Twenty-five years ago, I left the States with my family and headed for Sub-Saharan Africa. We took a few days on the way to stop in Paris before beginning our missionary career. I may have studied the French language in high school, but I certainly had not mastered it.
Our first morning in Paris, hunger drove us from our hotel to a quaint street-side cafe. For several minutes, I stood staring at the food, unable to order. Then I suddenly recalled two French words, pulling them from the recesses of my mind. I successfully ordered bread and cheese for my family. Obviously I wasn’t language proficient, but at least my family ate.
I remember even now one important French phrase from my studies: raison d’etre. It’s a well-known phrase that means “reason to exist.” It’s an idea I’ve considered often during my career with the International Mission Board because it’s important to be reminded of your reason to exist, especially during a long missionary career. It keeps you focused and centers your life on your primary calling. After all, there are many distractions and temptations in life, and it’s imperative to discipline yourself to remember why you exist. Raison d’etre.
At SBC in Phoenix this summer, Southern Baptists were reminded of their raison d’etre. And with such a long history, it’s helpful to be reminded now and then of your primary purpose, just to keep you on track.
On Monday night, IMB hosted a dinner during which our president, David Platt, reminded us all from a historical perspective why we exist. The SBC is a collective of churches that has joined together for one simple, yet eternally important reason: the spread of the gospel among all peoples and places. It is, quite literally, the reason we exist. It was not simply why we were there in Phoenix; it’s why we are here at all.
With such a long history, it’s helpful to be reminded now and then of your primary purpose.
That reality was further driven home during the Sending Celebration on Tuesday night during the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting. During that time we celebrated the cooperative sending of thirty-one new missionaries to the field. Surrounded by thousands of Southern Baptist brothers and sisters, we were corporately reminded—in a very concrete manner—that we exist to get the gospel to the nations.
SBC friends and family, this is our raison d’etre. We are built for the spread of the gospel.
Have We Lost Our Way?
Although the Sending Celebration was inspiring, I could not help but notice the imbalance of several thousand messengers gathered to send, and though we exist to spread the gospel, we are sending only a few missionaries compared to our numbers. I began to wonder if it might be complacency. Or maybe that we’ve become distracted. Not every one of us can go, but we all have a role to play in global missions. Maybe the Sending Celebration is a reminder at this juncture in our history to rekindle our resolve.
Platt asked a simple question during the celebration, “Why are we here?” The answer to that simple question is profound and should order our lives, set a roadmap for our churches, and give us all a cooperative raison d’etre.
Praying, Giving, Going, and Sending
We, the Southern Baptist Convention, exist for the express purpose of cooperatively praying, giving, going, and sending in fulfillment of our obligation to the nations. This statement succinctly imparts our raison d’etre. It’s a story embedded in our extensive history, and it is the vision and mission of our legacy.
We, the Southern Baptist Convention, exist for the express purpose of cooperatively praying, giving, going, and sending in fulfillment of our obligation to the nations.
But we cannot rest on past accomplishments. We must not accept this current retreat from sending missionaries. In that vein, Platt passionately announced that after years of decreasing numbers of missionaries, the stage is now set to begin to increase missionary sending again. It’s time to embrace “limitless.” We have the opportunity to embrace anew our raison d’etre. It will require a comprehensive strategy to pray specifically, give sacrificially, go consistently, and send selflessly.
Across my twenty-five-year career, I have had to remind myself continually of my reason for doing what I’m doing. Likewise, after this year’s annual meeting in Phoenix, I am zealous that the Southern Baptist Convention not be distracted from our purpose but rather seize this pivotal moment.
So our challenge is to consistently recall our collective raison d’etre—to imagine in an Ephesians 3:20 manner what God may do if we expect “limitless” response. Let’s expect “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” Let’s dream again about what God may do if we embrace the reason we exist and respond in faith.
D. Ray Davis serves on the mobilization team at IMB. He and his family previously served among Sub-Saharan African Peoples. You can follow him @DRayDavis.