By / Feb 17

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Woman’s Missionary Union began 133 years ago in the hearts of visionary leaders to pray and systematically raise money for missions. The WMU’s focus is to make disciples of Jesus who live on mission and has enabled women to share the good news of Jesus and serve others in his name. Sandy Wisdom-Martin, executive director/treasurer, talks below about how the organization has evolved over the years, making it one of the most diverse boards in SBC life. In addition, several other WMU state leaders discuss the influence WMU has had on their lives. 

Elizabeth Bristow: Can you explain to our audience who the WMU is and what your organization exists to do? 

Sandy Wisdom-Martin: Woman’s Missionary Union is an auxiliary — or helper — to the Southern Baptist Convention. WMU offers missions discipleship for all ages, from preschoolers to adults, leadership development opportunities, and compassion ministries such as WorldCrafts and Christian Women’s and Men’s Job Corps. Everything we do is for one purpose — to make disciples of Jesus who live on mission.

EB: In your presentation at the Executive Committee meeting, you mentioned that the WMU is one of the most diverse boards in SBC life. How has the diversity of your board played a role in your mission and in the flourishing of your organization? 

SWM: It is such a blessing to have an ethnically diverse board, as representation from various countries and cultures enriches our experiences and keeps us mindful of God’s love for all peoples of all nations. We are also grateful our current board represents several generations; collectively, their valuable input helps us to effectively advance our mission’s focus without perpetuating a generational divide. This diversity reflects that missions involvement in WMU is for everyone, and as emerging leaders seek opportunities to serve, they are able to “see” a place of service for themselves in WMU.

EB: Tell me more about your board and how these women came to join your mission in making disciples of Jesus who live on mission. 

SWM: WMU is very much a grassroots movement. Unlike SBC agencies that have appointed trustees or board members, WMU’s executive board is comprised of women who serve as WMU president in their state or multistate territory. Each state WMU president is a woman from the church with a passion for missions who has been elected by the WMU members in her state to represent them. This model provides for geographic diversity, since they collectively represent the entire U.S., and ensures executive board members are actively serving in WMU and are highly invested in missions.

EB: What message would you send to a female leader who is desiring to serve her local church? 

SWM: I would encourage her to prayerfully consider where God is calling her to serve and follow in obedience. God has gifted and equipped each person to carry out the work of his kingdom. In every role in life, there are elements of leadership. We should be on a lifelong quest and always lean into learning, growing, and developing as leaders.

EB: Why is serving with WMU important to you? 

Angela Jones, president, Alaska WMU: Serving with WMU is important to me because it gives me purpose, direction, and meaning. I believe in the mission and the ministry of WMU. I appreciate the opportunity to serve in my home, church, and community and know that I am adding value. They provide all the tools needed to be a successful leader as I serve others. WMU helps reveal the potential of the individual, helping the entire family grow into a better person. I enjoy learning from others and working in sync with other women by praying, giving of myself, and giving to the cause. Missionaries are called and sent out with prayers, funds, and opportunity to spread the Word of God and to give hope and insight to others around the world.

Melody Knox, executive director, Maryland/Delaware WMU: I believe that serving with WMU keeps me in contact with how to pray and support missionaries on the field. I am also able to share this information with the churches to encourage them to make missions a part of their everyday life. I feel like I am a bigger part of the work that God is doing through missions/missionaries.

EB: How have you grown as a leader through WMU?  

AJ: I have grown through WMU by hearing the Word of God and by sharing with others the things I have learned. I have been afforded the opportunity to teach different age-level groups from Mission Friends to adult women. I have witnessed the work and cohesiveness of women from all over. Again, tools are provided to encourage and equip us to lead. I have been taught and mentored to be the leader that I am today and will be in the future. I, too, will pay it forward.

MK: I have learned that missionaries depend on the leadership that is extended to them through WMU. It warms my heart to know how much they appreciate the WMU ladies who sincerely care about them and their families on an everyday basis. My love for missions and missionaries has grown immensely through my leadership in WMU in my convention.

EB: Why should women be involved in WMU?  

AJ: WMU offers something for the entire family, which will help women help their loved ones grow in Christ. It offers opportunities for women to have a meaning and purpose and [teaches them] how to take on the challenges of everyday living. It helps women love the Lord, themselves, their family members, and those who have lost all hope. I know of no other organization that has [such] a diverse group of women from all cultures, colors, and races that can come together in one accord but offering different gifts and talents. 

When we come together, we leave a better woman because we pour into each other and bonds are being made. We pray together and share with one another, and we support and encourage each other. We are women on a mission united together to change the world with the help of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

MK: Women need to know the blessing that comes through supporting and praying for those who have gone to the nations. They really need to be aware of how their money is spent through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. I did not realize until I became involved with WMU how much our donation as a family helps those who are called to go.

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 / 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

By / Dec 2

As a young woman, I felt the call to serve God overseas in a Muslim country. Like many students in a thriving college ministry in the early 2000s, the call to take the gospel to the ends of the earth was heard often and taken seriously. I remember being faced, for the first time, with the reality that God did not exist to bless me and make my life better, but that he blessed me so that his name would be glorified among the nations. 

I signed up to spend six weeks in a Central Asian country where my team and I would teach English at universities and build relationships with students outside of class. Our hopes were that God would allow us to share the gospel with them. Prior to leaving on this trip, I was actually quite terrified. I felt anything but courageous. I was leaving the comfort and safety of my Midwest existence and heading to a country whose religion caused fear in the hearts of many post-9/11 Americans. However, I was not scared of being in a Muslim country or being with Muslims; I was scared of God. 

Learning to rest in the gospel 

During my college years and for several years afterward, I had a poor understanding of the gospel. I thought I needed Jesus to get to the cross, but after I received salvation, it was up to me to be good and perfect and holy. This meant that I pursued the “most holy” thing I could do, which was going overseas for the sake of the gospel. And when I was there and struggling with a lack of desire to do what I’d been sent to do, I became fearful of what God thought of me. Surely, he would not love me unless I committed right then and there to spend the rest of my life living in the Middle East. 

Later on in life, my husband, 8-month-old daughter, and I headed overseas again. This time we were spending two years with the IMB working with a Muslim people group in Europe. I was less fearful this time, but I still held onto a low-level fear that God was somehow inexplicably disappointed in me each day. It wasn’t until I read a parenting book on grace that I finally understood that I was the heathen, not just those I was going to share the gospel with. Once I realized that I was in need of grace and understood that God had already freely given me grace for my sins, I was set free from the fear that had caused me to keep God at arm’s length. 

Today, we are living in time that causes a lot of fear for many Christians. I think many of us have either assumed or been taught, albeit subconsciously, that it’s up to us to be holy and prove our righteousness before men and God. Scripture even tells us to be holy as God is holy. But if we look at the whole Bible, we see how much emphasis is placed on God’s saving work on our behalf. 

Responding to the fears of our day

As we near the end of 2020, you may be feeling that the world has completely turned upside down. You could be fearful of a pandemic or a new government in the United States. You may be worried about job loss and the economic future of our country. Our subconscious Christian culture may have told us that these things should cause us to fight for our rights. But, I would like to suggest a different way to react to these things that, for many, are truly scary. 

As we look to increased COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, while also looking down the barrel of an uncertain political future and economic disruptions, the greatest thing we can do is embrace our fear and take it to God.

When I look back on my time overseas, I remember how scary it felt to share the gospel with a post-modern European who believed that all truth was relative and anyone who believes in a Middle Eastern carpenter who walked the Earth 2000 years ago is crazy. The largest mosque in Europe was just a few blocks from our apartment, and every Friday I saw droves of North Africans fill the neighboring streets so they could attend Friday prayers. At times, the spiritual lostness was so overwhelming I felt paralyzed to even know what to say.

I can even look to my life here in the states and see when fear has crept into my heart. I pray for my neighbors and the friends of my children. But what if God gives me an opportunity to really talk about my faith? Will I freeze up in fear, or will I trust that God can give me words to say?

What I’ve learned most about fear and courage in my 37 years of life is best defined by my friend Lori McDaniel who says there are four ways to deal with fear: 

  1. Pretend I have none: denial
  2. Remain in it: paralyzed
  3. Hand letter it and post on social media: facade
  4. Absorb God’s Word and move forward: trust 

As we look to increased COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, while also looking down the barrel of an uncertain political future and economic disruptions, the greatest thing we can do is embrace our fear and take it to God. Tell God what you are fearful about, not social media. Instead of getting angry and attacking someone on the other aisle of your beliefs, take your anger and frustration to God. He wants to hear what you have to say, and he wants to show you in his Word how he will take care of you. God can and will give us all the courage to be salt and light in this broken world. No matter what happens in the remainder of 2020, 2021, and the rest of our lives, we can be sure that God is on his throne, completely in control of everything happening. Be strong and courageous in the truth that God is God and you are not. 

Russell Moore’s latest book, “Courage to Stand,” is about how courage means embracing your fears. Check out his book here

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

By / Dec 6

This week SBC churches across the globe are holding a week of prayer for the International Mission Board and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

Here are five facts you should know about one of the world’s largest missions organizations.

1. The IMB was originally called the Foreign Mission Board (FMB) when it was formed in 1845 to manage the sending of missionaries to foreign countries. Based out of Richmond, Virginia—where the IMB still resides today—the FMB oversaw missionary work and served as a liaison between missionaries and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Within four months of the founding of the SBC, the entity had appointed two missionaries to China and assumed support for a third missionary that was already serving in that country. Over the next few decades, the board expanded its work to include Africa, Brazil, Italy, Mexico, and Japan. 

2. In 1873, the FMB appointed the woman who would become the entity’s most famous missionary—Charlotte Digges “Lottie” Moon. Moon became the first American woman to attempt to live exactly as the Chinese did, adopting their dress and language and showing a greater appreciation for their culture. The effort helped to connect with Chinese neighbors. As Moon told the FMB,  “I am more and more impressed by the belief that to win these people to God, we must first win them to ourselves.” In 1888, a handful of women dedicated to the cause of missions founded the Woman’s Missionary Union. Moon suggested they take up a Christmas offering to send missionaries to China and to help her and support her work. That initial Christmas offering collected $3,315 (roughly $95,000 in 2019 dollars) and was named for Lottie Moon in 1918. Since its inception, several billion dollars has been collected for the fund, including $157.3 million in 2018. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions funds more than 50% of IMB work.

3. Despite the efforts of missionaries like Moon, significant growth in overseas work did not occur for the FMB until after World War II. By 1955, though, the FMB was able to support 1,000 missionaries in the field. Another boost came in 1964, when the FMB began a new effort to send single missionaries called the Missionary Journeyman Program. Modeled on the Peace Corps and Baptist colleges' summer missions programs, the Journeyman Program provided young adults the opportunity to both on a mission field and explore the possibility of lifelong service as a missionary. Since the program's launch, about 6,000 people have served as journeymen, and more than 1,000 went on to serve as career missionaries. Currently, over 200 journeymen serve overseas.

4. The Southern Baptist Convention voted in 1997 to change the name of the Foreign Mission Board to the International Mission Board. The IMB has also shifted its focus from geographic countries to people groups, with a concerted effort to start church planting movements among “unreached peoples,” (i.e., ethnolinguistic groups in which the number of evangelical Christians is less than 2%). The current vision of the IMB, rooted in Revelation 7:9, is a “multitude from every language, people, tribe, and nation knowing and worshiping our Lord Jesus Christ.” The current mission of the IMB is to partner with churches to “empower limitless missionary teams who are evangelizing, discipling, planting, and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.”

5. As of Dec. 1, 2019, the IMB has a total of 3,656 field personnel. In 2018 the entity had engaged 847 people groups (out of 3,176), planted 13,898 churches in foreign countries, and trained 18,428 pastors overseas. The IMB also recorded 52,586 baptisms and 77,605 new believers overseas. Slightly more than 50% of all Cooperative Program contributions received on a national level are directed to IMB work. Approximately 83% of the IMB's budget is used for overseas purposes.

By / Nov 20

Every day, the media trumpets unsettling news about global instability, terrorism, immigration debates, and ethnic tension.  Add to this the natural, fallen tendency to distrust people who are different from ourselves, and it can seem like a very bad time to talk about reaching out to people from other cultures.  

But I think it’s just the opposite.  

This is a great time for Christians to confound the world and proactively reach out with the gospel to the strangers in our midst. Whatever we may think about immigration and refugee policies, I hope we can all agree that everyone made in God’s image is worthy of hearing the message of hope in the gospel.  And a friendly word may be more precious than ever to our foreign neighbors today.

Many of us don’t have to board international flights to reach people from other religions and cultures. We just need to open our eyes, look around, and engage the nations in our own cities and towns. Strangely, gospel work right here at home can seem more daunting than a two-week trip around the globe. Many people don’t know where to start, where to find unreached populations, or how to engage them with the gospel. But if we are spending good effort to see the gospel taken to places distant from us, it makes sense to notice the people that God has brought to our own doorsteps. Here are some ways we can do just that:

Strangely, gospel work right here at home can seem more daunting than a two-week trip around the globe.

1. Research. A first step is to find out who from other cultures and ethnic groups live in your area. This is as simple as opening your eyes as you drive around different parts of your city. Are there a lot of “Halal” food markets in a part of town near you? Chances are you have Muslims neighbors. Visiting ethnic grocery stores can be an especially good way to learn about and connect with specific ethnic or religious communities. These markets often have bulletin boards with information about events, festivals, and community needs that might provide opportunities to find out more and build relationships. Of course, just doing some straightforward online demographic research about your community can be easy and useful too.

2. Take initiative. Whatever you discover about your community, it will generally take initiative and encouragement to get your congregation engaged. In my local church, we concluded that the main population of internationals in our vicinity was students. So we began to pray occasionally in our public prayer meetings that God would allow us to reach international students with the gospel.

Reliance on God in prayer, however, is not the enemy of human initiative. One of our elders took initiative too. He sat down with a fellow church member who had himself been converted as an international student from Singapore while in London. This young man began hosting a Bible study for international students to model and encourage this outreach. Over time, it developed into English-language classes on two local university campuses and a network of church members meeting one-on-one with students interested in studying the Bible in English. Ultimately, more than fifty church members were meeting each week to explore the Bible with students from countries where evangelism is severely restricted.

3. Try different things. What might that look like in your own congregation? It could mean hosting English classes at your church, or members joining local adult soccer clubs dominated by internationals. It might mean connecting with efforts to resettle refugees or volunteering to meet newly arriving international students at the airport. Each of these can be a great entry point. But the best way to reach out to internationals may simply be your friendliness and openness when you bump into them in shops, on the street, or in your neighborhood.

4. Talk to people. One member of our church met a Muslim woman who’d begun working in the shop where she had her hair styled. During their first meeting, the Christian woman mentioned she was getting her hair done for a friend’s wedding. Then she asked the Muslim woman—clearly new to our country—if she had ever been to a Christian wedding. She had not. So right then and there this Christian invited the woman to join her for the wedding at our church that weekend. The woman came, she heard the gospel, and a new friendship was born. It can be as easy as that.

5. Practice international hospitality. Most visitors and recent immigrants are naturally eager to meet locals and understand the local culture. Sadly, it’s often reported that 80 percent of international students never see the inside of an American home during their stay. Long-term immigrants seem to fare only a little better. This is a great opportunity for Christians to exercise hospitality. Holidays are especially good times to do this. Nearly every major holiday, our family has at least one or two international students join us for a meal. In the process, we are able to share with them our supreme thanks for the grace God has extended to us in Christ, as well as expose them to some pretty amusing food and cultural traditions.

6. Prepare to be patient. However you go about pursuing relationships with internationals, you should recognize some of the challenges involved. For starters, the time expectations of internationals can sometimes take Americans by surprise. Other cultures often have much greater time expectations for friendships. You need to be prepared and willing to educate your international friends about your culture by kindly setting boundaries that are appropriate for you and your family.

You’ll also need a great deal of patience for long-term investment in relationships. Often a lot of underbrush needs to be cleared away before the gospel begins to take root. North American culture is far from Christian, but it does seem that many North Americans have some passing affinity for the gospel, whether through parents, relatives, or friends. And there is at least some cultural fluency with gospel ideas, even if twisted.

But for many of our friends from other cultures, there is none of that. They may have never known a Christian before and have no affinity for the Bible or the gospel. Persons from Muslim or some Hindu communities may have been taught to hate Christians and the Bible. Or your international friends may have come from a radically secular culture, as in much of China, where theistic belief is equated with mental deficiency. God can and will do whatever he pleases, but in the normal course of things, it usually takes a good bit of time and patience to work through the questions that these cultural hurdles create. But the fruit is always worth whatever effort it takes.

*This article is adapted from Andy’s book, "Missions: How the Local Church Goes Global"

By / Dec 23

Billions of people are born, live their entire lives, and die without ever hearing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Maybe you should read that sentence again, just to give it time to sink in.

Currently, there are more than seven billion people in the world. Missiologists estimate that over 2.8 billion of those people have little to no access to the gospel. That is a huge number, and its reality demands a limitless missionary force to take the gospel to unreached peoples and places around the world.

Jesus exhorted his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Matt. 9:37–38). The same truth remains today.

“Limitless” is not a new idea

From cover to cover,  the Bible displays God's passion for his glory in all nations. His desire is for "all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4). Therefore, birthed out of a God-given desire to see more people engaged with the gospel and to provide more pathways for followers of Christ to utilize the gifts entrusted to them, we believe the time is right and the need is urgent for a limitless missionary force. By God’s grace, the vision of limitless sending has garnered excitement among Christians and churches in North America.

The desire for “limitless” is not new. Lottie Moon, the revered and distinguished Southern Baptist missionary to China regularly urged churches and her sending organization (International Mission Board) to mobilize and send a limitless force to the harvest fields of Asia during the latter half 19th century.

Charlotte (Lottie) Diggs Moon was born on December 12, 1840, in Albermarle County, Va. She was a fearless woman who stood four feet and three inches tall. She spent nearly 40 years on the mission field in China. On July 7, 1873, the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) officially appointed the 32-year-old as a missionary to China. Just a few years after arriving in China, Lottie sounded the alarm to the churches back home for the need of an unlimited missionary force. She wrote on November 4, 1875:

The harvest is plenteous, the laborers are few….What we find missionaries can do in the way of preaching the gospel even in the immediate neighborhood of this city, is but as the thousandth part of a drop in the bucket compared with what should be done…four or five laborers cannot possibly cultivate a radius of twenty miles, so cannot we, a mission of five people, do more than make a beginning of what should be done….But is there no way to arouse the churches on this subject?…We implore you to send us help. Let not these heathen sink down into eternal death without one opportunity to hear that blessed Gospel which is to you the source of all joy & comfort. The work that constantly presses upon us is greater than time or strength permit us to do.[1]

Inadequacy demands more

Lottie recognized the desperate need for a vast missionary force in a country as large as China. She described her labors as a mere “drop in a bucket” and eagerly desired more laborers to share in this strategic work. Lottie knew that a monumental number of men and women filled with the Spirit of God and armed with the Word of God were necessary for the people of the world to be reached with the good news of the gospel. In attempt to recruit and motivate more to come and share in this difficult, but rewarding work, Lottie wrote on November 11, 1878:

But how inadequate our force! Here is a province of thirty million souls & Southern Baptists can only send one man & three women to tell them the story of redeeming love. Oh! That my words could be as a trumpet call stirring the hearts of my brethren & sisters to pray, to labor, to give themselves to this people…We are now, a very, very few feeble workers, scattering the grain broadcast according as time & strength permit. God will give the harvest; doubt it not. But the laborers are so few. Where we have four, we should have not less than one hundred. Are these wild words? They would not seem so were the church of God awake to her high privileges & her weighty responsibilities.[2]

Lottie Moon understood that the Great Commission has been given to every Christian. She knew that all of God’s people are to be passionate about God’s glory in all nations and that every disciple of Christ has a role to play in praying, giving, and going for the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Spending our lives for the mission

Today, in God’s providence and timing, Christians in church pews around the world are being awakened to God’s heart for the nations. People from every walk of life, with a multitude of talents, gifts, and experiences are considering how they might best spend their lives for the accomplishment of the Great Commission.

Lottie Moon died aboard a ship in a Japanese harbor on December 24, 1912. Over a century later, God is stirring up a limitless missionary force made up of people convicted by the word, compelled by the urgent need in the world, and committed to joining God in this most rewarding and satisfying work regardless of where that might lead them.

Therefore, let us rejoice in the legacy of Lottie Moon and countless others through history who have prayed for God to awaken and equip a missionary force  to take the gospel to the world. After all, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Matt. 9:37–38).  

Notes

  1. ^ Keith Harper ed., Send the Light: Lottie Moon’s Letters and Other Writings (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2002).
  2. ^ Ibid
By / Oct 30

And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).

We will turn on our porch lights on Halloween, set out a sign and hand out king-sized candy bars to hundreds of kids, moms, dads and teens. Some will grumble that we receive sinners . . . but they said this of Jesus too.

Light of the world

Many Christians believe that handing out candy on Halloween is not a good idea. They assume that if they hand out candy on Halloween, they are advocating all it stands for and will therefore compromise their witness as a Christian. Yes, Halloween, as a whole, stands for some really wicked things. It is a day when people worship Satan, demons and spiritual darkness. It can be an excuse for unrepentant sinning. But we are the light of the world, and light is intended for darkness. “Does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket?”

The darker the day, the more the light stands out. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Who needs to see the Light of Christ more? Saints or sinners?

“And it happened that he was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and his disciples . . . When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, 'Why is he eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?' And hearing this, Jesus said to them, 'It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners'” (Mark 2:15-17).

The gospel of Jesus Christ is for sinners. And how did Jesus, the physician, engage those who were sick? He hung out with them, ate with them, talked to them. If our Master, Jesus, spent time with sinners in this way, how can we think ourselves too “holy” to do the same? Instead, the Pharisees, who Jesus rebuked, refused to interact with sinners on the ground level.

Missional Halloween

For a moment, let’s imagine my husband and I are missionaries in a foreign country. We have just moved in and are getting a feel for the culture and daily life of this country’s inhabitants. Few know about Jesus, and ancestral worship is the most common religious practice. We have been praying about a way to get to know more people and for opportunities to share about Jesus. Then, we hear about a large ancestral worship festival in which all of the city will be out. All you have to do is turn on your porch light, and they will come to your door singing songs of praise to their ancestors.

As missionaries, we’d thank God for such a great opportunity!  Instead of spending our days looking for a single moment to get to know someone and talk about faith, we now have many who will come to our door with their mind already on spiritual things. I can’t imagine a more perfect opportunity.

This is exactly what Halloween can be for Christians in this country. We should already be missional in our neighborhoods, seeking to reach our neighbors with the good news of Jesus—and what a perfect day to help us get to know the families that live around us. In addition, there is already an air of spirituality. It may have an evil spiritual feel, but it’s a springboard to bring up the topic of life, death, hell, heaven and a great God who has defeated Satan on the cross through the amazing sacrifice of his Son for sinners like us. Jesus received sinners, so let’s receive sinners as they come to our door, too.

Turn it for good

You can even participate in Halloween without actually celebrating the day itself. We are careful to not have any traditional Halloween decorations like ghosts, spiderwebs, monsters, etc. Instead, we try to brand ourselves as the “crazy-generous” house on our street, making a statement about the gracious nature of our God through sending his Son.

How are we doing that? We give out the good candy—king-sized candy bars! And when you're giving out over 800 of those candy bars, people start asking, “Why?”—which leads to an open door for the gospel. “Because we serve a generous God who gave his Son to pay the penalty of our sin and give us new life. We didn't deserve it, and we long to be a small expression of his generosity toward us.” I've already been able to share my testimony and the good news of Jesus several times just by buying the candy.

Not only that, we are hoping to love people well. With the help of our college homegroup, we have a welcome team that interacts with people at the foot of the steps, looking for opportunities to talk about Jesus and ask for prayer requests. Those requests are texted to a team in our guest-room-turned-prayer-room. After being loved, welcomed and treated to king-sized bars, each person will be pointed to Jesus through signs on the way out proclaiming Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Halloween is a day that Satan has intended for evil, but God working in us is leveraging it for the good of others and for his glory.

We are sinners, too

We can’t be quick to forget that the only reason we are saved is because Jesus condescended into the filth of our life, met us where we were, and extended grace and love to us there.  We are no less sinners than those we seek to reach.  As John Newton said, we are simply great sinners with a greater Savior. Let’s not fall into the well-worn path of the Pharisees, thinking, in our religious arrogance, that we are better than those who don’t know Him. For Jesus said, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you [religious leaders]” (Matt. 21:31).

“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Tim. 1:15).

We can remember and embody our Lord’s command to us on nights like Halloween, not running from darkness but charging toward it with the loving light of the gospel. “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).

You can follow our journey to #RedeemHalloween2015 by watching for pictures and posts on our instagram accounts (@kellyneedham and @jimmyneedham) on October 31.