is 2 Timothy 2:2. We want people to be discipled who will disciple others who are going to disciple others,” Holiday said. “That’s the key to get the gospel pumping through the city, through the country and throughout the world.”

Holiday said that even though he has been working as the city leader in Johannesburg since 2009, the Target Cities cohort gave him tools, and the opportunity to dialogue with other IMB leaders about their strategies was a blessing.

As part of the comprehensive ministry plan Holiday developed, he divided the city into five sections: students, segments (relational and geographic), scattered (UUPGs and people from persecuted countries), business and young professionals, and townships.

“I have more excitement about my city than I have in a long time,” Holiday said.

Holiday gave the example of driving a speeding car to describe the status of ministry efforts in Johannesburg. When the car’s accelerator is pressed down, the wheels spin and wobble before finding traction.

“All of a sudden, it catches, and then you’re just flying. In my mind, we’re in that wobbling stage. We’ve hit the accelerator, and the wheels are spinning a little bit – they’re about to get traction and start flying down the road – and that’s where I feel like my city is right now. We’re about to get traction and start making progress,” Holiday said.

Read more about how you can be involved in the Holiday’s ministry here.

South Asian Megacity

Zeek and Keelie Rocks** are the city leaders for a megacity in South Asia. The Rocks have served in their city for 16 years.

“In many ways, my city feels like Nineveh. There are about 30 million people – comparatively the population of Australia squeezed into a geographic space that is half the size of Virginia,” Rocks said.

Millions of people come for work and education, but no one really feels at home, Rocks said.

“Many call our city an unloved and orphaned city,” he added.

The Rocks’ hope is that their city would be transformed from a Nineveh to an Ephesus.

“Our city, like Ephesus, is the heart of the region. It is a diverse place with great opportunity to reach millions,” Rocks said. “Ephesus became a hub for training and sending church planters to the entire region. Through the teaching and training efforts of Paul and his team … the entire province of Asia heard the Word of the Lord (Acts 19:10).

Rocks said he’s attended many trainings throughout the years, and most were geared toward village ministry.

“I found that many of the rural strategies that were very fruitful in the villages just weren’t working in the city. The way people live, work and connect with one another was very different in the city. In some ways, we felt like we were fishing with a sniper rifle rather than a net,” Rocks said.

He said the cohort helped him understand the complex social relationship networks that form when people live in cities and how to effectively reach these different segments of society.

While the IMB is emphasizing the need to reach cities, the calling to reach remote regions and people groups remains, Hou said.

“It’s not that we’re ignoring the rural places and the villages, but we do have better access in the cities,” Hou said. “Ultimately, we want to lead people to faith, share the gospel with them and disciple them so that they can bring the gospel back to their hometowns and to their villages.”

* The World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revisions
**Names changed for security

Caroline Anderson writes for the IMB from Southeast Asia.

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Evangelist Wade Morris, 51, dies after battle with COVID-19

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) – Evangelist and well-known speaker Wade Morris died Tuesday morning (Aug. 3) at age 51 after a battle with COVID-19 and pneumonia.

Morris, a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, worked full time as a traveling evangelist, speaking at hundreds of youth events, conferences and camps each year, including many Southern Baptist-sponsored events such as Youth Evangelism Conferences and Oklahoma Baptists’ Falls Creek youth camp, where he spoke last month.

Morris’ last tweet, posted July 10, celebrated 457 professions of faith after a week of preaching at Falls Creek. Oklahoma senator and Southern Baptist James Lankford attended the event and can be seen photographed with Morris. Before entering politics, Lankford served as the director of Falls Creek.

Oklahoma Baptists released a statement Tuesday mourning the loss of Morris.

“We are heartbroken to learn of Wade Morris’ passing,” the statement said. “His speaking ministry in Oklahoma and across the country has forever impacted countless young people. Wade’s a faithful minister of the Gospel and a great friend to Oklahoma Baptists. We are praying for his family.”

Several well-known evangelicals expressed condolences to Morris’ family.

“Please pray for family & Friends of @WadeSpeaks who faithfully preached the Gospel and today stepped into God’s presence,” said Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Litton in a tweet Tuesday.

Speaker and author Clayton King called Morris “a dear friend” in a tweet, adding:

“Pray for his wife & children & the hundreds of thousands of people he reached & impacted through decades of preaching the gospel. He was one of a kind. Passionate. Generous. Faithful. Encouraging. I can’t believe it.”

In an interview with Baptist Press, Jason Britt, pastor of Bethlehem Church in Bethlehem, Ga., spoke highly of Morris’ faithfulness in ministry.

“He could draw a net like no other and was one of a kind,” said Britt, who served on the board of Wade Morris Ministries. “In a day and age when there aren’t as many evangelists, he was faithful to the end. What he preached on the stage, he lived off it.”

Chris Orr, executive pastor of worship and ministries at Beech Haven Baptist Church in Athens, Ga., told Baptist Press Morris was often called the “barefoot preacher” due to his habit of removing his shoes during a sermon because he considered the place where he stood to be holy ground.

“Last year I was watching my daughter while Wade spoke,” Orr said. “She was leaning in and hanging on every word. I thought, ‘This is a guy the Lord has truly honored and given the ability to communicate the Gospel.’”

Morris, an avid runner who completed nearly 20 marathons, had been battling the virus and resulting pneumonia in the hospital since mid-July. Baptist Press was unable to confirm whether he had received the COVID-19 vaccine.

“This morning I grieved awhile after learning of Wade’s earthly death,” Orr said. “Now I’m thinking about how we can honor his legacy. We can keep going, moving forward. Wade was a runner and today he finished his race.”

Morris is survived by his wife Deborah and two daughters Eden and Trinity.

Scott Barkley, BP’s national correspondent, contributed to this report.

Great Commission Cooperation

In 1923, E. P. Alldredge became the first secretary of the Baptist Sunday School Board’s newly developed Department of Survey, Statistics and Information. There he witnessed Southern Baptist churches awakening to the value and doctrine of cooperation. In 1925, Southern Baptists adopted a unified budget in the Cooperative Program as well as adopting the first confession of faith to include an article “On Cooperation.” Alldredge brilliantly articulated the most basic reason for convention cooperation in his book, Southern Baptists Working Together: 

“The chief reason for the existence of a convention is to enable the churches co-operating through this medium to carry out the Great Commission of our Lord more effectually and more expeditiously than can be accomplished by the churches working separately and without some plan of concerted action.”

Great Commission cooperation. That’s the ticket! Cooperation is why we pool our relationships and resources together through the Southern Baptist mechanism. Each local church is autonomous under the authority of Christ. But autonomy does not require isolation. Ingrained into the collective consciousness of Great Commission Baptist churches is a voluntary togetherness—the freedom to choose inter-congregational cooperation so that the nations might come to know the one true God through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ.   

We cooperate because we can do more together than we can do alone. We cooperate because our message is too urgent and our time is too short for anything less.

But let’s not kid ourselves; cooperation is hard. With 47,000+ autonomous Southern Baptist churches across the United States—our denominational family is home to 47,000+ varying convictions and opinions on matters beyond the parameters of the faith statement. We have all agreed on the basics. We hold them, in our confession of faith (BF&M 2000). We agree to never compromise on those doctrinal affirmations made explicit in the faith statement. By extension we agree to always give grace in those doctrinal matters that are not clearly set forth in the BF&M 2000. The tension stretches our voluntary cooperation from season to season. When we embrace that tension with charity and grace, we emerge from it stronger. And better. And more effective.

This cooperative tension is not unique to Southern Baptists in our day. In fact, it is not unique to Southern Baptists at all. In the history of New Testament inter-congregational partnership, there has never been a moment when Great Commission cooperation did not require humility, forgiveness, charity and grace.

The Antioch believers took it upon themselves to send famine relief to the church in Jerusalem. Paul’s missionary enterprises were funded in large part by gracious benefactors in Rome and by the congregation at large in Philippi. Delivery of the Jerusalem collection from gentile churches across the four provinces was met with joy as evidence of God’s glory. The churches of Macedonia were praised for their faithful and sacrificial inter-congregational giving. Paul disagreed sharply with Peter in the gentile lunchroom but the two also openly supported one another. Paul parted with Barnabas over affiliation with John Mark only to later long for the sweet fellowship of the faithful young minister once again.

Cooperation for Great Commission advance has never been easy. But it has always been necessary. One church can reach a community. A handful can reach a city. Twenty or 30 can reach a county. A few thousand can reach a state. Tens of thousands can reach the world.

We often take for granted the joy and the force of our denominational cooperative mechanism:

  • 3,700 international missionaries, 700 North American church planters and 20,000 seminary students depend every year on the investment we have committed to them.
  • Millions of human beings all over the world receive humanitarian aid in times of crisis and disaster.
  • Pastors and church leaders laboring in obscurity are invested in, encouraged and equipped to carry on in the good work to which God has called them.
  • Silent voices of hundreds of thousands of unborn children are rescued by those who have joined forces to stand boldly for the right to life.
  • A world quickly spiraling down the Romans 1 continuum of moral degradation has a picture of faithfulness to biblical truth in our collective presence.

In his day, Alldredge had a front-row seat to the formation of a new denominational consciousness that would organize and mobilize thousands of likeminded churches to take the name and fame of Jesus Christ around the corner and across the globe. He watched closely as God raised Lee Rutland Scarborough to leadership. Speaking immortal words with contagious conviction at the conclusion of his 75 Million Campaign report in 1925, Scarborough communicated his hopeful expectation for the newly formed Cooperative Program: “We must not lose the things we have already wrought through the mercies and power of God … we must do our best to bring them to a full reward.” This speech was recorded in the SBC 1925 annual report.

In 2021, 96 years later, why cooperate? Because we must not lose the things we have already wrought through the mercies and power of God.

In 2021, 96 years later, why cooperate? Because we must not lose the things we have already wrought through the mercies and power of God. We must do our best to bring them to a full reward. The knock of opportunity is at our door again today as it was in Alldredge and Scarborough’s day and in Paul and Barnabas and Peter’s day. In every generation, Great Commission Baptists must choose whether to allow the noise of the moment to drown out the melody of cooperation. 

Why cooperate? Because we should. Because we can. Because we must.

$1 million gift from Prestonwood Baptist Church funds new efforts to engage nations

Prestonwood Pastor Jack Graham (far right) presents IMB President Paul Chitwood a check for $1 million. The funds will support new endeavors for the IMB that have previously not be funded. Present on stage are also Prestonwood Executive Pastor Mike Buster (far left) and IMB Vice President for Global Engagement John Brady. Prestonwood Baptist Church photo

Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, gifted the International Mission Board $1 million toward the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering®. The entire donation will go directly toward new mission work overseas.

Prestonwood Pastor Jack Graham presented IMB President Paul Chitwood a check during the church’s Aug. 1 worship services.

Prestonwood’s gift comes from a surplus in the church’s giving during 2020, a year when many churches were struggling, and national giving trends were down.

Because of the members’ generosity, the church’s donation is funding work that was not already being funded through the IMB, Graham shared.

“A part of the reason we’re here today is because Dr. Graham and the Prestonwood family want to be a part of a unique partnership to meet some unmet needs, to get into some places and ministry opportunities that we have not yet been able to get into,” Chitwood explained.

Prestonwood’s gift and partnership with the IMB will fund efforts to reach “fast growing Muslim regions with the gospel,” the church shared.

Chitwood, alongside John Brady, IMB’s vice president for global engagement, shared the four specific ministry endeavors this gift will fund:

Training local believers as missionaries to the Persian world
Developing local believers to take the gospel to a Muslim group of 200 million in South Asia
Supporting five million Nigerian Baptists to reach surging Islamic growth in Africa
Developing nurses in South and Southeast Asia to serve in hard-to-reach places

“The incredible generosity of Prestonwood Baptist Church is inspiring but not new,” Chitwood said. “God has not only used Pastor Jack Graham to grow one of the largest churches in the U.S., Prestonwood is also a church that, for many years, has been sacrificially committed to getting the gospel to the nations.”

Chitwood continued, “The church’s growing partnership with the IMB is a welcomed blessing in a time when the need for help and hope around the world has never been greater. I look forward to seeing how God will use their investment to not only get the gospel to the lost but also to inspire other churches and believers to join in the mission of the IMB.”

He added, “By working together, we’ll be able to see the Revelation 7:9 vision of heaven come to fulfillment, where every nation, tribe, people, and language will be represented before God’s throne.”

Graham explained that the church, a Southern Baptist congregation, truly believes that more can be done together than individually. This belief is the driving factor behind the church’s steadfast giving and going through the Southern Baptist Convention and the International Mission Board and general support of the Cooperative Program.

“We could not be more appreciative of the opportunity to partner with IMB in supporting the global mission of Christ and the Church,” Graham shared.

“As an SBC lifer and pastor, it gives me great joy to support the leadership of Dr. Paul Chitwood and team and our devoted missionaries around the world.”

“The cooperative mission of our churches sets Southern Baptists apart and gives us the privilege of fulfilling the Great Commission together in our generation and in the generations to come,” Graham continued.

“Our gift is just a small part of the faith collaboration of thousands of SBC churches for the glory of God and the advancement of the Kingdom of God.”

Myriah Snyder is senior writer/editor for the IMB.

The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® is a registered trademark of Woman’s Missionary Union.

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New strategies emerge as Japanese churches face future without pastors

An elderly Japanese woman walks up the stairs in Osaka, Japan. IMB photo

Japan’s population is aging. Almost 30% of its population is 65 years old and older. This statistic is affecting church planting, church health and church growth. International Mission Board missionaries and Japanese Christians must answer the question, “Who will lead the next generation of believers?”

Scott Bradford, a missionary in Tokyo, said the average age of local pastors is between 60 and 70 years old. Many pastors are in their 80s and don’t feel they can retire because there is no one to assume the mantle, missionary Carlton Walker said. Carlton and his wife, Cornelia, also serve in Tokyo.

With aging pastors, Carlton, Bradford and other missionaries are asking, “What does that mean for the church in 20 years?”

Time is ticking, and the need is great for a younger generation of Christian leaders.

Missionaries are focusing on sharing the gospel in university areas, with the hopes of nurturing young adults who will fill church leadership positions and start churches in their communities. Journeymen on the Tokyo team are actively building relationships with university students, and many of their activities surrounding the Olympics involve outreach on campuses through 5-Minute English and virtual English outreaches.

While technology comes as second nature for Generation Z and Millennials, COVID-19 has been challenging for the older generation of Japanese pastors who’ve had to adapt to using technology and offer church services online.

Meeting online has been discouraging for some. As in the U.S., many congregations in Japan have gone more than a year and a half without taking the Lord’s Supper, going to Sunday School, attending prayer meetings or meeting in person, Carlton said.

However, pastors have adapted and have been able to extend their reach to younger audiences and to business professionals, who largely have been absent from churches.

“Before this, many churches were not really technologically knowledgeable,” Cornelia continued. “Many of them may have done videotapes to get to their older folks [who were homebound] but now they’re actually using their Facebook page, or they’re doing something on YouTube or Instagram, or they’re learning how to put themselves out there.”

However, Japanese pastors are concerned people won’t be motivated to attend in person once churches can meet in person again.

“Some pastors feel like they are going to have to begin from scratch,” Carlton said.

For older pastors, the thought of starting over is disheartening.

“[Pastors] are used to face-to-face shepherding, and many are weary,” he continued.

“Churches in Japan are facing the same thing that many churches in America are facing, and that is to realize, nowadays, you’ve got some people who absolutely want to get back together and see one another’s face,” Carlton explained.

IMB missionaries, Kazu Kurihara, who serves with Cru, and Shin Kawano, pastor of Okubo Baptist Church, pray before taking to the streets to pray around the Okubo neighborhood of Tokyo. Missionaries are supporting the efforts of Kawano as he leads his church. IMB photo

This is especially true of the Walkers’ church, whose members are mostly older and prefer to meet in person. They recognize, however, the need to reach those who are comfortable connecting online.

Online services have allowed churches to connect with business professionals who, because of COVID-19, cannot go into their offices and have begun teleworking, working online from their hometowns.

This is exciting, Carlton said, because this population segment has largely been ‘missing in action’ in churches. Their work hours are often prohibitive to church attendance and involvement. Children stop coming to church when parents stop coming. This is a trend Christian leaders hope to reverse.

Journeymen are serving among the children-turned-adults of these business professionals who are now university students, but the students soon fade into the work world of late nights and long commutes, so maintaining contact with students after they graduate is key.

New church strategies

Bradford said they are asking themselves, “What are we doing to strengthen and encourage these churches, to support these churches toward health and come alongside and help them as they engage in their local community?”

Some of the recent ways missionaries are doing this is by prayerwalking in the neighborhoods around Baptist churches, setting up a mobile cart with an Olympic flag to attract attention, and sharing the gospel and distributing gospel materials near the churches.

The greater Tokyo area has a population of 37 million, and one-third of Japan’s population lives in the megacity.

“If we really did have every church that was healthy and filled to capacity, it still would not be enough to reach the 37 million people who are in this city,” Bradford said.

Walker said that even if each of their team members planted 50 churches, there still wouldn’t be a church within walking distance of everybody.

“What would happen if we had churches within walking distance of a 7-Eleven or a convenience store, a post office or a gasoline station? It would be so much more possible for the gospel to be shared, be believed and be known in Japan,” Walker said.

Their team is focusing on what they call catalytic work, coming alongside churches and bolstering their ministries, considering new locations and opportunities.

Though the numbers of those who don’t know Jesus are staggering and overwhelming, Carlton and Cornelia remain positive. The Walkers have served in Japan for almost 40 years and are nearing retirement.

Carlton said what has kept them upbeat amidst growing populations, aging pastors and, at times, slow church growth, is an attitude of gratitude. He wakes up every morning thrilled and in awe at the opportunity to serve among the Japanese. Gratitude makes all the difference, he says.

“God is doing something great in Japan, and I don’t want to die before I see it.”  

Caroline Anderson writes for the IMB from Southeast Asia.

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SBTC Bible Drill and Speakers Tournament winners sweep national contests

GRAPEVINE and DALLAS  Twenty-five students from various Southern Baptists of Texas Convention churches gathered in Grapevine on May 15 for the SBTC Bible Drill and Speakers Tournament State Finals, competing in the youth, high school and speaker categories. Winners advanced from the May tournament to garner national honors at the National Invitational Tournament for Bible Drill and Speakers Tournament held at Dallas Baptist University one month later. 

At the national tourney, all three SBTC state winners continued their winning ways. Andrew Wisely of First Baptist Dallas won first place in the National Youth Bible Drill. Lillian Felton, also of First Baptist Dallas, won first place in the National High School Bible Drill. Jonathan Perkins of Prestonwood Baptist won first place in the National Speakers Tournament. 

Also from Texas, Leala Hutchens of FBC Cochran tied for second place in the National Youth Bible Drill.

“It was surreal to hear the nation’s best of the best Bible Drill students step out in less than eight seconds, perfectly reciting various passages of Scripture. SBTC driller Lillian Felton recited John 15:1-7 in the King James version without any mistakes. It was a wow moment for the whole audience,” said Taylor Garmon, SBTC Bible Drill consultant. 

Following the afternoon drills and speakers presentations, the waiting game began for the students anticipating the evening awards ceremony which saw SBTC students emerge victorious in a sweep that had “not happened in a very long time, if ever,” Karen Kennemur, SBTC children’s ministry associate, posted on Facebook.

“We are so proud of these students’ hard and diligence work to earn national first-place wins, especially after a difficult year in church discipleship programs for children and students. We are even more proud of the students for hiding God’s Word in their hearts. They represented the SBTC well,” Garmon said.

 The SBTC also hosted a Thursday evening fellowship for all participants and their families on June 17. After a dinner complete with Blue Bell ice cream, Garmon, clad in western duds, hosted entertainment. 

The 2022 National Youth and High School Bible Drill and Speakers Tournament will be held in Georgia.