PHOENIX -- The only reason missionaries venture into a dangerous world with the gospel message is that God has called them, International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin told 52 new workers in a Jan. 24 service at North Phoenix Baptist Church in Phoenix.
"You do not go because Southern Baptists enlisted you, your church selected you or the IMB has deployed you, but because God has called you," Rankin said. "You have no assurance of harvest and response. You are going to people who have hardened hearts and are blind to the truth, but they can never respond if they have never heard."
The diversity of the new missionaries showed that God's call to missions comes in a variety of ways to people from all kinds of backgrounds. The congregation at North Phoenix heard testimonies from a building contractor, a flight attendant, a surgeon, an environmental scientist, a vice president of a chemical company and a truck driver.
OBEYING THE CALL
The new missionaries took turns sharing how God called them to missions.
-- Passing the baton. One new worker* heard God's call to missions when he attended a memorial service for Charles Beaty, an IMB representative in North Africa who continued his advocacy for the unreached of that region even after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. "Avery Willis spoke about passing the baton," the new worker said. "In my heart I knew God was calling me to reach out and take it. Tonight is the next step in taking the baton to North Africa."
-- At Glorieta. Another new missionary, Kyleen Bare of Pasco, Wash., responded to God's call while attending a conference at Glorieta, a LifeWay Conference Center in New Mexico. "During an invitation, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart saying, 'Kyleen, it's OK if you don't want to go, I can send someone in your place.' I broke and said, 'No God, I know you're calling me, I'll go.'"
-- Parade of flags. "As a pastor's wife in 1994, I traveled as a chaperone to the National Acteen Convention in Birmingham," said Jody Fleming of DeMotte, Ind. "A colorful parade of world flags surrounded the stadium. Then quietly, gray flags symbolizing those who have never heard [the gospel] were carried in. At that moment, God called me to serve one of those people groups."
-- Empty nest. "Twenty years ago, when our daughter was born, God called me to be a stay-at-home mom. What a privilege!" said a fourth worker.* "Two years ago, facing the empty nest, I wondered 'What now?' Today I know God has a place for me to serve in East Asia. What a privilege!"
-- Sept. 11. God used the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., to speak to three of the new missionaries. "I had just completed a day of prayer and fasting when I heard the news of the attack on the Twin Towers," one* said. "God suddenly made me aware of what is important in life. What we see is temporal but the souls of people are eternal. I go to share the good news with the people of Central Asia." Another new worker* asked his wife if the attacks had changed her mind about mission service. "No, we need to go now more than ever," she replied.
COMMITTED TO THE CALL
Recalling his visit to Jibla, Yemen, earlier in January, Rankin said he was touched by the commitment to God's call demonstrated by coworkers of the three Southern Baptist representatives killed there Dec. 30.
"We gathered around the graves of Bill Koehn and Martha Myers, there on the hospital compound, and I was moved by those who were undeterred by this tragedy," Rankin said. "Believing that God would use the impact of these deaths to plant the seeds for the church in Yemen, they were resolved to stay and continue.
"I recalled the words of Jesus that unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it stands alone, but if it dies it will bear much fruit," he said. "It is highly unlikely that you will be called on to suffer a martyr's death, but Jesus is calling you to take up your cross, die to self and follow him."
Recalling God's call for Ezekiel to take his word to a "stubborn and obstinate people," Rankin encouraged the new missionaries to place their trust in God.
"Though you go to places of risk and danger, though you encounter trials, illness, misfortune and even threats, do not fear the people or their words, but trust in God," he said. "He is your strength, your refuge, your stronghold. You go in his power, his protection and his provision."
The appointment service brought the total number of Southern Baptist missionaries under appointment to 5,441. The next service is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 15 at First Baptist Concord in Knoxville, Tenn.
By Albert H. Lee