Speaking of tourism

Have you noticed that many of the most popular places people go in the U.S. are in areas where Southern Baptist, even truly evangelical churches, are small and few? We go there in large numbers but spend little time considering the people for whom the hot spots are their year-round homes.

The entire Rocky Mountain range is within what we used to call pioneer areas of missions. The same is true of California and the Pacific Northwest. If you go on autumn leaf tours in Vermont or Maine, you’re way off the beaten path for the SBC. The largest cities of our nation are in New York, Illinois, and California?not strongholds for the gospel. Do you ride a Harley? The largest bike rally in the U.S. takes place in South Dakota each summer. You can ride through a lot of high plains towns without seeing a Southern Baptist church, but people live there after you’ve gone home to Athens or Lubbock.

One great task of our North American Mission Board is to look at the entire map of our continent and strategize church planting and evangelism for the places where the need is greatest and the resources least. It appears to me that the need for gospel ministry and paucity of resources coincide in the same parts of the North American map. That’s why we in Texas emphasize the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions each March.

This offering has a goal of $61 million this year and goes to missionary support, church planting, and evangelism. This year’s theme is “Live with Urgency,” a message sometimes difficult to convey to those who live in the most unevangelized places in the U.S.

Our churches, with their relative wealth, have the obligation to assist with ministry elsewhere without expecting anything in return. In fact, one of the motivating factors in the founding of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention was the conviction that we as churches have a commission to give and go to ministry beyond our communities and beyond our state. Our continued partnership with NAMB is one evidence of this. The sacrificial involvement of our churches in ministry in new work areas is another. I truly think we should increase this focus.

Churches in the Bible Belt are funded, furnished, and staffed in ways unheard of 20 or 30 years ago. We have orchestras while some Northern and Western mission starts use a boom box or sing acappella. We gripe if we have to wear a sweater to church while in some corners of our nation, new churches use space heaters and wear their coats all through worship. Music programs are fine and so is central air, but you get my point. Missions is something we all do, by some definition, but we take pretty good care of ourselves first.

Surely we can do more than we do. I believe in Southern Baptist missions because this strategic look at needs seems more rational than just an anecdotal one whereby I send to places where I know people.
Southern Baptist missions will send help to places I’ve never heard of to people worshipping in a language I couldn’t identify. It depends less on what I know and care about than a homemade missions scheme does. I think it’s worth supporting in all ways. We who read this have the money to help.

If your church doesn’t do a special promotion for North American missions, go to AnnieArmstrong.com to find out more about the need and ways to help. The stories are heartening and the need is great. There are videos of missionaries from Hawaii, Montana, Oklahoma, Virginia, and other places across the continent. We ought to care without being “heartened,” though. The Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong offering provide a way to do this that will make a difference in the place that needs it most right now. It’s like a smart bomb for supporting missions.

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