It was an emotional night for Coats Baptist Church from Coats, North Carolina. Fifty church members barely held back whoops of joy as “their” missionaries took the stage at the Feb. 1 International Mission Board’s Sending Celebration near Richmond, Virginia. Moments later, they silently wiped tears as they gathered around Bradley and Ember Wilkie to pray.
“We aren’t afraid to send our best [to the mission field] for advancing the kingdom,” Neal Thornton, senior pastor at Coats Baptist Church, said, showing support for the new missionaries. “We want to be a sending church. We want to train our people in the missionary task.”
The couple felt God’s pull to missions years ago, but it was never the right time or place. Bradley went with members of his church to IMB’s Missions College where the missionaries help churches understand the missionary task. The training energized their church. Coats Baptist began to serve alongside an Indigenous church to engage a least-reached people group in Mexico. That’s when things began to fall in place for Bradley and Ember.
“God used those trips, as well as our burden for the nations and our life experiences, to call us to serve as logistics coordinators in Mexico,” Ember said. Bradley shook his head in amazement at that sentence and added, “We aren’t seminary trained. We are lay people from the church. And now the church I grew up in — the church that invested and discipled us — is sending us to the nations.”
The Wilkies were part of 46 IMB missionaries unanimously appointed by the board of trustees on Feb. 1. Chuck Pourciau, trustee chairman and lead pastor of Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, urged the new missionaries at the Sending Celebration to not get caught up in having a perfect personality profile or excellence of speech. He warned there will be tough days on the field, even times when they might doubt their abilities and training.
“The call of God will be the only thing keeping you on the field. If you are sitting in those seats tonight, you have demonstrated that you are called,” Pourciau said. “Be energized by the fact that God called YOU. Embrace that call when all hope seems lost.”
Michael and Jennifer Garner have done just that — clung to this call. When they first arrived on the mission field, the Garners planned on serving through the IMB’s mid-term option, a two-month to three-year commitment. But after three years, God made it clear He wanted them to continue serving overseas.
“Now, after eight years of serving, we are excited to finally be going through the appointment and sending process,” Jennifer said.
Northeast Baptist Church, Norman, Oklahoma, has been a constant support in their ministry. Ed Sasnett, senior pastor, admitted it humbles him every time God calls someone out of their congregation to serve. To Sasnett, the Oklahoma church is a typical Southern Baptist congregation — gives to the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® and teaches about missions; but for the Garners, their sending church is anything but normal. They call the church their “safety net,” knowing they can always call on them. Northeast Baptist has walked through the highs and lows with the couple.
These church connections allow missionaries like the Garners to address the greatest problem in the world — spiritual lostness. They know God’s solution is the gospel and feel honored to be sent to share the good news.
Pourciau asked the appointees that once they arrive to their new homes they not wait until they mastered the culture and language before telling of God’s love. Instead, he challenged them to just start sharing.
“What God has called you to do can be done today and every day,” he said.
Daniel and Kaci Nease nodded their heads in agreement to the charge. Four years ago, they went straight from college to Poland with an IMB mid-term program. They hit the ground running. They worked with English camps and did evangelism and discipleship while trying to start a new church. When the Ukraine-Russia war started, their focus shifted to helping refugees. Now, they return to Europe as a newly-appointed, long-term missionary family of five with plans to plant a new church. This type of work holds a special place in the heart of their sending church, The Mission from Fort Morgan, Colorado. In fact, The Mission is a church plant too.
“As a new church plant in Colorado, we set goals and markers. One was that we’d plant another church,” Joe Bowman, pastor of the church and Kaci’s father, said. “Little did we know this church was going to be on the other side of the world. We are so thankful for the IMB and how churches are connected to the nations.”
The next Sending Celebration will take place in June at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in New Orleans.
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