NEW ORLEANS – Jill Welton quickly discovered that the Bedouin tent inside the convention center wasn’t a marketing gimmick. It was a place for prayer and reflection.
Welton, a pastor’s wife from Berryville, Va., had come to New Orleans for the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting and visited IMB’s (International Mission Board) booth in the exhibit hall.
The prayer tent, which dominated IMB’s display, was modeled after the desert dwellings of the nomadic Bedouin tribes of North Africa and the Middle East. It was created to inspire SBC messengers to deepen their commitment to be Jesus’ heart, hands and voice, following Him in obedience to the Great Commission no matter the cost.
It featured five stations that focused prayer on Jesus’ commands in Matthew 16:24-25 for believers to deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow Him.
Welton was overwhelmed by the words of Karen Watson, a Southern Baptist worker martyred in 2004 in Iraq. Before Watson went overseas, she penned a letter to be read by her pastor in the event of her death.
Elizabeth Yarnell of Fort Worth, Texas, hammers a nail into a cross at the prayer tent exhibit of the International Mission Board during the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans. Each nail by a visitor – more than 1,150 during the convention – represented a commitment to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Excerpts of the letter were displayed at one of the prayer stations: “When God calls there are no regrets. … To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, His glory is my reward.”
“I wrote down every word,” Welton said. “I’m going to print it up and post it in my cubicle at work because it is incredibly inspirational.”
Two years ago, Welton helped her husband Van start Apple Valley Baptist Church in Berryville. The congregation averages about 40 people on Sundays. She said the prayer tent was a good reminder that success isn’t measured in numbers but in obedience.
“It’s so easy to get caught up in the world’s idea of success, and when you don’t think that you fit that mold, you may see yourself as a failure,” Welton said. “And I think that’s a good way for me to encourage my husband as pastor of a small, growing church.”
Luke Bray, pastor of Jeffersontown (Ky.) Baptist Church, said the International Mission Board’s prayer tent helped renew and refocus a calling God placed on his heart to share Christ overseas.
Bray, 31, said he first felt drawn to ministry as a teenager. A tour of duty in Iraq with the Army National Guard opened his eyes to the need for the gospel in North Africa and the Middle East.
“One of the most amazing things that the Lord was able to do, even through that difficult time, was to give me a heart for people in the Middle East and opportunities to share the gospel with Muslims,” Bray said.
The prayer tent helped him confront a serious obstacle to Christian service in that part of the world that he didn’t face as a soldier: fear for the safety of his wife and two young sons.
“I served in Baghdad for 14 months, and so I’m very familiar with that world and the dangers that come with it,” he said. “I’m continually praying that the Lord would eliminate those kinds of fears about my family and that I would trust Him.
“Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met are Muslims. … They’re actually more open to talk about religious things than many Christians in the United States.”
Megan Galvin, a 19-year-old college student from Atlanta, spoke about her dream of one day serving the Lord through medical missions.
Galvin, who is studying pre-medicine at the University of Georgia, admitted that a fear of losing relationships with family and friends was hindering her ability to fully surrender her life in obedience to the Great Commission.
After visiting the prayer tent, she shared that “it was really cool to be able to zone in on the things that are holding me back from living the life that God’s called me to live.
“Putting myself where God’s called me to be over those relationships is a really hard thing,” Galvin said. “Every day I’m committing to make the decision to follow Christ and to leave those things that I’m fearing behind.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham is a senior writer at the International Mission Board. To participate in an interactive prayer experience to be encouraged and inspired to be His heart, His hands and His voice, visit imb.org/prayertent to view the slideshow.)