By Don Graham
SHREVEPORT, La. (BP)–Despite the rocky economy and a red-line budget, International Mission Board trustees took a step of faith Nov. 10 when they celebrated the appointment of 55 new missionaries at Summer Grove Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., in conjunction with the Louisiana Baptist Convention annual meeting.
Earlier this year, 25 of the 55 appointees were told they would be delayed going to the mission field until 2010 because there wasn’t enough money to send them. The global recession, decreased giving through the Cooperative Program and a $29 million shortfall in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering left the IMB with a limited budget, forcing trustees to restrict new missionary appointments.
But during the summer, Southern Baptists responded to the IMB’s financial restrictions with a grassroots effort to raise additional support to send as many of the delayed missionary candidates as possible before the end of 2009. IMB leadership determined the extra gifts would be enough to send 25 of the 69 career candidates on hold, including Tim and Audrey Shepard.*
The Shepards had already quit their jobs, sold their house, said goodbye to family and friends — even given away the family dog –when they got the news their appointment was being delayed until 2010, potentially leaving them in limbo for six months or more. But now they won’t have to wait and are already preparing for their assignment in Asia.
The Shepards previously served 15 years with the IMB but left the field in 2004 so their daughter could attend high school in the United States.
“We’re thrilled to be missionaries again,” Audrey Shepard said. “We have seen how it is for missionaries that are sent without the support that Southern Baptist missionaries have, and we know that in this economy they must be really struggling.
“We don’t have that burden as Southern Baptists…. We can be on the field, drawing people into the kingdom, and not think about where our next paycheck is coming from, and that’s a tremendous blessing,” Mrs. Shepard said. “We have faith in Southern Baptists that they will never let their missionaries go in need; that they will always support missions, and they’ve proven that throughout history.”
Zoe Parker,* who also was among the 25 appointees who would have been delayed, is now getting ready to go to South Asia, where she’ll serve as a church planter.
Born to an abusive, alcoholic father, Parker became a Christian at age 9, only to turn her back on God at 16 when her boyfriend committed suicide. Parker says she was angry at God because He didn’t seem to answer her prayers to heal her family, and her boyfriend’s death was the last straw. She eventually married and became a social worker, trying “to fix an unfixable world.” She remembers sitting on urine-soaked sofas and fending off roaches while visiting clients’ homes — experiences she now recognizes as training ground for her work overseas.
Then at 34, her life was rocked again by death when her husband, Carl, died suddenly of a heart attack. But this time, instead of driving her away, the death brought Parker back into a relationship with her Savior. Fifteen years later, she is answering God’s call to share Christ’s love overseas.
“God has used everything with a purpose for getting me to this point,” Parker said. “I’m very excited that God is allowing me to go [to the field] earlier than expected…. I feel very humbled and very grateful.
“How do you say thank you in a situation like this? … It’s an honor and a privilege to serve the Lord my God and to go on this adventure with Him,” Parker added. “It’s not something that I take lightly or for granted.”
BEST OF THE BEST
IMB trustee chairman Paul Chitwood praised missionaries like Parker and the Shepards for their commitment and passion, calling them the “best of the best,” in light of the IMB limiting the number of new appointments to the most strategic assignments.
“Their testimonies are clear. Their commitment is unquestionable. Their identity as Southern Baptists is without apology. And their call — God’s call on their lives — is so evident,” Chitwood said.
But he cautioned that the extra gifts making it possible for many of the new missionaries to go would have been given in vain without Southern Baptists’ continued support to keep the missionaries on the field.
“In the midst of this unprecedented opportunity all over the world, we find ourselves … paring back our missionary force because of a lack of funding,” Chitwood said. “As excited as we are to see these 55 new missionaries appointed, and as grateful as we are to Louisiana Baptists for [helping to] make it possible, my prayer is that you will be challenged to make a greater commitment to pray and — during this Lottie Moon Christmas Offering season — to give.”
‘SECOND MILE’ OFFERING
As a sign of their commitment to support the new missionaries, Louisiana Baptists present for the appointment service took up their own special offering of nearly $8,500. David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, called it a “second mile” offering, in reference to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
“Louisiana Baptists love missions, and we’re going to make a demonstration of that tonight,” Hankins said, addressing the many church pastors in the audience. “If someone compels you to go one mile, then you go a second mile. The first mile is out of duty, the second mile is out of love. The first mile is what you do under ordinary conditions; the second mile is what you do under difficult conditions.
“One of the most important things you can do pastoring people is to go to your church and say, ‘This year we don’t care how hard the economy is, how strong the recession is, we’re going to do more for international missions through the Lottie Moon offering than we’ve ever done before,” Hankins added. “This is what is demanded by difficult times, and we’re going to go the second mile.”
DEAF AND KOREAN APPOINTEES
Gordon Fort, IMB vice president of global strategy, pointed out the special significance of having Korean Americans and Deaf Americans among the appointees. He lauded the more than 200 Korean Americans now serving with the IMB, as well as the growing number of Deaf missionaries. There are more than 30 IMB missionaries, a third of whom are Deaf, who use sign languages to share the Gospel.
“We became convinced that a person who is, for instance, a Deaf Chinese, has more in common with a person who is a Deaf Russian than they do with a hearing person in their own population,” Fort said. “We began to understand that there had been an artificial barrier that was preventing many of the Deaf people of our world not only from hearing the Gospel but from crossing the boundary into the church.”
Fort spoke about meeting a young man, both deaf and blind, who responded to God’s call to missionary service.
“He had to understand what was being said through the interpretation of the fingers of the lady whose hands he held,” Fort said. “With tears streaming down his face the young man said to me through his interpreter, ‘Could God use someone like me as a missionary around the world?’
“Friends, I felt so ashamed …… because there are people that have far greater capacity and ability than that young man has, who today are unwilling to go,” Fort said. “We as Southern Baptists claim to be a missionary people — and we are. But we only have [5,500] missionaries engaging 95 percent of the world’s population, and if we as Southern Baptists would simply send 1 percent of the 10 million active members … we would have 100,000 missionaries. While a young man like that is willing to go and should go, there are many of us that might consider the possibility that we are the ones to take this Gospel into some of these last remaining strongholds around the world.”
IMB President Jerry Rankin concluded the appointment service with a challenge for the appointees and some words of advice. He urged the new missionaries to fully let go of the life they leave behind in the United States and to be wary of distractions once they reach the field.
“It’s so easy to get diverted, to get caught up in our ministry and doing good things that we lose the focus on why we are there,” Rankin said. “Satan knows how vulnerable we are to busyness…. It’s so easy to determine your own agenda and miss God’s priority for what He wants you to do.
“Don’t compromise in longing for a more comfortable lifestyle, the amenities that you enjoyed in America,” Rankin said. “Don’t always be entertaining thoughts that if it doesn’t work out ‘I can always return to the States and ministry there’ — no, place your life on the altar. Never forget the reason
you’re going is that God has called you to plant your life among people who are lost. Tell them about Jesus, preach the Word and proclaim redemption until all have heard.”
Rankin also reminded the missionaries that their effectiveness as Christ’s witnesses is dependent solely on His power.
“We have no business going and thinking we can convince Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others of the truth of the Gospel … except for His power to draw all men to Himself because He was lifted up on the cross, died and rose again.
“We’re not sending you out simply because of your qualifications and your education … certainly that’s important, in fact, essential,” Rankin added. “But it’s not your ability — it’s your availability to the power of Jesus Christ…. Never forget He will demonstrate His power as you faithfully bear
witness according to His purpose.”
Rankin also asked the audience to consider God’s calling on their lives.
“God may want you right here in northwest Louisiana — or wherever you’re from,” Rankin said. “But you can never be sure you’re in the center of God’s will if you’ve never come to the place of saying, ‘Wherever He leads I’ll go.’ There is no greater thrill than sharing Jesus with someone who has never heard.”
*Name changed. Don Graham is a writer for IMB.