Southern Baptist messengers to the SBC annual meeting in Dallas ended their first day of meetings in celebration. In an International Mission Board service marked by testimonies and prayer for the approximate 11,700 people groups around the world, IMB President David Platt reminded the audience that the SBC exists first and foremost for the spread the gospel.
“Tonight we have the opportunity to remember the reason we came together in the first place. We exist to combine the efforts of our churches for the spread of the gospel in the world,” Platt said.
Platt introduced 49 newly appointed missionaries who were approved by IMB trustees in their June 11 meeting in Dallas. The celebration also recognized 30 journeymen — recent college graduates who will serve internationally as full-time, fully funded church planters for two- to three-year stints.
All are going to “people and places where the gospel has not yet gone,” Platt said.
Every Church Has A Role
The celebration emphasized the importance of the local church in identifying, nurturing and supporting missionaries. Platt introduced a new resource for churches: “Foundations,” a magazine-style document summarizing the biblical and theological foundations of what the IMB does around the world.
Platt also stressed the cooperative nature of Southern Baptists’ global evangelistic efforts. “We have given together all year long. By God’s grace through you, the IMB is on firm financial ground, so tonight we’re going to pray together, and we’re going to send together,” Platt said.
The new missionaries together with local church representatives entered the hall to the beating of African drums, which heightened the excitement and anticipation of the evening. Meghan, a journeyman to Southeast Asia whose last name wasn’t used, opened the service with her story.
Meghan said, “The stories we tell you are glimpses into how our churches played their role in our call to missions. I’m from a small church of 100 people, and I’m the first missionary we’ve sent out in 60 years.”
The 79 represent both large and small churches in large cities and small towns in the United States and abroad.
Fiodor and Galina Baraniuk, newly appointed missionaries to Europe, grew up in the former Soviet Union where life was “difficult for Christians,” Galina said. The two came to faith in Christ at a young age in the Soviet Union and later moved to the United States. They are being sent by Meadow Brook Baptist Church in Byhalia, Mississippi.
“Through our church, God moved our hearts for European people,” Galina said.
Jason and Kim Milton are sent by Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. The couple spent their careers “climbing the corporate ladder. But the more we served our church, the more we felt called to missions,” Jason said.
“Through our church, which has a heart for the nations, we learned from missionaries and began working with refugees,” Kim said.
The couple, along with their four children, will serve in Kenya.
Prayer for Every People Group
Platt also led the crowd to pray for people groups around the world by name, instructing the audience to open an envelope placed on their chairs before the service.
“There are an estimated 11,700 distinct ethnic, or people, groups in the world. In this room, we have about that many people, which means the card you are holding is most likely not matched by anyone else in this room. For the next few minutes, the responsibility of praying for that people group is upon you,” Platt said.
Together, the audience prayed for people groups with little or no access to the gospel, for people groups that are less than 2 percent Christian, and for people groups with a significant number of believers where churches are able to multiply.
Before the prayer, Platt reminded the audience, “We are about to talk to God. …There are 7.2 billion people on this planet, and right now, we have His attention in this hall.”
Prayer for More Workers
As the service concluded, Southern Baptists disbursed across the hall to lay hands on and pray for those being sent out.
“With 2.8 billion in the world who have yet to hear the gospel and a room of 10,000 people who have the gospel, God may be calling out more than just these 79,” Platt said.
He challenged the audience by a show of hands to commit to ask God, “Do you want me to go, too?” Across the hall, hands raised.
Referring to Southern Baptists’ tradition of voting on resolutions with raised hands during their annual meetings, Platt concluded, “With these hands raised, my prayer is that this may be the most eternally fruitful vote cast in this room in these two days.”
Ann Lovell is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Virginia.