Unity, fellowship and promises of mutual support characterized the installation of International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood and the Sending Celebration of 19 newly appointed international missionaries at Grove Avenue Baptist Church, in Richmond, Wednesday, Feb. 6. Chitwood is the 13th president of the 173-year-old International Mission Board, the largest denominational missionary-sending body among American evangelicals.
Southern Baptist leaders from across the convention and a number of state conventions attended the event, which included worship led by The Summit Church from Durham, N.C., remarks by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, a charge by former IMB President Tom Elliff, and a response by Chitwood. WMU Executive Director Sandy Wisdom-Martin and IMB President Emeritus Jerry Rankin also participated in the service, which featured testimonies from the 19 new missionaries.
Andy and Kesiah Morris were two of the 19 missionaries recognized in the service. The couple, sent from Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, will serve in South Korea.
“As an international couple, it always seemed like we were caught between two different worlds,” Andy Morris said. “While our marriage was strong and our lives filled with reasons to be content, there was something deeper happening inside our relationship. It was pushing us to go out into the world and live in multicultural ‘in-between’ spaces.”
“One day last summer, we finally recognized this and made peace with the idea of uprooting ourselves and moving overseas,” Kesiah Morris said. “A few days later, through a divine appointment, God placed a clear and unexpected call upon our lives to go as missionaries.”
Unity in mission
The calling to go to the nations is one that Southern Baptists have sought to support since the Southern Baptist Convention’s beginnings. Unity around the Great Commission is core to Southern Baptist identity, Tom Elliff said in his charge to Chitwood and the new missionaries.
“I sat there and cried thinking about how wonderful it is that we have the privilege of joining in this incredible mission of God of sending these people around the world,” Elliff said. “That’s happened thousands and thousands of times (from the IMB’s inception) by the grace of God.”
Preaching from Philippians 2, Elliff reminded those gathered that Southern Baptists share a sacred mission, a solemn mandate which should not be taken lightly, and a specific manner in which we are to live our lives.
Reminding the new appointees that the earliest Southern Baptist missionaries packed their belongings in caskets knowing they would never return, Elliff stressed the importance of the word, “together.”
“From the outset, there were people who realized that we can do better together than we can apart,” Elliff said.
In 1925, Southern Baptists came together again to form the Cooperative Program, Elliff said.
“That’s when we realized if we really wanted to exponentially multiply the ability to send people around the globe this would be the best way to do it,” Elliff said. “The best way is to do things together.”
Chitwood, with his wife, Michelle, by his side, responded to Elliff’s charge by asking the newly appointed missionaries and members of the home office staff to stand. He also acknowledged the more than 3,600 IMB missionaries serving around the world.
Reading from 2 Corinthians 7:2, Chitwood said, “Make room for us in your hearts. That was Paul’s request. Make room for us in your hearts.”
Chitwood thanked Southern Baptist churches, and state and denominational leaders, “for making room for us in your hearts” and in their prayers and in both family and church budgets. He urged individuals and churches to look for ways to partner with the IMB “in this great task of sharing Christ with the nations.”
Chitwood stressed that he was not just asking for support on behalf of IMB staff or missionaries. Instead, he said he was asking on behalf of lost people around the world “who most of us will never know until and unless we see them around the throne. Thank you for making room for them in your hearts, your prayers, your giving, going and sending.”
“Together,” Chitwood concluded, “we will strive in all business to carry out that work, to lead in a way that honors those who made room for us and (to honor) the Lord whose ambassadors we all are.”
Ann Lovell is a writer in Richmond, Virginia.