Convention Reflections: "For His name's sake, we will go!"
One of the most encouraging things about being a Southern Baptist is knowing the SBC’s desire and passion to send missionaries all over the world. Not only do we have the North American Mission Board (NAMB) but also the International Mission Board (IMB). This blog post is going to focus mostly on the IMB.
The IMB president, Paul Chitwood, said that the International Mission Board has served the nations for 174 years. That means for 174 years, missionaries have been sent to proclaim the gospel to all peoples, tribes, and tongues. Chitwood said, “Every church, regardless of size and resources, has a role to play in every nation hearing the gospel. And the nations are waiting.” One way, as a local church, that we can play a role in this endeavor is through the Annie Armstrong (NAMB) and Lottie Moon offerings (IMB). All the money raised from these two offerings goes straight to sending people out with the gospel.
But our giving of money is not the only way we can support missions through our convention. One of the main ways we can support missions is through sending people out and then praying for and over their ministry. We as a church have this amazing opportunity! Heather Tolbert has accepted God’s call on her life to serve in Argentina and we have the amazing task and mission to support her through our prayers.
As believers, we all know the importance of missions and that God calls us to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). Paul Chitwood said, “The gospel is being preached among the nations, and we are privileged to be a part of it.” Even after typing these thing though I fear that, even with this knowledge, we are quick to lose sight of this command or forget about it all together. There are missionaries all over the world living out this call and how quick are we to forget them in our prayers. We are quick to say that we will stay in touch and intentionally pray, but we are often quick to let the distance drive us apart.
I know this firsthand from my service in West Africa, and, even though I served for the IMB for 2 years, I am still guilty of allowing myself to get so busy that I forget to lift my brothers and sisters in Christ up to the Lord. I plead with you. We cannot say we are sending a missionary out without committing to pray regularly for them and their ministry. We may still be in the comforts of the United States, but we must stand by our missionaries.
This was definitely a conviction I experienced during the International Mission Board Commissioning service at the Southern Baptist Convention. We were able to take part in commissioning 26 missionaries who are accepting the call of missions on their lives all over the world. There were people from all over the US and they were all going out with the same goal, to make Christ known. What a sobering thought and moment. To hear the hearts of all of these people and their longing to go to a culture that is not their own. But even with this in mind, God’s call to share the gospel with the lost far outweighs the comforts of home. Paul Chitwood challenged us as we heard these stories to do 3 things: Listen, Pray, and Consider. Listen to how God is at work in these people’s lives, pray for the missionaries/the people they are going to serve, and consider how we as the local church can be a part of God’s global mission.
Heather actually had the opportunity to share about her passion and why she was going to serve in Argentina. I loved how she worded it. She said, “Throughout my life God has filled me with joy in my salvation… He has called me to take the gospel to those who haven’t heard so they might know that same joy.” What a beautiful way to describe the precious gift of salvation that Christ has given us.
One of the really cool parts of the commissioning service was when each missionary being sent out carried a flag with the name of the overarching people group that they will serve. So for example, Heather will be serving in South America, so she carried a flag for the Americas. They had music going and we could see how people were going all over the world. It was a beautiful picture of seeing fellow Southern Baptists/believers displaying their willingness to go to the nations.
Another interesting aspect of the commissioning service was that they had the lights off. Why, you may ask? Well, as I’m sure you already know, not everywhere in our world is open to allowing Christians into their countries. This means missionaries go in under particular job titles to protect their identity. For example, someone going to the Middle East as a missionary may have a cover job of a photographer or maybe even a businessman. This is the IMB’s way of enabling these individuals to get into the country without signing their death warrant. Having the lights out was their way of protecting the people who are going to difficult and unreached locations which are hostile to the gospel.
I have to admit, I got choked up during this part of the convention. Serving with the IMB firsthand, I had a small glimpse into what they must have been feeling during that moment. The excitement, the unknown that awaits, the sadness of leaving family/friends. Let’s just say, a big mix of all the emotions at one time. But in the midst of my emotions, Paul Chitwood charged us as Southern Baptist churches and, more importantly, as believers to go alongside these missionaries through our prayers. He called us to not look on these people as untouchables but to remember that they are just like us.
This is why it is so important to pray and stay connected with our missionaries. We must find meaningful ways to keep these individuals, particularly Heather, in our prayers. One way that David and I have found helpful is a weekly prayer calendar on our fridge. Each day of the week, we have a particular missionary or church that we intentionally pray for. Other ways are to keep prayer cards in your Bible or around your house in places that you see on a regular basis. It does not matter what method you choose just as long as we are praying for our missionaries.
The mission field is hard. You are in the midst of a culture, and usually a language, that is difficult to understand and Satan is trying everything that he can to hinder your ministry. But our Father is good and he called these individuals to go. We cannot take that lightly.