PLYMOUTH, MI – “More than 155,000 people die daily without Christ. That is a harsh and unacceptable reality,” said Dr. Paul Chitwood, president of the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention. My heart pounded when I heard Chitwood say, “We need 500 more missionaries by 2025.”
President Paul and Michelle Chitwood caught my attention during the first session of a three-day event. I was in a room surrounded by over 250 attendees who had arrived from thirty-one states, and I was hanging on every word they uttered. It may be strange to say, but it expresses my feelings, the tone of their testimony was layered with rare, sincere humility.
The president and his wife explained how tough their lives were in the early years as children. Then they shared how blessed they were, as adults, in each of their previous ministries always thankful for the honor to serve the Lord, never seeking to be elevated or raised to another place of service. A phrase echoes in my memory as I recall their testimony, “We were the unlikeliest of candidates to lead the International Mission Board.”
I now see what others sensed as they considered Chitwood. He influences others to serve the Lord by helping others to succeed and to feel valued. I was stunned when I heard that the president had already visited two-thirds of the IMB mission force in just eleven months. Then minutes later, I chuckled with the entire crowd when we learned that Chitwood asked missionaries at the start of his appointment as president, “If you were president and could change something before sunset today, what would that change be?” One of the most often desired solutions was, “Please, provide fitted sheets for the beds at the International Learning Center.” In short time, fitted sheets were provided for all the beds. It was a practical, I-hear-you gesture of love and value that will forever mark his legacy among missionaries.
One of the pillars of the IMB is Dr. Gordon Fort, Senior Ambassador for the International Mission Board. He, like other personnel of the IMB can easily tell you how many presidents and interim-presidents he has served under throughout his decades of service. Tears rolled out of my eyes when Fort asked retired missionaries to stand-up in the crowd, and I spotted two men standing who influenced my life; Bill Bullington and Dr. John Floyd. Looking at those upon whose heritage we now stand, Fort took a breath to clear his throat and said, “I believe now more than ever that we will see in our lifetime the moment when every tribe and every tongue will hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Others throughout the days said, “The current cooperation among our people and the anticipation that God is about to do something miraculous is obvious to all of us.”
Scott Ray, one of the most recent missionaries to take on a large task in Richmond, encouraged attendees to do two important things:
Correct an ongoing misunderstanding by letting everyone know that the IMB is open for business and ready to appoint new missionaries. Ray added, “We have more open slots than candidates.” In a break-out session, Ray reported, “We only have 298 long-term applicants and 399 mid-term applicants meaning that if we do not fill-up the pipeline with more candidates that the number of overseas personnel will decrease in the coming year.”
Fill the candidate pipeline with those whom God calls to international mission service by informing others about the pathways open to overseas service. Ray, like Fort and Chitwood, echoed the importance of prayer and sharing correct information concerning the mission of the IMB. Ray informed attendees about the variety of service opportunities; assignments from 1 year to career, financial and administrative support team members, roles that do not require college degrees and more. Attendees responded with enthusiasm and commitments to return to their churches with the news that the “IMB is open for business!”
As we approach Christmas and that time of year when in early December 47,000 churches are invited to collect a special offering for international missions, would you join me in prayer?
Asking the Lord to influence more churches to participate in the offering? I learned that less than 50% of our churches give to the international missions offering.
Asking the Lord to influence pastors to challenge members of their churches to step-out into overseas service? There are more unfilled requests for mission personnel than we have candidates in the pipeline. Ray warned, “With retirements and personnel returning to the United States after their mid-term service is ended our number of overseas personnel will decrease if the pipeline is not filled with more God-called candidates.”
Blessed, I oversee the discovery, development and deployment of 40-50 active church planters in Michigan in my daily life. I see unprecedented evidence of a God-movement in my home state. After attending a three-day advocate conference with the International Mission Board, I am burdened and want to see a God-movement upon the people within our churches moving from sanctuaries to overseas service. Would you join me by praying, informing, going and sending others?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.