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IMB appoints 67 new missionaries
Don Graham, Baptist Press
March 19, 2011

IMB appoints 67 new missionaries

IMB appoints 67 new missionaries
Don Graham, Baptist Press
March 19, 2011

RICHMOND, Va. — It was a secret Ishaq* held close for 13

years — one that caught journeyman missionary Craig Evans* by surprise when the

young man revealed it.

In 2007, Evans began visiting a quaint Central Asian village where he

befriended Ishaq. One day while Ishaq’s family answered the local mosque’s call

to prayer, Evans was able to talk with his Muslim friend alone for the first

time. Glancing around nervously, Ishaq leaned closer and whispered, “My one

desire in life is to be near to God.”

He explained that he had happened upon a Bible 13 days earlier and began

reading it. But when the Bible was discovered by Ishaq’s parents, both devout

Muslims, they took it and harshly discouraged any further interest in

Christianity. What his parents couldn’t take, though, was the seed that already

had been planted in Ishaq’s heart. And so, without any other gospel witness,

Ishaq waited for the day when God would send someone who could tell him about

Jesus.

Ishaq’s story was one of dozens of testimonies at an International Mission

Board (IMB) missionary appointment service March 16 hosted by First Baptist

Church in Dallas. Evans and his wife Katie* were among 67 new missionaries sent

forth on Tom Elliff’s first day as IMB president.

“I immediately recognized (Ishaq’s words) as something divine, something God

had orchestrated,” Evans said. “This is an area that is very much unreached by

the gospel, to the point that an average guy, from the time he’s born to the

time he dies, without God’s grace will probably never even rub shoulders with

someone who understands the gospel.”

Indeed, Evans was the first Christian Ishaq had encountered, and the pair soon

began meeting discreetly to talk about the Bible. But after months of

conversations, Ishaq wasn’t yet ready to make a commitment to Jesus, and Evans’

two-year term as a missionary journeyman was ending.

“I left the country without him having professed faith,” Evans said. “I don’t

know where God has led him. I would love it if we could run into each other

someday and I could see how God’s been working in him since.”

IMB photo

Fourth-generation church planter Sebastian Vazquez and his wife Erin speak about God’s call to missions during IMB’s March 16 missionary appointment service at First Baptist Church in Dallas. More than 100 years ago, a Southern Baptist missionary to Argentina led Vazquez’s great-grandfather to Christ, starting a missions legacy that continues today.

Evans just might get that chance. Energized by short-term mission trips and

divinely appointed encounters like his meeting with Ishaq, Evans is returning

with his family to minister full time in the same area where he formerly

served.

“Ishaq’s story encourages you in a way an appetizer prepares you for a buffet,”

Evans said. “Knowing that we serve a God who is drawing people like Ishaq —

people who have not humanly had any chance to hear — but have been given by God

that hunger and longing to know Him … that is the kind of stuff that encourages

you to go back.”

Breaking the mold

Like Evans, more than half of the new missionaries share similar stories of

calling through short-term missions experiences. For Matt Hartwell*, who

pastors a Southern Baptist church in Texas, affirmation of God’s call came on a

short-term mission trip to Ecuador with his wife Lilly*. A year later, on

another short-term trip, God revealed where they would be serving. As the

Hartwells prayerwalked an unreached mountain village in North Africa and the

Middle East, His direction was clear.

“We really felt God speak to both of us, saying, ‘This will be home,’” Hartwell

remembered. The couple is preparing to return to that same mountain area where

they will pioneer Southern Baptists’ efforts to spread the gospel.

But missionary calling isn’t reserved for pastors and those with careers in

ministry. Many of the new appointees came from secular careers with little or

no professional ministry experience. Their work won’t necessarily fit the

stereotypical missionary mold, either.

Before following God’s call overseas, Ryan Williams was a general contractor.

His wife Melinda was a math teacher. After an evangelism-focused Sunday School

series sparked their interest in sharing their faith, the Williamses couldn’t

imagine doing anything else.

“We were your typical American family — two kids, a dog and house in the

suburbs,” Ryan said. The Williamses are trading their “comfortable Christian

life” in McKinney, Texas, to share Jesus and plant churches in Romania, where

they will serve as logistics coordinators for a small IMB team.

George Dyer has spent much of his life in front of a computer. But after a

short-term mission trip to Russia, the 50-year-old Nebraska man felt God

leading him to give up his job in information technology to serve overseas.

Dyer and his wife Laura are going to Chile, where he’ll use his computer skills

to provide technical support for hundreds of Southern Baptist missionaries

working throughout the Americas. But Dyer admits that I.T. wasn’t how he

imagined God would use him to reach the nations.

“Our thought was that we’d (primarily) be doing church planting, evangelism,

outreach — things of that nature,” Dyer said. “Everybody wanted an I.T. person

… but we said, ‘No — we’re called to missions, not to do I.T. support.’ But God

challenged us as we were fasting and praying and said, ‘Are you willing to

serve Me any way I need you to serve?’”

While some of the appointees, like Dyer, were called to missions later in life,

many say they felt God drawing them to missions as children. Sebastian Vazquez

and his wife Erin are carrying on a family legacy, serving among international

university students in Toronto, Canada, as fourth-generation church planters.

Nearly 100 years ago, Vazquez’s great-grandfather, Angel, was led to Christ in

Argentina by a Southern Baptist missionary from Mississippi. Angel, a baker who

immigrated to Argentina from Spain, eventually became a church planter, as did

his son, Ramon (Vazquez’s grandfather). Ramon’s son, Raul (Vazquez’s father),

became a pastor and church planter in Texas after the Vazquez family moved

there.

“At first, I carried it (his family’s legacy) as a burden because I thought

that it was something that was pushing me into ministry, sort of like the

family business,” Sebastian Vazquez said. “But now I really have peace with it

and love to share the story because I really think it shows God’s faithfulness —

a missionary 100 years ago who probably never realized that the one little

baker he led to the Lord would be the first of four generations of church

planters.”

Fifteen of the 67 appointees are bound for service in North Africa and the

Middle East — a region that’s experienced an unprecedented season of unrest

since the beginning of 2011. Those missionaries include Hank and Ruby Greene*,

who have the unique challenge of sharing Jesus with deaf Muslims.

“If governments that have previously opposed the gospel are toppling, this is a

pretty good opportunity to go in,” he said. “We may as well take advantage

while the foundations are cracked and let the gospel fill the gaps.”

The appointment service was a historic event for Southern Baptists’ deaf

missions work. The Greenes were among six missionaries specifically appointed

to reach the deaf, the largest number in a single appointment service. More

than 250 deaf attended the service, including several deaf pastors and Jim

Dermon, president of the Southern Baptist Convention of the Deaf.

First things first

Drawing upon his years of ministry experience, Southern Baptist Convention

President Bryant Wright encouraged the new missionaries to keep their

priorities in order.

“I think the biggest challenge that anybody has over the long haul of ministry

is confusing their ministry with their love for Jesus,” Wright said. “As you

get excited about doing the Lord’s work … it is easy to get so wrapped up in

your ministry that you substitute the ministry for Jesus. Whatever you do, keep

that love for Jesus Christ as the preeminent concern for your life. And

secondly, love your spouse — love your family.”

Before praying over the appointees, Executive Committee President Frank Page

expressed hope that the missionaries would be such powerful witnesses for

Christ that even demons would know their names.

“One of the most fascinating chapters in all of the Bible is Acts 19,” Page

said. “It tells an unusual story of seven sons of Sceva who were casting out

demons. They got ahold of a world-class demon. The Bible says it beat them up

and sent them out of the house naked and bleeding.

“But in Acts 19:15, the demon looked at the sons and said, ‘Jesus we know, Paul

we know, who are you?’ I pray that these missionaries will be so powerful in

the spirit of God that demons in hell will know their names.”

New IMB President Tom Elliff spoke specifically to the missionaries’ parents.

As a former missionary and father of two missionaries, he said the parents may

be thinking, “Why is my son or daughter being called to the mission field?”

Elliff said the answer begins with the reality of hell.

“Hell is an actual place. It’s an awful place. And it’s an always place. There’s

never a moment where a person who spends eternity in hell will say, ‘Well, I’ve

about got this handled.’ No — there’s always as much out in front as there is

behind.

“There are soon to be 7 billion people on this globe. Over half of them have

very little access to the gospel. (These new missionaries are) saying, ‘Well,

not the ones that I meet. Not the people where I’m going, no sir — I’m going to

share the name of Jesus with them.’”

The appointment service brings IMB’s global missionary force to 5,014. The next

IMB appointment service will be Sunday, May 22, at Mandarin Baptist Church in

Los Angeles.

*Name changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Graham is a writer for the International

Mission Board.)

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