By / Feb 23

In 2021 and early 2022, International Mission Board missionaries serving in Ukraine heard rumors of war, which led to an overland evacuation. Looking today in the rearview mirror, they realize they couldn’t have guessed the trauma about to mushroom from the east.  

Less than one month after the missionaries’ exodus, war made a forceful entry into the country they’d come to call home. The war ripped the life from the bodies of more than 7,100 civilians, tore husbands from wives and fathers from children, decimated towns and cities, stole childhoods and livelihoods, and wrought immeasurable havoc on the eastern European nation. 

That the war continues one year after the invasion comes as a surprise to many and is a testament to the interminable resolve and resilience of Ukrainians. That the Ukrainian church has grown, despite the upheaval and chaos, is a testament to the power of the gospel and the perseverance of the church. The church’s growth ballooned out from the country’s borders, following like a parachute to the cities and towns where refugees found welcoming hearts and arms.  

Ukrainian Christian refugees brought the light that could not and would not be extinguished to countries with significantly lower populations of evangelicals. Ukraine is home to the highest percentage of evangelicals in Europe. 

Their dispersion meant the gospel was also dispersed. 

Responding to the needs of Ukrainians

IMB ministry to and among Ukrainians has not halted in the year since the war began. Although IMB missionaries cannot currently live in Ukraine, they remain emotionally and relationally present with Ukrainians. Through Send Relief and IMB missionary presence, Southern Baptists continue to respond to the needs of Ukrainians.

What does it mean for IMB missionaries to be steadfastly present in a time of war and exile? It means:

  • loading a truck and trailer with provisions to take to physically and mentally disabled people in Ukraine, 
  • singing praise songs in a community center-turned-church and leading small group Bible studies in church basements, 
  • driving a van across the countryside to host mobile medical clinics, 
  • continuing to provide theological education for Ukrainian pastors, 
  • and making daring trips into Ukraine to oversee disaster relief projects. 

The world’s greatest problem is still lostness. IMB missionaries and their national partners are still running the race the Lord has set before them—a race to share the promise of the gospel with Ukrainians in their hour of greatest need. 

Looking back 

In the first few months of the war, IMB and Send Relief efforts centered around providing food, supplies, access to shelter and emotional and spiritual care. IMB missionaries, European Baptists, and Southern Baptist volunteers met refugees fleeing across the border and met them in the cities where they landed.  

As the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months, churches in multiple countries continued to take in refugees and welcome them into their congregations. New congregations of war-weary refugees formed. Refugee children attended Christian camps and reclaimed some of the childhood they had lost. IMB missionaries invested their lives in the refugees living in their cities and made trips back into the country to visit national partners. Missionaries and their national partners hosted Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas parties, which provided much-needed time for community and celebration. 

The poignancy of the gospel and the generosity of Christians led to changed lives.  

Send Relief has facilitated 98 Ukrainian relief projects since February 2022. These projects centered in Ukraine, Poland, Romania and Moldova. Volunteers with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief made the trans-Atlantic journey to serve on the border of Ukraine. While there, they provided relief in many forms. 

Southern Baptist generosity knew no bounds. Gifts to Ukraine relief thus far have totaled $12.9 million, with $10 million given to Send Relief and $2.9 million given to the IMB. 

IMB missionaries developed digital engagement strategies to reach Ukrainians both inside and outside the country. The reach has been astronomical—22.5 million people visited a website created as an outreach tool.  

Looking forward 

Dan and Lori Upchurch served with the IMB in Lviv, Ukraine, before evacuating ahead of the Russian invasion. They now serve Ukrainian refugees in Poland with their teammates, Sarah and Kanoot Midkiff. They helped facilitate a relief center to meet the physical needs of refugees and planted a church with their national partner. They lead small-group Bible studies and partner with Ukrainian church planters. Dan continues to teach classes at the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary, first online and now by traveling back to Ukraine.  

After evacuating Kharkiv, Ross and Kasey Lewis and Linda Gray, joined later by Journeyman Harrison Martin have invested their lives ministering to Ukrainian refugees in Romania. They minister in refugee centers and now host mobile medical clinics throughout the region. They recently purchased a van and ultrasound machines.  

Mike and JuliAn Domke took up temporary residence in Hungary, where they minister to Ukrainian refugees. Mike also oversees 20 Send Relief projects in Ukraine and makes frequent trips there. 

IMB missionaries who serve across Europe have added ministry to Ukrainians to their ministry routines. 

David and Shannon Brown and Ayden and Lorelei Klarke serve in Moldova and partner with the Moldovan Baptist Union to serve the many Ukrainian refugees who crossed the country’s eastern border.  

Only the Lord knows how long the war will last. Kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there’s something about Jesus’ name—the name that extends past rumors of war. 

Send Relief is the joint compassion ministry of the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board.

This article originally appeared at IMB.org. Read past stories from Ukraine of God’s work through Send Relief and the IMB. Look for more stories coming in the month ahead.

Photo details: IMB missionary Dan Upchurch leads a Bible study for Ukrainian refugees in a Polish Baptist Church. The church has been actively involved in meeting the needs of refugees. Upchurch shares 2 Corinthians 4:9-10 and talks about how God does not leave his people in times of persecution. IMB Photo

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 / Apr 15

Each year, churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) give generously to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering (AAEO). The AAEO is the primary way the SBC, through the North American Missions Board (NAMB), supports mission efforts in North America. One hundred percent of gifts given to AAEO are used to support more than 2,200 missionary families serving across the United States and Canada.

Here are five facts you should know about Annie Armstrong and the Easter Offering she started. 

1. Annie Walker Armstrong was born in 1850 in Baltimore, Maryland. Her father died when she was 2, leaving her and her four siblings to be raised by her Christian mother. Although raised in a Baptist church, Armstrong did not become a believer until she was 19. In a Sunday service during the Civil War, Armstrong’s pastor told his Baptist congregation, “The religion of Jesus Christ gives peace in the midst of trouble.” Wanting this peace for herself, Armstrong put her faith in Jesus that day. 

2. Shortly after she became a Christian, Armstrong joined 100 other members of her congregation in planting Eutaw Place Church. She remained a member of that church for nearly 70 years, until her death in 1938. At Eutaw she taught the Infant Class (i.e., children under the age of 12) for almost half a century. She also, as Shannon Baker says, “maintained an interest in ministering to mothers, immigrants, the underprivileged, the sick, African Americans, Indians, and later in her life, her Jewish neighbors.” It was at Eutaw that Armstrong also developed a passion for missions. 

3. Armstrong became the founder and president of the Ladies’ Bay View Mission, an organization that cared for the poor, located on the site where Johns Hopkins Bayview

Medical Center now stands. In 1880, at the age of 30, she served as the first president of the Woman’s Baptist Home Mission Society of Maryland, which involved women in supporting the SBC’s Home Mission Board (now known as the North American Mission Board). The society’s first priority locally was forming a school for Native Americans in what is now Oklahoma and ministering to Chinese immigrants and impoverished mountain people. Armstrong later became the corresponding secretary (equivalent to an executive director) of the Maryland Mission Rooms, later called the Mission Literature Department, SBC. Initially, this department served as a missions library and reading room, but later became a publisher and distributor of missions literature. 

4. At the age of 38, Armstrong led in framing the constitution of the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), an auxiliary to the SBC. She served as corresponding secretary until 1906. During this time she refused a salary for her work because she would never give to the Lord “that which costs me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). While at WMU, Armstrong and missionary Lottie Moon proposed a Christmas Offering to raise money to send single women to China to work with Moon. The offering, which raised enough for three missionaries, became the precursor to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions — so named at Armstrong’s recommendation — which has raised billions from SBC churches and members for foreign missions. 

5. Armstrong proposed the first WMU self-denial offering for Home Missions. In 1934, it was named in honor of Armstrong. To date, more than $2 billion has been donated by Southern Baptist churches and individuals to the AAEO, which supports thousands of missionaries in church planting and compassion ministries. While 35% of NAMB’s budget is provided by the Cooperative Program, 50% is provided by the AAEO. As NAMB notes, “Because of this sacrificial giving, millions of lives have been and continue to be transformed by the power of the gospel.”

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 24

All across the world, Southern Baptists are preparing for Christmas Eve services with their local congregation. But there was as time in American when most Protestants, including many Southern Baptists, did not consider Christmas to be a holiday worth celebrating.

A holiday rejected 

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, many Protestants found no biblical justification for Christmas and associated it with Roman Catholicism. For instance, in his book on “profane and superstitious customs,” the influential preacher Increase Mather included an entire chapter titled, “Against Profane Christ-mass Keeping.” Among his reasons were that the very name of Christmas (“Christ mass”) “savours of superstition,” that there’s no evidence Jesus was born on Dec. 25, and that the celebration was “in compliance with the Pagan Saturnalia that Christ-mass Holy-days were first invented.” (Modern scholars would later debunk the narrative that Christmas had a pagan origin.)

They were also scandalized by the drunkenness and revelry that was similar to activities we would now associate with Halloween. As J.A.R. Pimlott points out, celebrations included trick-or-treating, cross-dressing, and going door-to-door demanding food or money in return for carols or Christmas wishes. “Men dishonor Christ more in the 12 days of Christmas,” wrote the 16th-century clergyman Hugh Latimer, “than in all the 12 months besides.”

In 1647, the Puritan government in Boston even canceled Christmas for a few years. They ordered shops to stay open, churches to stay closed, and ministers to be arrested for preaching on Christmas Day. Protestants in the Southern states, though, were more tolerant of the festivities, at least as a civic function. In the 1830s Christmas became a legal holiday in Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Still, it was mostly a civic holiday rather than a religious one.

The celebration of Christmas during the Victorian Era in England — when Christmas carols first became popular and Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol — eventually trickled over into the United States. After the Civil War, the celebration of Christmas became more common in Southern Baptist life, though it was still mostly associated with friends and families than with activities of ​the local church. 

A change in the celebration of Christmas

That began to change, though, due to the influence of Charlotte Digges “Lottie” Moon, the SBC’s most famous missionary. In 1873, the SBC’s Foreign Missions Board (now the IMB) appointed Moon to go to China. 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 1887 Moon wrote a letter to the Foreign Mission Journal suggesting that Southern Baptist women set aside the  “week before Christmas” as a time of prayer and giving to international missions. “Is not the festive season when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of the Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of human race,” she wrote, “the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches . . . to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?”

In 1888, a handful of women dedicated to the cause of missions founded the Woman’s Missionary Union. That initial Christmas offering collected $3,315 (roughly $97,000 in 2021 dollars). By 1889, the Annual Report of the convention reported that “Christmas envelopes” were distributed in the churches. The Foreign Mission Board in the Annual Report of 1890 acknowledged that it had published “Christmas literature,” and in 1897 the convention thanked the WMU “for the sum of all these Christmas offerings.” As Stephen Douglas Wilson observed, “Over time the Southern Baptist embrace of a Christmastide offering to support missions made it respectable to incorporate additional Christmas themes in Southern Baptist churches.”

In 1918, after Moon’s death, ​the WMU Christmas offering was renamed the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Since its inception, several billion dollars has been collected for the fund, including $159.5 million in 2019–20. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions funds more than 50% of IMB work

One of the best ways Southern Baptists can continue to promote the true reason for Christmas — Immanuel, God with us — is by giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. You can help send even more Southern Baptists to the ends of the earth in order to proclaim Jesus by making a year-end donation to the International Mission Board

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 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