Rachelle and I have returned from overseas after spending a great deal of time with many of our Southern Baptist missionaries. I have been able to visit five of our eleven overseas IMB regional headquarters in the past two years, and have spoken personally to several hundred of our Southern Baptist missionaries during that same time. There is so much to be excited about and thankful for when it comes to Southern Baptist cooperative mission work. This most recent mission trip reinforced several things I already knew about our work and taught me several other things. In no particular order, the following are several observations from our most recent mission trip. The comment section is now open and unmoderated.
(1). Just as the sun never used to set on the British Empire, the sun never sets on the work of Southern Baptists. There is no region of the world where you will not find Southern Baptists, called by God and appointed by the IMB, reaching people with gospel of Jesus Christ.
(2). Though there over 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries appointed by the IMB, there are tens of thousands of other gospel missionaries serving on mission fields who have been appointed by various other sending agencies representing various evangelical churches and denominations.
(3). It is not always easy - nor necessary - to distinguish between those new church plants and conversions on the mission field that are the direct result of Southern Baptist mission work as compared to the work of other evangelical missionaries or indigenous believers. All evangelicals have a tendency to cooperate on the mission field for the cause of Christ and do not pay near as much attention to separation as people in the States do.
(4). One of the missionaries with whom we were most impressed in terms of her language abilities, vision to reach her city and hard work sincerely thanked me for representing her back in the States. She was appointed in 2004 after answering 'yes' when asked if she possessed a private prayer language. The new policies which forbid such appointments went into effect in 2005.
(5). Some of the best International Mission Board work in difficult places of the world occurs through doors opened via medical missions.
(6). The baptism and new church start statistics - reported by Southern Baptist Strategy Coordinators on the mission field and compiled in the annual ASR - are difficult to grasp. Over 25,000 new church starts on the mission field in 2006 represents five new church starts for every one Southern Baptist missionary. Even accounting for the fact that many new churches are often begun though indigenous believers planting those new churches, it is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of 25,000 new church plants on the mission field associted with Southern Baptists. On the ground observation reveals the difficulty of even beginning one new church in dangerous parts of the world - the very frontier where Southern Baptists are putting most the emphasis.
(7). When Southern Baptist leaders spend more time on the mission field with our missionaries, I believe the emphasis on 'numbers' will diminish and our appreciation for steadfast faithfulness in terms of ministry will increase. William Carey spent nearly two decades on the mission field before he had ONE convert. I sometimes wonder if we Southern Baptists have lost perspective on what it takes to be a patient in building faithful ministries.
(8). If I were a Southern Baptist missionary on the field, supported by Southern Baptist Cooperative Program funds, and I lived in a city where there were Baptist churches started by Southern Baptists, I would attend that church instead of a larger non-denominational church.
(9). The one thing that keeps me a Southern Baptist pastor and my church a Southern Baptist congregation is the cooperative work we Southern Baptists do together in the area of missions; work that when closely observed is even better than imagined.
(10). The world is a lot smaller than it was even a decade ago. Through the internet, skype, emails and other forms of communication, it is possible to be overseas and keep up in real time with things going on back home - even if it is watching the disappointing loss of the Cowboys on a laptop.
In His Grace,