SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A deer meat processor and a doctor. A nanny and a nurse. A soldier and a statistician. These are just a few of the jobs previously held by 84 men and women appointed by International Mission Board (IMB) trustees Nov. 15 at Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo.
From as far away as Thailand and as near as the hills of Tennessee, the appointees shared testimonies of being called by God to a journey – a journey to be the heart, hands and voice of Jesus to the nations.
Prinna Puakpong was born in Thailand, where she was raised in a Buddhist home. Her journey led her first to Atlanta, Ga., and then to Chattanooga, Tenn., where she earned a master’s in business administration with an emphasis in finance. Disillusioned by the stock market crash of 2000, Puakpong prayed that God would reveal Himself to her.
“I prayed, ‘God, I don’t want to be confused anymore,’” Puakpong said. “‘Please reveal Yourself to me in a way that I can understand.’”
In a Bible study for international students in Chattanooga, Puakpong met Christians who showed her God’s love, and the direction of her life changed. Now, more than 10 years later, her journey will take Puakpong and her husband, Jack Wattanawongsawang, to Japan to be the voice of Jesus among those who have not yet heard the gospel.
Photo by Paul W. Lee
Ken Kuwahara, right, from Hawaii, is among IMB trustees interacting with Jack Wattanawongsawang and Prinna Puakpong, new IMB appointees who will work in Japan. A reception followed the appointment of 84 new IMB missionaries Nov. 15 at Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo.
For pharmacist Sarah Smythe*, her journey entailed a series of personal challenges during her college years – a time when she came to understand what it means not just to follow Jesus but to rely on Him.
“I realized my need,” Smythe said. “I needed to rely on God. I needed to be in community with His people and I needed to loosen my grip on academic excellence.”
During her first week in pharmacy school, Smythe knocked on the door of a stranger who had advertised a Bible study. Through that study, she developed a heart for the nations and she spent the next two summers working among Asian college students. Soon, she will return to East Asia with her husband Drew* and their two daughters to carry the gospel to those who are hurting.
For Hunter Wells*, who will serve in southern Asia, a job loss redirected his path.
“I felt like I was being called to missions but I really enjoyed my job, and I was going to have a hard time leaving that comfort and security,” the 37-year-old engineer said. “I asked God to take away my job if He wanted us to go.”
A couple of months later, Wells’ department was outsourced. He used his severance pay and a tuition option to pursue seminary studies in preparation for him and his wife Eva* to help reach the lost in southern Asia.
This appointment service brings the number of Southern Baptist missionaries serving around the world to 4,908. IMB President Tom Elliff challenged the audience to pray, “I will embrace whatever God is telling me about world missions” to reach the more than 3,100 unengaged, unreached people groups.
However, “embracing” does not necessarily mean God is calling everyone to “go,” Elliff said.
“He may be calling you not to go but to let go,” Elliff said. “Or to help go – to pray for and support those who are going.”
Referencing the Great Commission task, Elliff underscored the itinerant nature of global evangelism and encouraged appointees to continue their journeys.
“We do not go to settle down in countries and develop a lifestyle similar to the U.S.,” Elliff said. “We go as pioneers, constantly pressing forward to the ends of the earth.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tess Rivers is a writer with the International Mission Board.)