HOUSTON In a historic event, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention closed its 11th meeting with a commissioning service for the third-largest group of missionaries appointed by the International Mission Board since at least 1980.
IMB Office of Overseas Operations Vice President Gordon Fort called the SBTC “a model across this country for what it means to give and support” missions work.
The service saw the commissioning of 105 missionaries, more than half of whom are from Texas, were educated in Texas or lived in Texas at some time, an IMB spokesman told the TEXAN.
“We are so grateful to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention for your support. These are your missionaries,” IMB President Jerry Rankin told the audience of around 2,000 people comprised of SBTC messengers, guests and friends or family of those being commissioned.
SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards reiterated the state convention’s commitment to missions since its inception in 1998. Because the SBTC is committed to connecting its churches to missionaries, Richards said 55 percent of the convention’s budget goes to the Southern Baptist Convention, which sends 50 percent of that amount directly to the IMB.
With the appointment of this latest group of missionaries, the number of active missionaries dispatched worldwide is 5,541–more than at any other time.
In his presentation to the candidates Rankin said, “It’s an auspicious time to go. God is using the chaos to fulfill his mission.”
Despite the violence and political and economic upheaval throughout the world, missionaries choose to go. Rankin said it is in the midst of the violence that people are seeking truth and “we are seeing an unprecedented harvest.”
Fort told of a group of Mexicans, tired of the violence and murder perpetuated by the drug lords in their country, who decided the only way to resist the brutality was through Jesus. As drug-related violence has escalated in recent years, 4,000 people have been killed in its wake. Amid this bloodshed the missionaries, whose lives have been threatened, share the hope of Christ.
Consequently, 70 new believers have been added to the rosters of 10 new churches.
Fort reported that 565,000 people were baptized in 2007–the largest numbers on record–and 27,000 new churches have been planted. “God is moving and God is stirring,” Fort said.
But, he cautioned, the 2009 plenary budget, though it provides support for current missionaries in the field and the latest group of appointees, it does not provide for net growth in the missionary force, which means new missionaries are only replacing those retiring without a net gain in numbers.
“If it sounds like I’m sending an alarm, you heard correctly,” he said.
Fort urged churches to give generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and help produce a record contribution.
Each of the 105 appointees–husbands and wives and some singles–gave a brief testimony of their call to the field. Most had served in a short-term mission project or journeyman capacity. For some they felt the call while serving; others just knew, without going anywhere, what God was calling them to do, they testified.
Because 54 percent of the missionary force is now serving in high security regions, the appointees last names were not given at the ceremony. Rankin said one couple present at the ceremony did not participate because they could not risk being associated with the IMB.
Their destinations are as close as Canada where one couple will work to reach the students of Toronto while Heather F. will return to Asia with the gospel.
One man, who had been in the halls of a former KGB office, said he and his wife will go to Bucharest to “tell the oppressed about a freedom that is greater than democracy.”
Mihoko’s father and grandfather were Buddhist monks. She was raised in darkness in Japan until an IMB missionary “led me to the light.” She and her husband, Brad, will return to Asia to share that light.
Larry and Amanda always dreamed of adopting a little boy from Africa and naming him Jack. On a short-term trip to that continent they met a little boy named Jack. “Now,” they said, “Africa will be our adopted Jack.”
One woman, a Spanish teacher, was once assigned a short-term trip to Africa. Why a Spanish teacher was sent there was beyond her, she said. But she grew to love the people. Her new assignment as an IMB missionary will be to Spain to serve North African immigrants.
Another couple who had once served in Africa and wanted desperately to return will be deployed to Europe to reach the African people who have left their homelands for countries to the north.
One husband, while on a short-term mission trip, thought he felt the call to fulltime missionary service. Wanting to be certain, he asked God for an obvious sign. The next day while evangelizing in the village his interpreter turned to him and said, “God told me you were born to do this.”
To those who have committed to going, Rankin said their lives are like those of Paul and his peers as portrayed in 1 Thessalonians. The people of Thessalonica saw in Paul the gospel he preached. The power of the Holy Spirit moved in the community to bring people to salvation and they became imitators of Christ.
In so many cultures, Rankin said, the opportunity for sharing the gospel is created by the way the missionaries lead their lives. He encouraged the appointees to stay in the word and immerse themselves in the lives of those they are sent to serve.
On a somber note, Rankin added, “God hasn’t promised a hedge of protection.”
He said it is in times of suffering that missionaries have the greatest opportunity to testify to their faith. I t gives them the chance to live out their faith and demonstrate the victories of the Savior.
Rankin concluded his charge with a challenge to the audience. All believers, he said, are called to missions. The Great Commission found in Matthew is not a call to just the disciples or an elite few.
“It’s not a matter of who will go and who will stay,” he said. “We say we’re willing to go but we’re planning to stay. Have you put a geographic restriction on your call to missions?”
Even with the record number of IMB missionaries in the field, Rankin pointed out that there is one missionary for every 1.6 million people. How will they all know about Jesus? He asked.