On the final day of the two-day annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, held at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, International Missions Board President Jerry Rankin and missionaries from the agency spoke of the current obstacles facing the international missions and also the agency’s successes over the past year. In 2003, Southern Baptist missionaries and their national Baptist partners reported a historic 510,000 baptisms and a near doubling of the number of churches started.
For ten years, God has been calling out record numbers of church members to serve as missionaries overseas, International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin told the assembly during the IMB annual report. A series of missionaries reported to the congregation that in spite of many barriers—from traditional religion to mountaintop isolation—God’s message of love is spreading from heart to heart, sometimes multiplying in an amazing fashion.
One couple that served in West Africa explained how they taught the Gospel to one friend and his family. “Now they are spontaneously sharing the good news with their family, friends, and neighbors,” the couple said. A Muslim village chief even recently wrote the couple to request that they ask Christian pastors and church members in the United States to remember his village in their prayers.
Another missionary who serves in a mountainous country in Central Asia said “a bright light is dawning” among a group of people that have lived in spiritual darkness for centuries. The missionary recalled a team of volunteers that saw no results from their witness during their visit but left a Bible with one person who was seeking for spiritual truth. Months later, Christian workers returned to discover that more than 50 new believers were meeting together as a result of reading that Bible.
A third missionary who served in South Asia explained that lost people in his country outnumbered Christian missionaries nine million to one. Yet, in 2003 more than 180,000 new believers were baptized—over 100,000 of whom were Muslims turning to faith in Jesus Christ.
People turn to Christ in great numbers even when it means suffering and death, Rankin told the crowd.
Rankin introduced Tom Thurman, a retired missionary who served 33 years in South Asia, helping impoverished people with overwhelming needs though his family suffered from malaria and even leprosy.
Together, Rankin and Thurman introduced “Abdullah,” who Thurman had led to Christ as a young man. Beaten and left for dead by his own neighbors because of his commitment to Christ, the young man still persisted in sharing his testimony about new life in Christ. In time, every one of the 1,600 people in that village came to have faith in Jesus.
“Abdullah,” whose name was withheld for security reasons, told the audience that when Muslim people read what their holy book, the Quran, says about Jesus, they want to know more about Him. And when they read the Bible, they recognize Jesus as the One God sent to set them free from the power of sin and death, and ultimately turn to Christ.
Some, however, are hostile toward the Gospel, Abdullah said. Nine Christian evangelists have been murdered for their witnessing, including a childhood friend who was the first person he had won to Christ. One evangelist was stabbed to death when he answered a midnight knock on the door. Another was kidnapped and bled to death after being beaten and slashed with a knife.
Yet some of those involved in the killings have become Christians themselves, Abdullah added.
Because of Abdullah’s witnessing, more than 400,000 people have been baptized and 9,700 churches and 500 Bible study groups have been started, Thurman said.
Like the Scripture says, God is doing a work among the nations that is hard to believe even when you hear the testimony firsthand, Rankin said.
“Missionaries and nationals like these are faithfully proclaiming the Gospel, being part of what God’s doing around the world. And God is challenging us to seize these unprecedented opportunities as His spirit’s moving—to call out missionaries from our churches, to give more generously and sacrificially to send them out and support them, and to pray that God would use them in a mighty movement of His Spirit.”
Carrie McDonnall, one member of the five-person team that was attacked in Iraq March 15, also spoke before the congregation sharing her thoughts following the incident that left her husband and three other Southern Baptist workers dead, and her critically injured. McDonnall told the story of a teenager who heard about the attack and her injuries and asked her classmates to pray for McDonnall. Told by her teacher that her action was inappropriate, the student countered, “It’s the least I could do.”
“Make no mistake, David and I went to Iraq out of God’s call on our lives to see His name glorified among the nations,” McDonnall said. “That includes the hard and violent places.
“My Jesus bears scars on His body from the violence He endured. How could we sit back and say ‘I can’t go because it’s too hard,’ especially when the world is saying, ‘You can’t do that’?
“Trust me, for my Jesus, it’s the least I could do.”
Rankin acknowledged the costs involved in mission efforts, saying, “There are more and more places that do not welcome a missionary witness. Our personnel have become vulnerable, not simply due to their missionary witness but because they are Americans living in a hostile world.”
The four Southern Baptist workers who were killed in Iraq March 15—Larry and Jean Elliott, Karen Watson and David McDonnall—were willing to go in spite of the risk because of their conviction that Jesus alone is the answer to humanity’s spiritual need, he said.
“Amazingly, these tragic deaths have inspired others to follow in their steps, and their example calls all of us to a greater sacrifice and obedience.”
In closing the IMB annual report, Rankin prayed that Southern Baptists would rise to meet the challenge. “I pray that You would find us faithful, that we would continue to challenge our people and our churches to go, that we would join with these volunteer projects to share the Gospel and the power of God with a world that is desperately searching,” he said.
“I pray that we, like Abdullah and his friends, would not be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.”
The next IMB Missionary Appointment service is scheduled to take place at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas.
[Source: The International Mission Board]