By / Oct 25

A little over a year ago, I plucked my family out of the Land of Enchantment (New Mexico) to return to the great state of Texas. I was having the time of my life as the pastor of a small, thriving church in the middle of nowhere, but as my dad’s health deteriorated, I reached out to a pastor in Texas and said, “Help me find me a church, any church in Dallas/Fort Worth.”

While some may only consider bigger or larger churches, I’ve always gone in the opposite direction, serving progressively smaller churches in almost 23 years of ministry. In a follow-up call, I remember saying, “Bro, there can be 10-20 people; just help me get to DFW.” His reply, however, caught me off guard: “How about DOM of Collin Baptist Association?” 

I was speechless for a moment but replied, “I’m 37 years old; I can’t be a DOM.” For those unaware, “DOM,” or “director of missions,” is now called an “associational mission strategist” and used to be called “associational missionary.” If you’re still scratching your head, this role leads the most local level of Southern Baptist Convention cooperation, usually in a county or a few neighboring counties. In fact, according to Ray Gentry, “Even before there was a Southern Baptist Convention, associations were the cornerstone of cooperation among Baptist churches in America.”

Anyway, I had a problem.

I knew of a few exceptions, but I’d only been in churches with older, retired pastors-turned-associational missionaries. They were always incredibly encouraging, but in my ignorance or personal experience, I only saw them as golf buddies, lunch partners, and pulpit suppliers. Well, I’m terrible at golf, and while I love to eat, I didn’t think my calling was to spend my days going from restaurant to restaurant. 

So, I said no, but my friend countered that my reluctance to replicate my personal experience, desire to network with churches for church planting, experience in church revitalization, and a heart for encouraging pastors was precisely what his association needed. I nevertheless agreed to pray about it, and he said he would, too.

Before I go on, allow me to provide a caveat. I have nothing against retired pastors serving as directors of missions or associational mission strategists. In fact, I think it’s a great thing! Many have a wealth of experience and wisdom they could provide young pastors starting out, churches going through pastoral transitions, and more. My experience, however, simply led me to my earlier response.

Suffice it to say the association received my resume, and I eventually landed an interview. In my questionnaire and subsequent interviews, I made my feelings pretty straightforward: I believe an association is at its best when it is focused on planting churches, strengthening churches, and encouraging pastors, not just serving as the one-stop spot for pulpit supply, golf outings, or endless meals. 

Don’t get me wrong, pulpit supply and fellowship are a part of it; I just didn’t believe they were the heart of it. Before I knew it, our association agreed and called me unanimously. We were on our way to lead the Collin Baptist Association, a network of Southern Baptist churches in Collin County, one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation.

Understanding local associations

In the Southern Baptist Convention, you have local churches all over the country. Most of these fully autonomous churches choose to cooperate with local associations, state conventions, and the national convention. Some may be more or less involved on any level, but in a sense, these operate in concentric circles to ultimately fulfill the Great Commission.

Think about it this way, by way of an example:

  • A local church can go door-to-door to evangelize.
  • A local association can host revival services in which their churches participate.
  • A state convention offers evangelism training or conferences.
  • Our SBC entities offer curricula or programs to use.

In other words, the local church aims to advance the Kingdom in their city, the local association aims to help the local churches advance the Kingdom in their county, the state convention aims to help local associations and churches to advance the Kingdom in their state, and all cooperate as the Southern Baptist Convention to advance the Kingdom across the country and around the world.

While there’s more to it, it all comes down to cooperation. One local church can accomplish much for the Kingdom, for certain, but in cooperation with 120? 2000? 40,000? The impact on the Kingdom only grows! Thus, this article on the value of the most local level of Southern Baptist cooperation, the local association. I want to answer two questions:

  1. What is the value of the local association?
  2. How can you partner well with an association?

The value of the local association

I realize this may come across as self-serving since I’m an associational missionary trying to tell you there is value in a local association. Still, I truly believe there is significant value for you and your church. For example, when I was the pastor of Mayhill Baptist Church, we gave generously to several missionaries and church plants. Even if we threw all our financial support behind one church planter or missionary, it would fall short of covering their financial needs. However, in cooperation with other churches in our association, we were able to fund these dear saints to advance the Kingdom fully.

In other words, one church can accomplish a lot, but many like-minded churches partnering together can accomplish much more. That’s true of the Cooperative Program, and it’s true for local associations. Our association in New Mexico had an ESL (English as a Second Language) ministry that reached scores of Spanish-speaking immigrants with the good news of Jesus. Where’d the volunteers come from? The local churches in our association. How was it funded? From the generosity of the churches in our association.

I could go on and on about how local churches can do more in their geographical areas by cooperating with like-minded churches in their association, whether through disaster relief, church planting, pregnancy centers, food banks, or evangelistic events, but I think you get the idea. One church can make a difference in the Kingdom, but dozens of churches working together can do so much more.

Additionally, for pastors, we know ministry is awesome, but it can be hard at times. It can be lonely. We can’t always open up about our struggles with one of our church members. One of the things virtually all local associations offer is the opportunity to get together to encourage and be encouraged by fellow pastors. Back in New Mexico, my best friend was the only other pastor we had in our association under 40. We sought and received much wisdom and insight from the pastors with much more experience than us––it was such a blessing.

From working with fellow churches in your area to meet needs and advance the Kingdom to finding mentors and confidants in fellow, like-minded pastors, the value of the local association comes in looking beyond what you can accomplish within and from the four walls of your church. Watch what happens when you link arms with fellow pastors and churches in your area to do more, together.

Partner well with an association

However, you won’t see the value of local associations unless you cooperate with them. My friend J. Allen Murray says, “Cooperation necessitates participation.” We all had those team projects in school where one or two didn’t pull their weight, and local associations can be the same. An association’s value is only as great as the level of participation from the churches in the association.

If you’re a pastor or church member, go to the meetings, go to the fellowships, and reach out to the associational missionary to ask how your church can be a part of what the association is trying to do. Don’t just use the association as the one-stop spot for pulpit supply; see what God is doing in and through your association, and find a way to be a part. If you don’t see anything happening, get involved and make it happen! 

Are you skilled at church constitutions and by-laws? Let the associational missionary know you’d love to help if a church wants to rework its governing docs. Are you a whiz with all things audio/video or live stream? Offer to help share your skills with those that need it. Do you have decades upon decades of experience in pastoral ministry? Offer to take the youngest pastor in your association out to eat and become his mentor. Again, I could go on and on, but to see more value in your local association, you need to get involved. 

Southern Baptists say we are better together often, and rightfully so. It’s in our DNA. We know it’s the foundation of the Cooperative Program, but it’s also the foundation of our local churches, local associations, state conventions, and the family of churches we call the Southern Baptist Convention. But remember, cooperation necessitates participation––give your local association a try, pour into it, and let it pour into you. If you do, I suspect you’ll join me as the world’s biggest fan of the most local, practical level of cooperation in the Southern Baptist Convention.

By / Jul 26

Tears of joy filled Stacy’s eyes, her elbows propped onto a desk in Central Asia. She couldn’t believe the email from an acquaintance. Women from her sending church wanted to throw her a virtual baby shower. Stacy was expecting her first child, but Central Asian culture didn’t involve hosting a party for the expecting mother, but instead the soon-to-be parents would hold a big feast for family, friends, and neighbors about a month after the child was born. 

Stacy hadn’t realized how much missing this American milestone would matter until she was halfway around the globe. But that detail hadn’t been overlooked by her sending church—including coordinating the delivery of gifts with one of the pastors when he would visit in the middle of her family’s first four-year term.

A church’s commitment and support for sent-ones is a key ingredient to seeing the gospel reach the ends of the earth and extends beyond prayer (although prayer is a non-negotiable component). The partnership between the local church and its missionaries is a work in progress and doesn’t transpire without intentionality.

Finding your role in missions

Cultivating an environment where church members value taking the gospel to nonbelievers around the globe and understand their part—through sending or going—is crucial. With feedback from pastors and missions leaders, here are five ways your church can participate in missions through sending out workers well.

1. Foster a missions-minded perspective within your church. Unless a church deeply cares about God’s heart for his glory among the nations, a fellowship will not be actively engaged in its global role. Elders should possess a vision for how to engage the lost worldwide and bring members along in this plan. One practical starting place: pray for countries around the world from the pulpit Sunday mornings.

Consider creating a monthly missions reading group to discuss books that equip those interested in missions (and members to grow in their understanding) that cover topics such as conflict resolution, crosscultural evangelism, global discipleship methodologies, missiology, and ecclesiology. 

2. Be on the lookout for potential missionaries and pathways to get them to the field.

Equip potential missionaries through involvement in the church life and ministry opportunities (evangelism, discipleship, service). Consider engaging your fellowship in local area ministries that soon-to-be goers can come alongside to learn, serve, and grow in outreach and relational skills. 

Many field workers leave their place of service due to team conflicts. Help future sent-ones cultivate conflict resolution skills while at your fellowship so they are better equipped to handle these interpersonal issues down the road. Additionally, ensure workers are aware of emotional needs and develop tools to utilize as personal issues are often magnified on the field due to the stress of a new culture, language, and team dynamics.

Church leaders should research organizations that align with the fellowship and its vision for reaching the lost and determine what it would look like to send a member through that group. for church that are a part of the Southern Baptist Convention, that organization is the International Mission Board.  

3. Cultivate the missionaries’ church connections. Involve your congregation in developing a relationship with the goers (such as inviting them over for a meal) and allow them to be a part of a public commissioning service. The better a fellowship knows their sent-ones and the more they are involved in this process, the better they will engage on the field with them. 

Prior to the sent-one leaving, provide ample opportunities for the missionary to be seen and interact with your church. This can be accomplished through visiting small groups, interviewing the goer up front briefly on a Sunday morning, having the missionary visit the children’s ministry, and publicly praying for that sent-one. 

Create a support team for the field worker as they prepare to leave. These are folks who know the missionary well and commit to pray for and remind others to care well for the goer. 

Clear expectations about how the church intends to support the missionary while overseas (financial support, pastoral/church visit, corporate prayer support) should be communicated to the fellowship and goer. This reminds everyone of the partnership and the role each will strive to fulfill. 

4. Actively support the goer on the field. The first term of service can be extremely stressful as the goer encounters a new language, culture, and team. Provide regular outlets to listen to the missionary as they serve; this allows your fellowship to track with their ministry and health (spiritual, emotional, marital). The church should be ready to assist when necessary with professional counseling, physical needs, and additional training.

Be creative in reminding your congregation to pray for your supported worker. Consider a short video call during a members meeting, Sunday school class, or small group with an update from the missionary. Let kids learn about your sent-ones during Sunday classes and include updated prayer prompts. Provide books that give insight into ministering in places where your goer lives on your bookstall.

5. Extend stateside support when field workers return. Ask the missionary to share about her ministry with your congregation and encourage members to practice hospitality with her. Invite the worker’s input regarding missions at your fellowship.

The return to the U.S. after being away for years can be challenging. Instill a healthy understanding among your congregants that missionaries are to be commended for their faithful service, but not idolized. Provide space for conversations about what was and wasn’t working ministry and partnership-wise between the missionary and church leaders. Collaborate with other churches and organizations to grow in serving sent-ones and to leverage ministry reach.

No matter your fellowship size, every member can engage in global ministry through equipping, supporting, and praying for missionaries. As your church strives to be a light to the nations through the proclamation of Christ, may your hearts find joy in partnering with those sent out among you to the lost across the earth.

By / Feb 16

When building a children’s ministry at a church, there is so much to consider: Which curriculum should we use? How many volunteers do we need? How do we keep parents in the loop? And that’s before we run into stalled check-in computers, missing activity sheets, and floors that need to be vacuumed. In his newest book, Keeping Your Children’s Ministry on Mission, Jared Kennedy shares a four-fold approach for gospel-centered, missional children’s ministry. In the book, he helps leaders — who can easily get distracted with all tasks of children’s ministry — to keep their focus on the gospel. Below, Kennedy answers questions that will help you form a faithful ministry to children.

What are the four big ways that the gospel shapes our goals for children’s ministry, and how do these gospel goals translate into a strategy for children’s discipleship? 

In children’s ministry, we’re sometimes tempted to let the trappings of serving with excellence keep us from seeing where the real glory is. I’ve experienced this temptation practically. I’ve let the missing activity sheet and empty Goldfish box stress me out. While it’s not a bad thing to want to welcome families to our church with open arms, there are times when my worry over doing ministry well has revealed a misplaced faith. The level of anxiety I feel reveals that I’m trusting my hard work or attractional programming instead of trusting in Christ. 

Paul stands in stark contrast to the way we tend to operate. In his letters to the Corinthian church, Paul gives us his vision for courageous, gospel-centered ministry — the kind of ministry that finds strength even in the midst of weakness. I believe there are at least four ways the simple gospel message shapes our goals for children’s ministry, and we can see each of them present in Paul’s description of his own ministry in 1 Corinthians 1:31–2:5. 

First, the gospel seasons our hospitality with humility; we don’t come to children with lofty speech but with humble and full hearts, boasting only in the Lord. 

Second, the gospel centers our teaching on Jesus Christ and him crucified. All else pales in comparison to the central place of this message. 

Third, the gospel forms our discipleship; we’re intentional about training children, and we have confidence that the Spirit’s goal is to grow kids in conformity with Christ’s story. 

Finally, the gospel fuels our mission so that the next generation’s faith does not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Some people today question whether or not having an age-graded children’s ministry is even needed. Why do you think it’s still important? 

It’s true. Some church leaders have decided that children’s ministry programming is no longer necessary. Their desire is to empower parents as disciple-makers and also to help kids build relationships with people of all ages in the church. These are good and biblical desires, but there are downsides to eliminating children’s ministry from the church calendar. Kids trained from an early age might pull off sitting through a long sermon without rolling matchbox cars down the wooden pews, but will unchurched visitors and new believers be as successful?

Think about it. Why should we have young children sit all the way through a sermon they don’t understand? As we pursue ways to help children experience intergenerational church life, we also need ministry approaches that remember kids from unbelieving homes and that capitalize on the pedagogical advantage of age-directed lessons. Even within the Bible, there seem to be some parts — Song of Songs, for example — that should be taught publicly (2 Tim. 3:16–17) but seem to be reserved for adults and older teens, not for younger children (Song 8:4). Other parts of the Bible, such as Proverbs, are geared toward youth (Prov. 1:8; cf. Ps. 119:9–16)! 

We have to keep our priorities in order. The church’s goal in discipling the next generation is not to train kids so they can sit quietly through church services. Our goal is for them to hear about the Savior and, by God’s grace, be changed by him. 

In the book, you say that children’s ministry is like PBS Kids®. What do you mean?

Once I was addressing a seminary class about how to create kid-friendly and engaging children’s ministry games. One of the students objected, “That sounds like something you’d see on the children’s cable channel, Nickelodeon. Is this just keeping kids entertained?” It was a good question. After all, I think the game in question did involve slime. 

Sometimes with kids’ activities there is an entertainment factor, but now that I’ve had some time to reflect on that student’s question, I’d say (and I did say in the book!) that children’s ministry activities aren’t like Nickelodeon; they’re more like PBS Kids. There’s a goal in mind with a children’s lesson that is larger than entertainment alone — one that is bigger than selling a product or a character. Like the interactive exhibits at a children’s museum or the skits on Sesame Street, children’s ministry is an experience, but it’s an experience with an educational and relational aim. Dave Ainsworth, one of the pastors at Citizens Church in San Francisco, puts it this way: “Children’s ministry done well leads kids to learn about Jesus through hands-on, real-life, engaging discovery.” 

What does the biblical storyline teach us about kids? How should we view our children’s ministry in light of the big story of redemptive history?

We can summarize the gospel story as a fourfold movement: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. And each part teaches us about children’s ministry.

First, we discover that God created children for himself. Kids are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14). Their lives are imbued with the glory of a universe that reflects God’s beauty; they’ve been endowed with imagination and an ability to think and know. A child’s life has value because he or she is made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26–27). Children’s ministries, as a result, should emphasize safety and child protection. We protect kids because they have dignity; they’re worth it. Moreover, as image-bearers, children are also made for worship. From childhood, every human is fashioned for giving praise, so we engage kids in singing and hand motions. We teach them from their earliest days that they are made to worship their Creator.

Second, our children are fallen and sinful. They inhabit a world marred by sin, abuse, suffering, and death; they feel its pain. You’ve probably seen that children’s program where the wooly mammoth, vampire, monsters, aliens, and an overgrown canary have all invaded a side street in Manhattan. In his brilliance, Jim Henson took some of our greatest fears and made them cute and educational. The child-friendly terrors that live together on Sesame Street should remind us of the hidden reality of childhood. 

Children are glorious and beautiful gifts from God and yet within each child — behind the cuteness — there’s a fallen heart that’s twisted from the moment of conception. Even kids exchange delight in God’s glory for delight in the pleasures of the moment (Rom. 1:21; 3:23). There is a battle for affections going on in kids’ hearts, and our classroom management strategies must be aware of this reality. Yes, children need comfort, care, and a healing touch. But they also need honest correction, because it’s only when kids see the terror of their sin that they’ll see their need for redemption.

Third, redemption comes for children through Jesus. Remember, Jesus himself said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like these children” (Matt. 19:14 NLT). Jesus’s rebuke of his friends who would’ve kept kids at a distance should inspire us to include children in the life of our church communities. And his welcome of children should encourage us to call even the youngest children to faith. 

Finally, in light of the coming consummation, our children are potential brothers and sisters in Christ. When we get to glory, the most enduring relational reality will be our relationship to the Savior (Matt. 22:30). To be embraced by God’s redemption is to be adopted as God’s child, gaining a new identity, which transcends every earthly status and relationship. Rob Plummer describes it this way: “If our children stand beside us in eternity, it will not be as our children but as our blood-redeemed brothers and sisters (Rev. 7:9–12).” But if our children are going to join us as brothers and sisters in glory, they must hear the gospel now. 

Children need us to help them to look outside of themselves to the salvation Jesus offers. When we teach Christ-centered lessons and practice child evangelism, we’re helping each child see that Christ is his or her only hope.

By / Jan 6

The Muslim call to prayer filled the Central Asian village. All the men in the house slowly rose from the floor cushions to cleanse themselves for prayer — all except the one Western visitor in a private guest room. Mohammed’s heart beat as fast as a hummingbird’s wings. He had waited years for this moment to transpire.

“I will stay with our guest,” he said, stroking his long black beard. Since hospitality and honoring guests are highly valued among Central Asians, the others nodded in agreement. Cultural standards dictated a guest should never be left alone. Mohammed could pray after the group returned.

Once he was certain the other men were gone, Mohammed leaned toward the guest and whispered, “All my life, I have wanted to be near to God.” With 10 minutes of privacy, the middle-aged Muslim man asked the visitor questions about a Bible passage he had read years ago. The guest wanted to give Mohammed a copy of the New Testament in his own language, but he wouldn’t be able to return to this newfound seeker’s far-flung village without raising suspicions. They would need to find a time when Mohammed could visit the city.

What is an unreached group?

The concept of a person or group being unreached can be difficult to grasp in America where multiple churches exist on the same block. But in many parts of the world, this is not the case. A people group is considered unreached when less than 2% of its population is Christian and when that group lacks the momentum to see their people discipled. Simply put, when a people group is unreached, this means that from the time a person is born until the day they die, they do not have a chance to hear who Jesus truly is. 

People who reside in an unreached country can’t walk down the street to a church to ask questions about Jesus, and it’s unlikely they’ll find a Christian in their community. If there are believers present, they are often not open about their new faith because of the persecution and high level of personal cost that comes with leaving their former faith behind. In parts of Central Asia, for example, it’s still illegal for a Muslim to become a Christian.

According to the Joshua Project, 42.5% of the world is unreached with the gospel. This includes 61% of people (about five billion) who reside in the 10/40 Window — an area between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north latitude that stretches across Asia, the Middle East, and northern Africa. 

The Bible’s call to care for the unreached

Christians have a role to play in ensuring those without the gospel get access to it. Some believers go as missionaries to preach the gospel in hard places. But if we aren’t called to go to the unreached, then an important way we can participate in this work is through prayer (Isa. 49:6). In Acts 10, God leads the way for Gentiles to hear the gospel by sending two visions — one to Cornelius and another to Peter. While there are many important truths in this text, I want to point out three that relate to our responsibility as believers to care for the unreached.

First, Cornelius needed someone to share the gospel with him. Cornelius was not a follower of Jesus yet, but when we meet him in Acts 10, he was being drawn to God. Cornelius had “a zeal for God,” but he didn’t yet have the full picture. The Bible tells us that “no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11) — that no amount of morality or religious devotion can lead to salvation — but the seeking prayers of a person who hasn’t yet been made new can serve as a springboard to their later coming to know Christ. 

Acts tells us that Cornelius’ prayers and alms were acceptable to God (10:4). We can attribute this to God’s grace in his life (Eph. 2:8, Gal. 1:15) — grace that God brought to fullness when he sent Peter to Cornelius’s home. God handpicked the apostle to share the good news with Cornelius so that the Gentiles could repent, believe, and become a part of the global church (10:45; Rom. 10:17).

Second, Peter learned that God’s salvation plan includes the Gentiles. Through a vision, Peter learned that gospel was intended for every nation who fears God (10:35). The vision centered around food initially, but Peter quickly began to understand that God was talking about more than food. God was indicating that “all people are clean” and can become followers of Jesus (10:35). When Peter entered Cornelius’ home, it went against all the Jewish traditions and customs he’d been taught (see Lev. 20:24–26). But though he’d learned not to mingle with Gentiles, Peter now proclaimed the reality that God was making the two divided groups into one.

When Peter preached to Cornelius’ household, he emphasized the fact that God is the Lord of all — over everyone and everything (10:34, 43, and 47). Peter repeats the word “all” several times (10:36, 38, 43) in his sermon. He’s making the point that God’s plan — since Old Testament times — has been to save people from every nation (cf. Deut. 10:17; 2 Chron . 19:7; Job 34:19). God does not show partiality; his purpose is to save people from around the world, not just the Israelites (Gen. 12:3; Isa. 49:6; Psa. 67:2). 

Third, the inclusion of the Gentiles is a fulfillment of the Great Commission. It’s the mission mandate in action (Matt. 28:18–20). God was clearly orchestrating the Acts 10 events. He sent both Cornelius and Peter visions, and through both men’s obedience and the work of the Holy Spirit, many Gentiles were saved. Across the globe, God is drawing people from every tribe, tongue, and nation to himself. He works in a variety of ways: through dreams, visions, healing works, and through the witness of individual believers who share the gospel. 

How your family can pray for the unreached

As we see in Acts 10, God desires that all people to know and worship him. It is his purpose to include those without access to the gospel. As Christian parents, we can share God’s heart for the unreached with our children. Through our prayers, we can take an active role in caring for unreached people like Mohammed who waited years to meet a Christian. 

God wanted Cornelius to hear the gospel, and he sent Peter to proclaim the good news. If God cares about saving those in places where the gospel hasn’t reached yet, then we should find delight in praying for those still waiting to hear the good news. Here are five resources your family can use as you care and pray for unreached people:

  1. You can pray for Bible translation work using Wycliffe’s Bible Translators children’s book, Around the World With Kate and Mack: A Look at Languages From A to Z. This resource engages children with the impact Bible translation has on communities around the world, and it fosters a heart to pray for the Bible to continue to be translated into more languages.
  2. Pray through different countries and people groups around the world using Window on the World: An Operation World Prayer Resource. This made-for-kids missionary prayer book provides insight into what life is like for people in different countries and regions of the world, and it gives prayer prompts that families can use to pray for the people in each country to be reached with the gospel.
  3. Read Rivers Overseas, a children’s picture book that shares about how some are called to go overseas to share the gospel. The book will help children understand how God is faithful to those he calls to go.
  4. Download the free Loving Northern Africa and Middle Eastern Peoples Family Activities resource from the International Missions Board. This five-day devotion allows children to learn more about the culture and needs of unreached people in the NAME region.
  5. Finally, you can sign up for a Joshua Project newsletter and pray for an unreached people group each day. The daily email lists an unreached people group and a prayer focus for that group. During your dinner meal, on the way to school, or before bed — whatever fits your family’s schedule — you can incorporate the daily unreached group into your prayer time. 

Because Peter was a key leader in the Jerusalem church, God wanted him to be an early part of his new work among the nations. Later, when Paul was sent on his missionary journeys, he became known as the apostle to the Gentiles, but God also wanted those who were not working to reach unreached groups as their full-time work to understand God’s bigger plan. 

Peter’s ministry focus wasn’t shifting — he would still primarily focus on sharing the gospel with the Jews (Gal. 2:8) — but God wanted him to embrace the larger mission, so he gave Peter a front-row seat for the enfolding of the Gentiles into the church. God wants our families to have a front-row seat as well. We can teach our children that God is a God for all peoples by regularly praying for unreached people like Cornelius and Mohammed.

By / Dec 27

Around Christmastime, Southern Baptists are accustomed to hearing about Lottie Moon, the incredible former missionary to China who pioneered the way for many more to take the gospel to faraway lands. Dr. Rebekah Naylor, a former medical missionary to India through the International Mission Board, is referred to by many as the modern-day Lottie Moon. In addition to her many accomplishments overseas, she currently holds the title of the first female distinguished professor of missions and permanent missionary-in-residence at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Naylor was kind enough to give us a glimpse into her life as a missionary and heart for the nations. 

Elizabeth Bristow: People often refer to you as a modern-day Lottie Moon. You professed your faith in Christ at age five, and then you felt God calling you to the medical mission field eight years later. So can you describe what that moment was like for you as a 13-year-old girl? How did you sense God’s calling upon your life at this time?

Rebekah Naylor: I had learned about missions my whole life. My father was my pastor, and we prayed for missionaries. I had met missionaries in our home. But it was during a week of foreign mission emphasis in our church that missionaries were speaking. And it was in that week that I just sensed inside of me a direction that this was personal and God wanted me to do this. I could not imagine that I could do something that, in my mind, was huge. How could I do that? And it was [after] several months of prayer — I didn’t tell anyone, even my parents — that I finally said, “OK, Lord, if this is it, I’ll do it.” And immediately all the confusion went away, and there was peace.

EB: You received an undergraduate degree from Baylor in Waco, Texas, and then you completed your medical training at Vanderbilt, in Nashville, Tennessee. Following your surgical training in 1973, you were appointed to what is now the IMB. Then, it was the Foreign Mission Board. You served at the Bangalore Baptist Hospital for 29 years in Bangalore, India. During this time, the hospital expanded and experienced significant growth. Reflecting back over your years serving in Bangalore, what was the most rewarding aspect of your work?

RN: It’s hard to isolate one. Of course, seeing people made well physically, and spiritually, to find wholeness [in] Jesus, would be the most rewarding. Investing in future generations of leadership, discipleship ministries, and modeling leadership, administration, teaching, and clinical care was all very rewarding and continues to be because the hospital today is remarkable. I just could not be more rewarded, especially seeing the leadership that is strong and faithful to the Lord and to the work of the hospital.

EB: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during your 29 years serving at the hospital?

RN: You know, I tend not to think of [them]. Obviously, there were crises. There were problems. Those are not foremost in my mind because God did so many wonderful things, even in those. Yes, being away from family was probably the hardest thing. I think another challenge was communication. India is a very multilingual country with scores of major languages. In addition, they have dialects of those. So that was always a challenge, because I just wished I could have communicated well with everyone, which wasn’t possible.

EB: Besides serving as a missionary surgeon and professor, you also worked as a strategy coordinator and a church planter for the IMB in Karnataka, India, from 1992–2009. Will you give us a snapshot of that time, when you worked with medical missions and Indian pastors and helped plant 900 churches in that state?

RN: Those churches really came [about] over all the years through the hospital and its outreach through local pastors, church planters, and Indian evangelists. As patients came to the hospital, our chaplains were able to share the gospel with them. Many believed, and they were followed up with in their homes. If the interest was there and they truly believed, then Bible study groups were started, and eventually, house churches. From the beginning, we tried to ensure that they multiplied into surrounding communities. And so, multiplication is how those hundreds were possible. It was a collective effort, with much prayer and much hard work from the pastors, the evangelists, the church planters.

EB: Looking back over the time that you worked in church planting, what was the state of religious freedom like in India? And did you all have to undergo challenges when it came to that?

RN: The Constitution of India allows a person to worship as they choose. And when I went to India, it was possible to share the gospel openly in a village or a community. Over time, that became more restricted. It’s very restricted today, but over the years, it slowly became less open. Showing the Jesus film or sharing the gospel would happen more commonly in a home rather than just out by the well or something. I remember once that some of our chaplains were doing follow-up work in a village and were beaten up when they entered the village. 

The other thing we noticed is that we could no longer get resident visas to live there as missionaries. From about 1980 onward, we couldn’t get those kinds of visas. So that was another restriction. I struggled to keep a medical license. Supposedly, it was not due to my religious affiliation, but I think it probably was. And, the difficulties have continued to increase.

EB: What type of advice would you give to a young woman who is looking to pursue a calling similar to yours — in medical missions. What encouragement would you offer to someone who is praying through that?

RN: Praying through it is the key, and I think the bottom line is submission to whatever God wants you to do without any qualifications put on it. For example, “I’ll go if I have a husband,” or, “I’ll go if this happens or that.” And if we’re totally submitted to what God wants — to stay here or to go some other place — he will direct our paths. He promised that, and God keeps every promise. We have to submit to and trust him in it. That would be my advice and encouragement. Also, stay in God’s Word. Read missionary biographies. Talk to missionaries. Go to conferences. Use every opportunity to know about our world and its needs.

EB: As Christians, how can we support missionaries? How can we better serve them? What are specific things you pray for? 

RN: I pray that they will truly love the Lord with all their heart and mind and soul. I pray that the Spirit will direct them, certainly in the big things, but even daily, for a person that they could meet today. I pray that they will see fruit and be encouraged in their work. Sometimes it’s hard, and so I pray for their encouragement. I pray for them in times of loneliness. I pray for them in times of threat or danger.

God [also] told us to pray for more laborers that he would call from among us and from among the peoples to whom our missionaries have gone. So, praying and certainly giving generously, sacrificially, and cheerfully to support missions communicates to our missionaries that we care and are supporting them, and it encourages them. And, of course, we should be willing to go and our churches should be burdened to send out people from their fellowships. These are all ways that we can really encourage our missionaries.

As we know, the Christmas season is all about giving, because God gave his Son for us. Dr. Naylor’s life and ministry is a perfect example of why it’s important to give to the IMB. We cheerfully give so that we can see the nations cared for and told about the good news of Jesus. Dr. Naylor has a children’s book published about her life that can help you teach your kids about the importance of missionaries and the work of God around the world. All the proceeds from Rebekah: an American Surgeon in India go to the IMB and to missionaries all over our world. This season — and all year long — may we remember to pray for our brothers and sisters who are carrying the gospel, sometimes at a great cost, across the globe. 

For more about Lottie Moon and the IMB, view this article and the IMB’s site

By / May 4

Before leaving on his missionary journey to India, William Carey, one of the architects of the modern mission movement, told his friend Andrew Fuller, “I will go down, if you will hold the ropes.” Fuller, of course, helped raise the funds to build the institutions that made mission possible. Holding the ropes is an apt metaphor for the relationship between religious liberty and mission: religious liberty facilitates mission by giving space and fostering the ideal conditions for the mission of Christ to continue. The mission of God does not wholly depend on Western ideals of religious liberty inasmuch as it is aided where religious liberty exists. Asked in the reverse, What Christian would want to create obstacles for the announcement of the gospel? No one, of course.

To “hold the ropes,” so to speak, is to facilitate mission. This runs contrary to much of modern Christian discourse that seems to lust after martyrdom status, insisting that any demands for “rights” such as religious liberty run contrary to the witness of Christ, who forsook his rights and died on a cross. When Christians feign sanctimony about discarding “rights,” they reveal a facile understanding of the common good and its connection to an ethic of reciprocity for all citizens, Christian and non-Christian alike. Since religious liberty is ordered to the common good, it is never about special pleas for one group but about identifying one’s liberty as bound up in the broader political community’s exercise of those same equally distributed rights. Those who criticize defenders of religious liberty for making it a culture-war issue and possessing martyr envy will likely someday learn that were ancient Christians to choose between Rome and America, they would have chosen the First Amendment.

While martyrs witness powerfully to the paradoxical nature of the kingdom’s advancement through weakness, this witness does not elide Christians’ responsibility to make their context ripe for gospel acceptance. It is one thing to accept an increasingly marginalized status within a society; it is another to seek it out, believing that social isolation and ostracization are required for faithfulness. Oliver O’Donovan has criticized Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder for idealizing “catacomb consciousness,” the idea that only a church on the margins can retain purity and distinctiveness. For O’Donovan, there is no inherent virtue in the church being driven to the margins. Yes, the church can do excellent work when removed from the center of power, but to romanticize marginalization is to invite a degree of persecution that most Christians in history would have wanted to avoid. To say that Scripture promises persecution is neither to invite it nor to bask in it but to accept it as a part of faithfulness. We should caution against valorizing marginalization as an exclusive measure of faith. Historically, persecution can root out religion, but the mustard seed metaphor in Scripture also suggests that growth can be faithful (Matt. 13:31–32).

Living the “peaceful,” “quiet,” and “dignified” lives that religious liberty makes possible is not in tension with God’s desire that “all people . . . be saved and . . . come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:2, 4). In fact, they seem to be complementary. We pray for political tranquility for the sake of gospel advance. To be sure, Christ promises to build his church (Matt. 16:18–19), so we can be confident that no barrier will stand in its path, but wanting to remove barriers is not contrary to this New Testament teaching. There is no virtue in embracing a martyr complex that impedes the gospel’s advance and jeopardizes the work of ministry by inviting hardship. Consider Paul. A Roman citizen, Paul did not shy away from asserting his rights as a citizen (Acts 22). Instead of seeking out a martyr’s death so that the purity of the gospel could be realized, Paul appealed to his political context and the legitimacy of political rule to ensure the gospel’s spread. He did so in particular by appealing to his Roman citizenship and to the political rulers of his day. For Paul, appeals to earthly citizenship were not in opposition to his heavenly citizenship. The former is subordinate to the latter. Paul’s life testifies to the legitimacy of political rule, and also to the need to constructively relate to political authority in such a way that it is not in opposition to the advance of the gospel. 

It would seem that a state limited in its scope makes the enlargement of God’s kingdom more possible. A government that refuses to totalize its jurisdiction and works within its limited confines is acting justly. By refusing to amass or aggrandize power that does not belong to it, it more ably allows for the mission of Christ to succeed. Thus, a limited state is not merely within the province of a much-hackneyed political conservatism but is a faithful steward of the authority that derives from God (Rom. 13:1–7). Governments that allow religious freedom to prosper, whether consciously or not, are at least indirect participants in the unfolding drama of redemption. One hopes that a government, even a pagan one, “would maintain conditions appropriate for believers leading a specifically godly life in government supported civic-peace.” We should hope all government provides the conditions where a fruitful Christian life can be lived without political consequence or threat. In not allying itself with any one religion in particular, and by not impeding the mission of the church, the state is ordered in accord with the service it is to render to God as his “servant” (Rom. 13:4). A government that puts as few obstacles as possible in the way of its citizens being able to freely respond to the call of salvation is doing what God intended the state to do. Advocacy for religious liberty, especially via lobbying and petitioning government, must be seen as a rope-holding activity that ensures that ministry can occur within a given political community.

To use another metaphor, religious liberty is like brush clearing. Untamed terrain needs to be cleared in order for it to be properly cultivated and brought to order. Religious liberty clears a path so that the work of ministry can go forth. In this sense, religious liberty is a context-specific tool that catalyzes mission. To clear brush for a missionary to function as they ought is to cooperate in the mission of God. All of this activity is directed toward living God-honoring lives in every domain of life and advancing the message of salvation.

Where the nexus of religious liberty meets mission and soteriology is the concern for impending judgment. According to Stott and Wright, “The God who is Lord of history is also the Judge of history.” From this sentence arises an urgency, since the current era in which the church finds itself is not eternal. A coming judgment over this era awaits. The reality of this future judgment serves as the backdrop for why religious liberty connects with mission. According to Baptist theologian Jason G. Duesing, “As those living in an era of religious liberty between the time of Christ’s ascension and his certain return, the knowledge of what awaits us on the last day should serve as a warning to all outside of Christ that the freedom to worship other gods without the judgment of the one true God will come to an end.”

Even more foundationally, a focus on the theological underpinnings of religious liberty and the mission of God fosters a greater awareness of the church’s own rationale for advancing religious liberty in society: humanity’s destined judgment. As I have sought to make clear throughout this book, it is eschatological judgment and our reason-using and truth-seeking nature that make religious liberty intelligible from a Christian perspective. The promise of judgment and the accountability of the person before God make sense only within a horizon of mission and the attainment of salvation. Christians insist on the necessity of religious liberty so that persons untainted by coercion can make voluntary professions of faith. It is correct to infer that religious liberty is not an end in itself. Instead, it is a means and a tool that the church utilizes to accomplish its mission with efficiency and effectiveness for the sake of the gospel.

This is why religious liberty is an urgent task of Christian ethics. As a social ethic, it informs a critical nexus that conceives of religious liberty as both useful and necessary for mission. An ethic of religious liberty is intrinsic to mission. Religious liberty is therefore foundational to the church’s public theology since it serves as a firmament to the gospel’s advance. It is, as it were, a grand corallary to Christian ministry in the present era. Christianity prioritizes religious liberty as an evangelistic tool. Where Christianity has any influence in society, a milieu of religious liberty ought to follow from Christian teaching when Christians apply their doctrine to society and seek to influence it.

Those heralding the gospel will exercise every tool at their disposal to see the mission of God advance. Moreover, the “historical situation” that Henry references is consequential to understanding that Christian mission is always historically situated, and “situatedness” is not a missionally insignificant category. Christians should desire to inhabit contexts that make gospel proclamation and evangelistic efforts more fluid and reject circumstances that create obstacles to gospel advancement. We should wish this not only for ourselves but also for Christians around the globe.

If Christians care about mission, they should seek to elevate religious liberty in their public theology. Christians should do this not because Christian mission is necessarily contingent on religious liberty but because religious liberty aids Christian mission in its ultimate task of seeing individuals reconciled and redeemed. Understood through an evangelistic lens, religious liberty is appreciated by those who seek to advance the gospel for its utility but not its ultimate necessity.

Religious liberty is not simply a political doctrine that Western Christians enjoy while living in liberal democracies. It is not merely a construct designed to aid religious difference. Religious liberty is a principle that Christians from all corners of the world should prioritize, because it impacts gospel advancement and social tranquility; it forges a connection between the urgent task of mission and the opportunity to take that mission outward.

Most foundationally, however, religious liberty understood from the interior of biblical logic is a principle integral and internal to the gospel itself and essential for the church’s mission in society. According to Barrett Duke, “The doctrine of salvation itself contributes to our understanding of God’s design for religious liberty.” The soteriological moment is an individual event, and faith cannot be coerced. The gospel hinges on a free response. This is not to say that salvation is individualistic. We are saved into a community. But entry into that community comes from individual assent. Thus, an authentic faith assumes an uncoerced faith. A Christian account of religious liberty as mission thus assumes a doctrine of justification by faith alone, insisting that individuals enter God’s kingdom individually and conscientiously self-aware of an expressed faith. No one can attain someone else’s salvation for them, and neither can someone’s salvation be negated by another.

Christian advocacy for religious liberty in society is not pursued primarily to shore up or preserve the reigning political order. It is not pursued under the auspices of “rights,” as important as rights are. Religious liberty must be imbued with theological gravitas. As Michael Hanby argues, concern for only the juridical or political benefits of religious liberty as a social practice neglects the “deeper freedom opened up by the transcendent horizon of Christ’s resurrection.” From this vantage point, religious liberty goes beyond the horizons of law and culture to the awakening of our world to the reality of the ascendant Christ. Hanby says that an outsized focus on the political import of religious liberty leads us to neglect its purpose in light of mission.

If we cannot see beyond the juridical meaning of religious freedom to the freedom that the truth itself gives, how then can we expect to exercise this more fundamental freedom when our juridical freedom is denied? Too often we are content to accept the absolutism of liberal order, which consists in its capacity to establish itself as the ultimate horizon, to remake everything within that horizon in its own image, and to establish itself as the highest good and the condition of possibility for the pursuit of all other goods— including religious freedom.

In other words, the church does not take its marching orders from protections afforded it only by the procedural rules of liberal democracy. The locus of Christian advocacy for religious liberty is the advancement of Christian mission, followed only then by its constitutional legitimacy. The practice of religious liberty is the expression of the church’s mission under the sovereignty of God. In that, the church possesses a freedom of its own constitution. The church, by definition, ought to be a free society living in response to the call of God.

This focus on mission is not meant to undercut or devalue the political and social benefits that accrue when religious liberty graces society (the next chapter argues that Christian advocacy for religious liberty should result in practical social benefits). But implications that follow from Christianity’s primary justification for religious liberty should not blur nor erase the urgency with which Christians advocate for its centrality in Christian social ethics and public theology—the advancement of God’s kingdom resulting in the salvation of sinners.

Religious liberty exists because it issues from a place of sincere urgency, emanating from sober conviction about the judgment awaiting humanity. Any practice of religion that fails to uphold liberty as a critical element of its doctrinal system only pretends to be authentic. Halfhearted religion works as a “kind of inoculation or prevention against sincere religion.” Only religions so adamant about the judgment of God will seek the freedoms to advance that message for the sake of humankind. Heartfelt convictions will always seek the liberty to be proclaimed.

Content taken from Liberty for All by Andrew T. Walker, ©2021. Used by permission of Baker Publishing www.bakerpublishinggroup.com.

By / Feb 8

When my husband and I set off with our children on an adventure to move overseas, we knew they would make an adjustment to a new culture, make new friends, learn a new language, and call another place on the globe their home. All of this was to be expected. Even with the challenges, we felt ready to accept these cultural adaptations.

What I didn’t know was that cultural adaptation would mean more than just accepting what was around them. It also meant transforming them too. Hence, the cross-cultural name, third-culture kid (or TCK for short). The name signifies the blending of a home culture with a host culture, and how kids who blend two “homes” uniquely identify with the world around them. Missionary kids, military kids, and any child whose parents have relocated across the globe can be TCKs. Being a TCK is a gift that I am thankful my children have received.  

But what does the reality of TCKs mean for family members, friends, and church communities back home who send families across continents and want to care for them even at a distance? How will churches that send missionaries receive TCKs back when they come for visits, or if they make a more permanent move back to their home country? 

As the child has adjusted and changed to adapt to a new culture, do those who care for them need to adjust and change as well? The answer is yes, and quite honestly, this experience is not unlike all relationships where we must continually adapt, adjust, and be diligent students, observers, and respecters of one another. 

To talk about good examples of care, I’ve interviewed my daughter and son, Megan and Parker. I’ll let them speak their own wisdom and personal experience

What are some ways that you felt cared for as a TCK? 

Parker: At a younger age, I would say that I remember feeling loved through gifts. Though we don’t want to make material objects the things that bring us the greatest happiness, it was meaningful and tangible that someone on the other end of the ocean cared enough to send you money or that new toy. 

As I grew older in Germany, I was able to connect and build relationships with kids and adults in our home churches. I began to see the continual and transformative work of the gospel in the world. I saw the world as a mission field, and, as I learned about God’s grace, it inspired me to live out my identity in Christ with open arms for those in need around us. The act of giving one church can do for a TCK is one of the things that inspires young missionaries to go outside of their doors and give to the nations.

Megan: Like Parker said, I felt cared for by the gifts churches would bring or send to us, especially at the beginning. Culture shock was still setting in, and I remember not having the words to express what I was feeling or even what I was missing. When churches sent boxes of macaroni and cheese or peanut butter cups, it struck a deeper chord. Those items represented something bigger that I was missing, and they gave me a sense of comfort and grounding in a time when I had lost my usual bearings. As I got older, I remember feeling cared for in the relationships I found within the church. Upon each return we were welcomed with warmth and generosity. I made supportive, lasting friendships with peers and mentors within the church. Relationships like these gave me a deep sense of care. 

Susan: One of the most meaningful acts of care my children received was before we even made it overseas. We had planned to arrive in October 2001, but the events of September 11 delayed all international visas. We had already sold our house, car, and belongings, and all we had were our suitcases—with nowhere to land while we waited.  Our home church provided us a house, a car, and our children a place in their school during the wait. When we arrived at the home provided for us, there were backpacks, school supplies, lunch boxes, a stocked fridge, and sweet notes to our family waiting for us. They went above and beyond with these provisions, and it had a huge impact on our family—giving us a sense of security and belonging in the midst of an uncertain time. The church continued to care for us through our years overseas in ways that spoke of availability, understanding, and compassion. It was just never a question that they were there for us.

Were there some ways you were cared for that might not have been as helpful?

Parker: One thing that caregivers want to avoid is making assumptions. When I think of difficult care situations, I think of things that were done or said that made me feel misunderstood. For example, someone might say, “Isn’t it great to be home!” or “Aren’t you lucky to be able to live in such an amazing place!” Those statements assume the TCKs feelings based upon the caregiver’s own perceptions of their life. The TCK might instead be thinking, “You don’t live away from your friends and family, so you don’t understand,” or “You don’t know what it’s like to feel so different.” In reality, everyone does feel this way sometimes. So, it’s important to think about times you’ve felt different and consider your words, or choose to ask good questions about someone’s perspective, instead of speaking your own view of their life over them. Asking thoughtful questions is a way of providing care and understanding.

Megan: I remember feeling pressured at times. Sometimes this looked like a church wanting me to share experiences from “the field” in front of my youth group or at a Bible study, and that always made me feel uncomfortable. I believe there was an intention to show support by listening, but it always made me feel singled out and pressured to share impressive stories that I simply didn’t have. The language used during these interactions also perpetuated my sense of confusion between “home country” and “the field.” These interactions were difficult for me in processing “home” and “other,” as there were clear lines being drawn from the church’s perspective, but I did not follow those same boundaries. 

Susan: Families returning to their home culture are thankful to connect with their sending church or churches to thank them for support, share updates on their ministry endeavors, and to be in community with them. This provides a much needed rest, spiritual salve for the weary souls, and encouragement. It’s a lifeline they provide. It is natural for the church to want to celebrate this family in special ways and to give them an opportunity to share their stories in various settings. In doing so, we have a tendency to bring children into these moments of sharing in front of groups, whether formally asking them to speak during worship or at a youth event or conference, or informally in a small group setting or with friends.  

This pressure to speak about one’s life can be a bit overwhelming for a TCK. It can cause some isolation if they just want to blend in as they adapt to being back in their home culture. It may create anxiety if they haven’t been in such a setting before, or at least in a long time. The social norms of American culture may be very different from their host culture—the noise level, social distance, ways of conflict resolution, and humor. It is important to be sensitive to the child’s comfort level when finding ways to celebrate them. Listen to them, and ask what they might enjoy doing as they integrate into this new-to-them and new-again social setting.  

Looking back, do you have ideas or advice to share with churches, family and friends as they care for their TCKs?  

Parker: Focus on community. Find a way to get TCKs together with other TCKs, whether it be through an annual conference, a weekend getaway, or through a virtual connection. TCKs need to understand that someone in another country is feeling the same way they are. It’s one of the only sources of empathy that makes sense to a kid—that is a true connection. Invest and devote thought, planning, money, and time to getting TCKs together. 

Megan:  I agree with Parker, connection was so important. I mentioned earlier the tension I felt when there was pressure or a sense that I needed to perform to gain connection. What was more helpful was the church’s ability to foster natural spaces for connection. Going out for ice cream felt much more supportive to me than being placed in front of the same group of kids and being asked questions about my experience as a TCK. I imagine there are many creative ways to do this now virtually that didn’t exist when I was younger. I also think it’s important to be cognizant of the “developmental stage” of the TCK—not in regard to their actual age, but their development in understanding these particular intersections of identity. For example, you might provide support to a 15-year-old who has just moved within the past year in a very different way than to a 7-year-old who was born overseas. Their needs are going to be vastly different, so I would warn against lumping all TCK care together. 

Susan: Acceptance of where a person is in their journey encourages connection even when we are quite different from one another. The posture of listening, the invitation to join, the patience when joining, is hard. The presence of just being together with no explanations needed, and the offering of space as they adjust are all acts of care toward TCKs and their parents too. 

Thank you, Megan and Parker, for being a voice for TCKs as you draw from your own experiences and give insight into what caring for TCKs can look like. My family is grateful for the care we have received in many and varied ways from those who sent us, loved us, and cared for us as we made our life transitions cross-culturally. It’s amazing to me how these 20 years later, I can look back and mark the moments where someone in our home culture reached out to us in a way that touched our hearts and welcomed us in. From big events of bringing groups to serve alongside us overseas to small, simple moments of bringing my child a school jersey so they could wear it to the school sports event like their peers—these are the moments, big and small, that accumulate over the years and across the miles to make us feel connected. Care simply says, “You matter.” And that is all that is needed. It makes a world of difference.

By / Feb 5

Last year the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention voted to approve the first Sunday in February as the annual George Liele Church Planting, Evangelism and Missions Day. “My hope is that all Southern Baptist churches will share about the life and mission work of George Liele to inspire current and future generations to spread the Gospel around the world,” said Marshal Ausberry, leader of the SBC’s National African American Fellowship George. “Liele’s life shows that despite adverse circumstances God can still use us in a mighty way.”

Here are five facts you should know about the pioneering Baptist missionary:

  1. George Liele was born into slavery in colonial Virginia around 1750, but was moved to Georgia during his childhood. Although separated from his parents at an early age, Liele says he was told his father was the “only black person to know the Lord in a spiritual way in that country.” He says he also had a “natural fear of God from my youth” and that was often “checked in conscience with thoughts of death which barred me from many sins and bad company.” At the time, he says he knew of “no hope for salvation but only in performance of my good works.” Later, around 1773, he would express relief in finding that his only hope for salvation came “through the merits of my dying Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 
  2. Out of a desire to “instruct the people of my own color in the word of God,” Liele began to minister to other African Americans around Savannah, Georgia. His ministerial gifts were recognized by “the white brethren” who invited him to preach at a quarterly meeting and licenced him as a probationer (i.e., a preacher’s trial period before receiving ordination). Liele was soon after given his freedom by his master, George Sharp, who served as a deacon in Liele’s church. Liele remained with Sharp’s family until Sharp’s death as a Tory officer during the revolutionary war when the British occupied Savannah.  
  3. Liele continued to hold worship services in Georgia until 1782, when the British evacuated Savannah. He then borrowed $700 from a British colonel called Kirkland to pay for his and his family’s passage to Jamaica. Liele worked for Kirkland for two years as an indentured servant to pay off the debt. Afterwards, he resumed his work as a minister by preaching to a small house church. Within a few years, though, his congregation grew to 350, and included both Black and White believers. Liele also assisted in the organization of other congregations and promoted free schools for slaves and free black Jamacians. 
  4. Liele’s success, says historian Doreen Morrison, resulted in him being “negatively ‘targeted’ by the Jamaican Assembly, supported by the plantation owners, who saw any gathering of groups of Africans as the recipe for a revolution.” Opposition to evangelizing slaves led to Liele being charged with “seditious preaching” in 1797. As The Baptist Quarterly (October 1964) noted,

    “Charged with preaching sedition, for which he was thrown in prison, loaded with irons, and his feet fastened in the stocks. Not even his wife or children were permitted to see him. At length he was tried for his life; but no evil could be proved against him, and he was honourably acquitted. (However, he was thereupon) thrown into gaol (jail) for the balance due to the builder of his chapel. He refused to take benefit of the insolvent Debtor’s Act, and remained in prison until he had fully paid all that was due.”

    Liele remained in prison for three years, five months, and ten days. In 1805 the Jamaican Assembly enacted a law forbidding all preaching to the slave population.
  5. After leaving prison, Liele became an itinerant preacher and shared the gospel throughout the island nation. In 1797 he settled in Spanish Town, the then capital of Jamaica, and planted the second Baptist church on the island, which was supported by funds from the US and UK. As the Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions says, “By 1814 his efforts had produced, either directly or indirectly, some 8,000 Baptists in Jamaica.” Although William Carey, who went to India in 1793, is often named as the first Baptist missionary, by that time “Liele had worked as a missionary for a decade, supporting himself and his family by farming and by transporting goods with a wagon and team.”
By / Dec 4

Growing up in rural western New York, I had never heard of Lottie Moon. It wasn’t until I moved to North Carolina and met the woman who is now my wife that I was introduced to this truly inspiring and innovative missionary. 

Most Southern Baptists can identify Lottie Moon’s name and pair it with both the Christmas season and China, but that’s usually where the conversation ends. So recently, as part of my never-ending quest to teach kids about the importance of missions, I went to work on a Lottie Moon lesson plan. I couldn’t have imagined how much I would learn in the process. In fact, I discovered some fun facts that I think will help you retell her story in a way that will stick in kids’ minds. Let’s start at the beginning.

1. Lottie grew up almost 200 years ago. She was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, on Dec. 12, 1840, as Charlotte Digges Moon. That was 180 years ago. Imagine growing up then. What would it have been like? What was it like being a woman during this time? 

This is where Lottie begins to make her mark. Let’s dive a little deeper. Lottie wasn’t a converted believer until she attended college (Yes, she went to college—a milestone for women at that time.) In fact, Lottie rebelled against Christianity until that time (Does that sound familiar to some of you?). Lottie later went on to be one of the first women in history to receive a master’s degree from Albemarle Female Institute, a sister institution of the University of Virginia. She later served as an army doctor during the Civil War, but she felt a different calling for her life.

2. In 1872, Lottie’s older sister was the first single woman appointed as a Baptist missionary. Edmonia Harris Moon actually went to China before Lottie, but the letters she wrote home about the dire spiritual needs of the Chinese people stirred her little sister’s heart and helped Lottie to make a decision to go. Lottie left behind a fiancé and a life of ease for the call to serve Christ. She then became the one of the first single women appointed by what was then called the Baptist Foreign Mission Board.

3. Lottie trusted in God to provide. Lottie struggled while she was in China. She had a difficult time learning Mandarin Chinese, her sister’s health was failing, there was hostility toward the missionaries in China, and financial resources were thin. Lottie once wrote, “My heart turns longingly to the city homes grimly closed against us, forbidding our entrance, and hating us with a hatred that would vent itself in blood if only they dared.”

In spite of all these trials, Lottie trusted God to give her a way to spread the gospel. She invited her existing relationship network to a Sunday school class. Few would show, but this didn’t deter her. Lottie would also bake tea cookies for children, and eventually the children would take her to their homes. She would then have the opportunity to share the gospel with moms. In this way, Lottie became a “door to door” evangelist.

4. Lottie was an advocate for girls’ education. Lottie Moon established a boarding school for girls. Chinese families at the time placed little value on girls’ education. Lottie was determined to change this. Even though she struggled to support herself financially, Lottie assumed all costs for the pupils at her school. As a result, even less fortunate girls were able to afford her boarding school. Some even escaped prostitution and lives in sex slavery as a result of her ministry. Lottie taught the girls in her school a catechism as well as reading, arithmetic, geography, and music. By 1883, her school was so successful that she was forced to turn away applicants.

5. Lottie became a pioneer missionary to China’s interior. Lottie and her team pioneered evangelism in the difficult and hard-to-each areas of interior China. This new work came with additional challenges. Lottie decided that she needed to look like a local, so she adopted Chinese clothing and customs in order to put locals at ease. In this way, Lottie pioneered missionary methods that are still in use today. 

Learning from Lottie 

So, what can we learn from Lottie? 

First, Lottie helps us see that God doesn’t abandon us even when we rebel against him. We may refuse to surrender our lives to Christ just like Lottie did prior to her conversion, but God is still faithful. God has a plan to save and include in his mission even those whose hearts are far from him. 

Second, Lottie helps us see that we can trust God to provide. Though she had many hardships, God was faithful to provide a way for his mission to go forward—even through baking tea cookies. What obstacles stand in the way of God’s mission in your life? Pray that Christ will show you a way to move forward and minister to a struggling friend or even a struggling nation or people group.

Finally, Lottie modeled what it means to fulfill the Great Commission. Christ has called every Christian to go and make disciples. Like Lottie, we must have a kingdom focus. We should take the risk to share Christ with people who are lost. Anyone at any age can be a disciple maker. We just have to be intentional about moving toward others. Is God calling you today? Surrender to him and listen. He has an exciting plan for you.

By / Dec 3

“It is the worst possible decision you could make for your family,” is the phrase my parents heard from multiple people after sharing that they were taking their three young daughters and moving halfway across the world to become missionaries in another country. But God’s call on their life to “go and make disciples of all nations” had been a cry of both of their hearts since they were young, and they knew it was what they had to do. So what was the result? Was uprooting, leaving everything behind, and entering an unknown culture going to change the outlook of their family? Well, yes, but not in the way the naysayers said. 

A little over 20 years later, I can confidently say that the decision my parents made to follow God’s call on their lives to go to the nations was the best decision they could ever make for our family. It was what molded me into the person I am today. When we lived overseas, I was a preteen—that time of life where you not only begin to remember the things you experience, but also begin to develop your self-identity, worldview, and passions. And that was the case for me. Being raised in a family with a missional mindset and living for a time on the mission field helped me experience a world outside my own, develop a passion for serving others, and motivate me to make the Great Commission my life’s focus.

A world outside my own

As a young child, I had seen pictures, heard stories, and even watched video clips of people in other countries. While those things helped me understand there was a world outside of the one I lived in, I wouldn’t say there was any true recognition of what that meant. Sure, I went to school with people of different ethnicities, but average “suburbia” in the 90s didn’t exactly lend itself to experiencing a culture outside of your own. But the moment I stepped out of the airport in our new home and experienced what this new place looked, sounded, smelled, and felt like, I knew right then and there that this was unlike anything I’d known before.

As a 10-year-old girl, the things I’d seen and read about had now come alive! My senses were heightened, and I took every bit of it in. My eyes saw people who looked different than me. I was the minority now. My ears heard the bustling groans and beeps of this major city, and in order to be heard, I needed to speak loudly. My nose smelled the scent of unknown foods, spices, and herbal medicines. (To this day, when I smell something similar, I can close my eyes and be taken back there.) My body felt the humid air that whipped off of the nearby sea, which was a bit miserable in the summer, but was comfortable in the winter.

The place my family served as missionaries was a hub for people from all over the world, so not only did I experience the culture of the place where we lived, but I also got to experience cultures of other countries. We were invited into people’s homes, ate food from their homeland, and also learned to abide by their customs. 

We served at an international church, and I can remember services where we would have Scripture read in the varying languages that made up our congregation. So, when I would read Scriptures, such as verses in Psalms that talk about people from varying nations coming together before God and praising him, I was witnessing something quite similar, a vision of complete unity in Christ. I realized that the differences were what made each of us unique and special to the Creator who masterfully designed it all.

A passion for serving others

Prior to living overseas, my parents took me along for various mission trips and projects. Although I really don’t have authentic memories of taking part in these events, I know that serving others was something that was instilled in me during those years because it came naturally as I grew. 

As a missionary kid on the field, I had the opportunity to serve others in various ways. One way I was able to serve was through my church. My very first church ministry “role” was given to me by the pastor of our international church. I was the Sunday School attendance taker. I was also able to serve through the girls mission group my mom started. While my mom taught the young girls, I led my peers. Eventually, our girls group was able to put hands and feet to our learning as we served at a welcome event to immigrants and passed out “blessing bags” that we packed from donations given by our fellow missionaries and church members. 

A little over 20 years later, I can confidently say that the decision my parents made to follow God’s call on their lives to go to the nations was the best decision they could ever make for our family. It was what molded me into the person I am today.

So when I would read about how Jesus encouraged his followers to serve others and that when we did so, we were actually serving him (Matt. 25:35-40), I knew what it meant because I was living it. When walking the streets, we would pass beggars and at times provide them sustenance. When a friend’s unbelieving relative was in the hospital, we would go visit them. And when immigrants arrived as strangers into our city, we welcomed them. 

I knew I was an ambassador for Jesus; in serving others, I reflected him. From then on, I never looked at serving others as something that was a requirement or that I had to do because my family was doing it. Rather, I saw and continue to see it as a blessing and an honor that I get to represent Jesus by serving others and thereby serve him.

A Great Commission focus

The spiritual, global, and missional awareness I experienced during these pivotal years of my life most definitely provided me with a Great Commission focus, one that increased when I returned to the States. When I returned, I was shocked to discover there were people who honestly did not care about what I had done and experienced. They made fun of people from other cultures; they only cared about serving themselves; and church seemed to be the place you went to fellowship, not to listen to God’s Word and understand terms like “the Great Commission.” I now know that this mindset is not really that unusual for the typical American teenager, but at the time, it was a devastating realization that took time to come to terms with.

Around the age of 16, I knew I had to dare to be different from my peers and help others grasp what living out the Great Commission really meant. As a teenager who didn’t really understand her own peers and vice versa, how would I go about doing that? By influencing the next generation. What began as a teenager being trained in how to teach children in children’s church, eventually developed into a young woman who was leading children’s missions education in her church and also throughout her state.

God has given me many amazing opportunities to influence the next generation in what it means to have a Great Commission focus. Today, there are children I taught who are now in college majoring in a career that they can use on the mission field. Once, I taught a child who decided to learn another language because she was certain God would send her to a country where they spoke that language. And there are multiple stories of children who would come back and share with me that they told their friends and classmates about Jesus. 

God has even given me the opportunity to use my Great Commission-focused heart as a career path. I am able to serve Southern Baptists every day through my job. I do not say these things to boast in myself at all. I say these things to boast in Christ alone. He gave me the experience of living out the Great Commission, placed that focus in my heart, and used me as his vessel to encourage the same focus in the hearts of others. 

Conclusion

Was moving our family halfway across the world to become missionaries the worst possible thing my parents did for our family? Not even close. It was quite the opposite. My life completely changed when I stepped off that airplane. And I wouldn’t fully understand the effect of it until many years later when I realized I am who I am today because my parents took Proverbs 22:6 to heart: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” 

In being raised with a missions mindset, some of which was experienced on the mission field, I grew up to realize that there is a world that is desperate to hear and know about the Savior who came to save them and that it’s our job as his followers to go, make disciples, teach, and baptize them (Matt. 28:19). 

And the thing is, anyone can do this same thing for themselves or their family. Decide today to live and raise your family with a missional mindset and see the world outside of your home as a mission field. For some, your mission field might be your community. Get to know and be kind to your friends and neighbors from other countries and cultures. For others, a big city may be where God is calling you to serve. The crowds and noises may be crazy, but think about the unique ways you can serve people from all walks of life. For others, God may be prompting you to live in another country halfway across the world, making disciples in a land you have never heard of before. Will it be hard? Will people question you? Will life change? Yes. But when you live and raise your family with a missions mindset, the Lord will undoubtedly change you and those you minister to for his glory. 

We encourage you to consider giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. You can help send even more Southern Baptists to the ends of the earth by making a year-end donation to the International Mission Board