Archives For Great Commission

Taking the risk

ib2newseditor —  November 17, 2016

Serving Christ has always been dangerous. He said it would be. Now, even telling the stories of missionaries puts them in danger.

London | We can’t tell you their names. We can’t tell you where they live. We can’t really even tell you where they work. They are missionaries.

Times have changed. We all know social and cultural values have recently experienced massive upheavals in western nations. Religion has played a major role in these changes. Missions work is no longer tolerated in places it once was. Working to fulfill the Great Commission can no longer be done so openly.

We can’t tell you their names. We can’t tell you where they live. We can’t really even tell you where they work. They are missionaries.

Coinciding with these cultural shifts are changes within the Southern Baptist Convention’s largest missions sending agency. The International Mission Board (IMB) is adapting the way it does missions. When IMB President David Platt stepped into the role in 2014 he soon discovered the agency was facing a budget overspend of more than $200 million. Personnel costs would have to be greatly reduced with action being taken quickly. With a major and largely voluntary staff reduction in 2015, going from nearly 5,000 missionaries and staff to 3,800, IMB expects have a balanced budget in 2017.

The changes included cutting most of the communications team serving in Richmond, and replacing them with a small team of young communication specialists stationed at points all around the world. With them comes new strategies for engaging Southern Baptists with missionaries that take into account the risky business of gospel witness.

Not your mother’s mission magazine
You may have noticed the stories about IMB missionaries have changed. Remember Commission magazine, with its glossy photos and National Geographic style? Today’s mission stories are not written in a long, detailed format anymore. We don’t often see photographs of missionaries’ faces. The name of the countries where they serve may not be reported. There is a good reason for this. A very good reason.

horse-and-rider

SHADOW AND LIGHT – This photo from IMB’s
Instagram account shows their new communication strategy: show the missions concept, but protect the identity of the missionary. Posted with the photo is a brief message from the missionary: “Pray for God to provide me with a teammate willing to work in rough, remote places so we can reach the mountain shepherd people.”

Almost a dozen state Baptist convention newspaper editors met with members of the Board’s media network in London recently. The chief topic was security concerns.

“There’s spiritual warfare on the front lines,” a member of the media team shared. “A battle is going on against the spread of the gospel.”

For example, one missionary took all the necessary precautions. But when a photo that had been taken years earlier was found online it led to his undoing. Somehow a person in the country where the missionary was serving connected it with some other information online to learn the missionary’s true identity. It almost cost him his life.

He walked, unsuspecting, into a meeting and found the atmosphere was charged with anger. People once friendly were now menacing as they kept him there for hours shouting, “Is this you? Did you say this?” When he was finally allowed to leave, he gathered his family and they fled the country. His identity had been compromised and it was no longer safe for them to continue to spread the gospel message in that country.

The missionary life can require living in countries where it’s dangerous to be a Christian. But it can also be risky living in “safe” countries among those same people groups that are hostile to Christians. There are parts of Africa and Asia that have always been high risk and high security for missionaries. With the increased mobilization of people, now it’s not just there, it’s everywhere.

“There’s spiritual warfare on the front lines. A battle is going on against the spread of the gospel.”

In other cases, the country may feel it is already a Christian nation and therefore does not need to admit anyone into the country for the express purpose of doing mission work. In those places, missionaries enter as workers who are in the country to do charity work or other vocations.

Tell the old, old story—differently
If you visit the International Mission Board’s website, IMB.org, you can read its mission statement, “Our mission is evangelizing, discipling, and planting reproducing churches among all peoples in fulfillment of the Great Commission.”

In today’s world, technological advance has produced security issues, so can the missions stories be told to the people back home in the pews? It’s becoming more and more challenging. Things aren’t as simple as when Lottie Moon would write about her work in China and send the letter to Annie Armstrong to be copied (and recopied) by hand or typewriter, and distributed across the United States.

For years the National Woman’s Missionary Union’s prayer calendar in Missions Mosaic magazine has contained a birthday prayer calendar for missionaries. It listed their names and the countries where they served. In recent years, fewer real names or locations can be shared. Quite often a pseudonym will be used along with a region of the world, “South Asia,” for instance.

While the IMB remains committed to telling the story back home, they are having to become more and more creative in doing so. Lengthy articles are now less common and story vignettes are better vehicles not only due to safety concerns, but also for ever shrinking attention spans.

“The missionary life, missions sending, it’s always changing.”

This has caused the IMB to shift the way it creates the content of a story, looking more at the concept that describes the missions work. As a member of the media team said, “There are avenues of telling the story without focusing on people in specific locations. We’ve had to shift the way we’re doing content altogether.”

The use of social media including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter is proving to be a good way for Southern Baptists to stay informed about missions. It connects with younger generations who need also to learn the importance of giving to missions through the Cooperative Program.

The IMB website has undergone a complete retooling and now sports a fresh look that supports this challenging new media world.

Another change is in the reporting on the safety of missionaries after breaking news events. Southern Baptists often express interest in how an event affects missions efforts in those areas. According to their website, “Due to security considerations for IMB personnel and the national believers with whom they work, we usually don’t discuss their locations. However, with any breaking news event, we are in contact with anyone who might be affected, due to travel or other reasons, to confirm their safety and security.”

A media team member summed it up: “The missionary life, missions sending, it’s always changing. There are always new security challenges necessitating a new way of telling their stories. Most of our missionaries, we can’t print their names.”

Lisa Misner Sergent will focus on London, a world city with many people groups, in her next report.

Go Church Go!

ib2newseditor —  November 14, 2016

People in the form of  church.First let me say I how much I appreciate my many friends who are St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox fans, even those who seemed to suddenly become Cleveland Indians fans just prior to the 2016 World Series. I try not to be an annoying or gloating Cubs fan, though some might say that simply writing about the Cubs here makes me so.

But it’s not really the now-world-champion Cubs team or organization that I want to draw on for inspiration with these thoughts. Rather, it’s the persevering, always hopeful, and now victorious Cubs fans. Though I grew up a Cardinals fan like many in southern Illinois, five things have always drawn me to Cubs fans, and made me one of them.

Worldwide – The WGN cable network is probably most responsible for giving the Cubs a more than regional fan base. When wearing a Cubs logo, I have found other fans all around the country, and even around the world.

Wrigley – You just can’t deny the old world charm of the historic yet modernized stadium that the Cubs call their friendly confines. For true baseball fans, it’s one of the most inviting places in the world.

Waiters – As almost everyone now knows, Cubs fans had not seen a World Series championship since 1908. As the Series approached, numerous writers listed things that are more current than a Cubs championship, including the toaster and sliced bread itself. True, faithful Cubs fans are by definition those who patiently wait.

Winsome – While I’m sure we all know an abrasive Cubs fan or two, the overwhelming majority of Cubs fans I’ve known are friendly, hopeful, optimistic, and deeply loyal. Even though “lovable losers” is a label that’s practically become part of the official Cubs brand, you can’t get a rise out of a Cubs fan with that kind of insult. After all, until this year, what defense was there to that label? Cubs fans just smile, and winsomely recite their equally well-known mantra: “Wait ‘til next year.”

Winners – And finally, this year, we can add a new capital W that could only have been used in small case a few times over the past 108 years. This year, Cubs fans are winners. Their perseverance finally paid off. Next year has finally come. And in a demonstration of support and celebration that has now been labeled the largest gathering in American history, and seventh largest in world history, more than five million fans flooded the streets and parks of Chicago to relabel their lovable losers—beloved winners.

Now, how do I rationalize writing about baseball here? Well, almost any time I am moved or inspired by something in secular culture, I find it’s because I see in that event a reflection of something larger in God’s Kingdom, or God’s character, or God’s people. In this case, I think I find Cubs fans so inspiring (admittedly, some Cubs players are not) because I see in them a faint reflection of the same qualities I see in faithful Christians, and churches.

Throughout much of the world, including our own nation and state, faithful Christians are not seen as current winners. But, at least when we’re at our best, we are seen as winsome people who are patiently waiting for our victorious Lord Jesus to return. We are seeking to take our love and loyalty and gospel message worldwide. And yet we seek to make each local gathering place as inviting and friendly as the confines of Wrigley Field.

There will be a day when the five million that gathered to celebrate in Chicago will be a pale comparison to the tribes, tongues, and nations that will gather at the feet of Jesus, to worship him forever. But for now, a long-suffering group known as Cubs fans have reminded me of a more important group of people whose patient, faithful, hopeful perseverance will eventually be rewarded by victory. Go Church Go.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Proud moment

ib2newseditor —  September 1, 2016

Sandy Wisdom-Martin elected to lead National WMU

Sandy_Wisdom-MartinThe news spread quickly among Illinois Southern Baptists that one of their own was named to serve as executive director/treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union.

Sandy Wisdom-Martin, an Illinois native who grew up near the small town of Marissa, was unanimously elected by the WMU executive board at a special-called meeting July 29-30 in Birmingham, Ala. She directed women’s missions and ministries for IBSA from 2001 until 2010, when she moved south to serve as executive director of WMU of Texas.

“Many of us here in Illinois are ‘busting our buttons’ with pride and gratitude for Sandy’s selection, because we consider her one of our own,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams.

The Illinois Baptist paper is not large enough for me to list the ways or the people who have impacted my life. I take with me to Birmingham a priceless heritage passed down to me by faithful Christ-followers.

“People eagerly hear her, respond to her, and follow her because of her personal integrity and character, and because she clearly follows the Lord’s leadership in her own life.”

Wisdom-Martin was highly involved in Illinois WMU as a student, serving on the state Acteens panel and several Acteens Activator mission teams. She also was the first recipient of the Darla Lovell Scholarship from Illinois WMU while studying at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

While at IBSA, she served as president of Mississippi River Ministries and led the first international WMU Habitat for Humanity team, which traveled to Ghana to build houses.

“I am thrilled beyond words in Sandy’s selection as Executive Director of WMU,” said Evelyn Tully, who directed Illinois WMU prior to Wisdom-Martin. “Her missions commitment, her ministry lifestyle, and her exemplary relationships have uniquely prepared her for this tremendous responsibility.

“I know Illinois missions-minded women will be her strong prayer supporters.”

The Illinois Baptist interviewed Wisdom-Martin via e-mail shortly after her election:

Illinois Baptist: Congratulations! We’re so excited one of our own is on her way to Birmingham!

Sandy Wisdom-Martin: Thank you. That means a great deal to me.

IB: Let’s start with the name and role of your organization. What does “woman’s” and “auxiliary” mean in the 21st century?

SWM: Our leaders have all said in different ways, “We are not a women’s organization, we are a missions organization.” My first full-time ministry supervisor, Julia Ketner at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, said, “We shout missions and whisper WMU.”

We are not about perpetuating an organization. We are about making Christ known in the world. If we focus on who we are, we will fail. If we focus on Christ and the mission he has given us, we cannot fail.

IB: What will you take from your Illinois/IBSA experience to Birmingham?

SWM: I am a product of Illinois Southern Baptists. The daughter of a coal miner and foundry worker. The first Illinois Southern Baptists I knew were my Christian parents who worked hard and served well. I learned lessons too numerous to mention. The members of Clarmin Baptist Church poured their lives into mine giving me every advantage possible as a young Christ-follower.

A new pastor’s wife introduced our church to Acteens and I discovered what God was doing in the world. State missions camps and events, as well as Acteens Activator teams, sealed my heart for missions. Then came the opportunity to rub shoulders with heroes of the faith who served with the Illinois Baptist State Association. In college, the Nine Mile Baptist Associational WMU council invited me to join their team. They let me teach conferences. I was awful. They loved me anyway. Baptist Student Union at SIU-Carbondale became one of the most important discipling influences of my life.

And that’s only the beginning. The Illinois Baptist paper is not large enough for me to list the ways or the people who have impacted my life. I take with me to Birmingham a priceless heritage passed down to me by faithful Christ-followers.

IB: How will you make WMU relevant for a new generation of women?

SWM: We have challenges to be sure. The future will demand higher visibility and more options. I find that when people understand what we really do, they value us.

As WMU, we have these six objectives: pray for missions, engage in mission action and personal witnessing, learn about missions, support missions, develop spiritually toward a missions lifestyle, and participate in the work of the church and denomination. While we want people engaged in all six objectives, ministries seem to be the way to capture people’s heart for missions initially.

So, in Texas, we began doing things like building houses in partnership with local associations. We converted an old bus to a rolling WorldCrafts store and have sold more than $100,000 in WorldCrafts products while teaching shoppers about fair trade and missionaries who work with artisans. We have a truck and generator being converted into a “Suds of Love” laundry unit.

Once we get people involved initially, we invite them to go deeper in missional living. We strive to engage missional disciples for life.

IB: It seems like a lot of churches have moved away from missions education programs like Girls in Action and Royal Ambassadors. Do you think people need to be reminded (or taught for the first time) why missions education is important?

SWM: I think the experience of 2015 should be enough to remind people of the importance of missions education. Between 600-800 international missionaries were brought home (because of budgetary shortfalls at the International Mission Board). When people know about the needs of the field, they respond by praying and by giving. When they don’t know, the reverse happens.

I think we have moved away from missions education because we have moved away from the Great Commission. We are failing at the one thing Jesus told us to do which is “make disciples.” Making disciples is a lifelong process.

I am who at I am today because Illinois Southern Baptists began pouring their lives into mine and discipling me through local church missions education, missions education camps, associational missions, campus ministry and statewide missions activities. I grew up passionate about the Cooperative Program because that was what I was taught. We lived and breathed missions in my small country church. It was not an option. It was part of the DNA of our congregation.

IB: People today are awfully busy. How can WMU leaders find time on the church schedule for missions education?

SWM: We live in a wonderful age where resources are readily available and creativity abounds. There are countless ways to engage in missions education and involvement.

WMU provides premier missions resources. I think the problem is not with church schedules or other issues. I think the primary problem is that we have forgotten our “why.”

Our identity is with Christ. We believe Christ gave his all for us. We follow his teachings and his example. We do it all for the sake of Christ. We believe we are people made in the image of God with infinite worth because we are his creation. We know we are broken people in need of restoration and healing. Through Christ’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace, our lives are being made new. We are passionate about telling his story and how it has changed us. We want every culture to know his story and be changed by it as well. We give our lives to that pursuit. That is why we do what we do.

IB: What does partnering with the International Mission Board look like now, with a new leadership team and reduced missionary force from funding challenges?

SWM: I’m looking forward to discussions with both IMB and NAMB (North American Mission Board) when I get settled, but believe our partnership will focus on reaching the nations for Christ as it always has. WMU actively promotes the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Week of Prayer for International Missions, encourages members to pray for missionaries daily through the missionary prayer calendar, coordinates stateside housing, provides water filters through Pure Water, Pure Love, and so much more.

IB: What is WMU’s main point of connection with NAMB, given its church planting focus?

SWM: Through our partnership with NAMB, we help participants live out the six objectives we discussed earlier. We count it a joy to be able to tell the stories of all our missionaries, as well as support their work through extensive promotion of the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and Week of Prayer. We also support NAMB missionaries through Christmas in August, scholarships for MKs (missionary kids), and more. When it is possible, we continue to invest our lives in their ministries through hands-on involvement.

IB: How do you make missions cool in a world without borders? What is the compulsion to “Go…” when “all the world” seems so close these days?

SWM: For more than 125 years, the name of our organization has been said incorrectly in many venues. We are named Woman’s Missionary Union because it is the individual woman who understands and responds to God’s call on her life.

That is how we make missions cool. We help each individual understand their own giftedness and God’s call on their life to make disciples. It’s not about what you do. It’s about who you are in Christ. You were created in the image of God for His purpose and glory. We are here to help nurture that call.