RICHMOND, Va.—During 2017, Southern Baptists — in partnership with thousands of International Mission Board personnel around the world — seized opportunities toward fulfilling the Great Commission. Three young women whose hearts have been focused on following their Lord's call to international missions led Southern Baptists' efforts in giving and going.
Southern Baptists' efforts to give, send and celebrate through the IMB in the past year included:
Give: eternal focus
Madeline Ray was given a Make-A-Wish Foundation "wish" as a teenager due to a medical condition related to hemorrhagic strokes. Madeline's heart's desire was to use her "wish" to make an eternal impact in taking the Gospel to an unreached people group.
So Madeline donated the funds for her wish to the International Mission Board. IMB President David Platt shared a video about Madeline's eternity-focused heart during IMB trustees' June meeting in Phoenix.
"This is what this meeting in Phoenix is about: It's about followers of Christ and churches across our country who give an offering every week, saying, 'We want to give for the spread of the Gospel to those who have never heard it," Platt said. "(Madeline) could have another hemorrhaging stroke at any moment. She knows that any moment could be her last.
"To hear her saying, 'I just want to use whatever moments I've got to make the Gospel known to people who have never heard it' — may that spirit mark Southern Baptists. May that spirit drive everything we do in and through the IMB."
Give: Live redeemed
The Christian witness that Sarah Harmening shared in her 17 years of life will continue to reverberate for eternity through a generous memorial gift presented by her family to the IMB. Sarah died in a bus accident near Atlanta in June as she traveled as part of an International World Changers team from her home church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., to her first international mission trip to Botswana. In honor of Sarah's life and legacy, her family delivered $91,120, encompassing gifts from her church and community and from across the country, to David Platt for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
"Sarah's greatest passion in life was her relationship with Jesus Christ and making Him known," her mother Karen said. "This has been the perfect way to honor Sarah's legacy because it is continuing her mission — and ours — lifting high the name of Jesus Christ and making Him known in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."
Sarah's passion inspired the hashtag "#servelikesarah" and theme "Live Redeemed" for her family's gift-giving efforts.
Platt said that Sarah "lived for what lasts forever. The fruit of that, in this gift to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, is going far beyond what anyone could have asked or imagined. We praise God that even now her life resounds for His glory so that others may hear the Gospel in Botswana and beyond."
Platt also reported to trustees on June 12 that through Southern Baptists' "faithful, generous and consistent giving" of more than $98 million to the Cooperative Program and approximately $153 million to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, the IMB has reached financially stability for sending out more workers with the Gospel.
Send: Primary reason
A highlight for many Southern Baptists was participating in the appointment of new international missionaries sent from their churches. The missionaries were honored at a Sending Celebration during the 2017 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix.
In the service, Platt recounted a recent trip to the Himalayas where he interacted with a family whose ancestors have passed down diligent worship of the Buddha for generations.
"I just want to remind us that the reason we came together over 170 years ago (as a convention) and the reason we're here in Phoenix this week is to change the future of little girls and boys and moms and dads, like these in Nepal and all over the world," Platt emphasized.
"The stage is set for limitless Southern Baptists to take the Gospel to the nations," he said. "And my question for us tonight is, 'Will we send them?'"
Southern Baptists also celebrated the sending of new international missionaries in March, September and November.
Send: Redeemed to go
As a young girl, Abuk was displaced with her family and landed in Amarillo, Texas, in America's Heartland. And there, God used a simple greeting — at the time, a mistake, it seemed — to connect Abuk's family with First Baptist Church and the greater Southern Baptist family.
Abuk has now embarked on a journey to answer God's call to return to Africa to make disciples. Through her obedient response to take the Gospel to the nations, Abuk is subtly redefining what many people believe missionaries to be. Her humble spirit and inspiring story shows how each follower of Jesus has his or her own part to play in God's mission.
Send: 28,551 potential missionaries
How many missionaries could be sent from just a fraction of all Southern Baptist churches today? At the IMB dinner June 12 in Phoenix, Platt and the crowd of approximately 1,350 Southern Baptists estimated that their congregations have a combined potential of 28,551 missionaries.
Those in attendance compiled the number of students, singles, husbands, wives, moms, dads, kids and grandparents in their churches who might take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the billions of people who have yet to hear it.
"A word we've been using a lot in the IMB lately is 'limitless' — and tonight, we invite you to imagine the truly limitless possibilities that exist for the spread of the Gospel in the world if we will take seriously the sending of missionaries from every one of our churches," Platt told the church members and leaders attending the event held in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting.
Celebrate: 25,297 years of service
IMB traditionally hosts a celebration every five years. The 2017 celebration included appreciation for 31 new emeriti, with 950 emeriti able to attend the quinquennial reunion despite hurricane-related weather which hampered travel for some. In all, the group represented 25,297 years of Southern Baptist missionary service. Trustees participated in honoring their faithfulness to proclaim the Gospel.
Pearl Vernon*, who served 31 years in the Middle East, helped establish a national music conservatory in the country where she served. The conservatory offered the only comprehensive music program in the Middle East.
"I could have been enveloped in the music," Vernon said. "I could have very easily lost my way as far as why I was there. God impressed upon me … I was there to share Jesus, and music was my avenue."
She added that God "can use a musician. He can use a plumber. Whatever your skills and talents are, He can use that to increase His Kingdom."
Platt described the years of faithfulness exhibited at the celebration of emeriti as "breathtaking."
"I look over 170 years (of IMB history) and I see a legacy of faithful Gospel proclamation," Platt said. He noted that the local church is God's agent for sending missionaries, while the IMB exists to equip churches to send out more missionaries, marketplace missionaries, retirees and others.
While "we have limited ability to send out fully supported missionaries around the world," Platt said, there's a new push to be limitless, to exhaust all avenues of sending people to spread God's message.
"The stage is set for Southern Baptists to send more missionaries, through a multiplicity of pathways," Platt said in June. "Oh, Southern Baptists, 200 years later, would (it) be said of us, that we felt the nations must be converted through our cooperation, through our praying more than we ever have before, giving more than we ever have before, and sending more than we ever have before." (BP)