— “Let’s get to it already. We’re ready to roll.”
Micah Fries’ sentiment echoed throughout the crowd as International Mission
Board (IMB) President Tom Elliff gave an invitation during the Southern Baptist
Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting June 14-15
in Phoenix. Elliff told messengers
he felt like he was “holding back a dam” of Southern Baptists ready to walk
forward and “embrace” the remaining 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups
around the globe.
Fries, pastor of Frederick Boulevard
in St. Joseph, Mo.,
and his wife Tracy didn’t blink
when the moment finally arrived for them to step forward and respond to a
calling they felt deep inside.
Before Elliff invited people to come forward to turn in their commitment cards,
he requested that no music be played.
And then he told them to “just get up and come.”
Fries and a multitude of pastors, church leaders and laypeople rose to their
feet — almost in unison — and headed for the front of the convention floor to
answer Elliff’s challenge. One performer onstage said she had goose bumps at
the sight of men and women being obedient to God’s leading.
“It was … amazing,” said Laura Allen of the singing group No Other Name and a
member of Inglewood Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn. “People are serious
about this. It was exciting for me as a Southern Baptist to see that … it could
be a spark for something really great.”
The crowd was committing to learn more about how they could engage those people
groups with no active church-planting strategy among them and less than a 2
percent evangelical presence.
Since the annual meeting, IMB staff is continuing to follow up with those who
turned in 600-plus commitment cards. Elliff refers to the response as a time “when
Southern Baptists were on the same page” in a call to action that might cost
them their lives.
After serving with IMB in West Africa nine years ago, Fries contends more and
more Southern Baptists — young and old — are more than ready for that type of
“We’ve got a huge number of people who are just eating that up and would love
to engage in that kind of mission,” said Fries, whose church recently began
efforts to work among a Central Asian people group.
“The convention is looking for a reason for all of us to engage together,” he
said. “I thought it was a big moment.”
The spirit of unity and one purpose among Southern Baptists that final night of
the convention — and during the entire SBC
meeting and Pastors’ Conference — was something Eric Thomas, pastor of First
in Norfolk, Va.,
said he hasn’t seen in a long time. Being at the meeting this year, Thomas
said, “struck a deep cord” within him.
“The simplicity of the call was strong and powerful,” said Thomas, who was
elected as the SBC’s second vice president.
“Regardless of where you come down on different issues in Southern Baptist
life, to reach an unreached people group is — at its core — the biblical
mandate that we embrace as Southern Baptists and have embraced from our
initiation as Southern Baptists.”
Al Jackson, pastor of Lakeview Baptist
Church in Auburn,
Ala., said he wasn’t surprised when he saw
the number of people rise up from their seats to respond to the challenge that
“There is so much more for us to do,” Jackson
said. “It’s going to take sacrifice of our time, sacrifice of our people.”
While Lakeview Baptist continues to work among Arab Swahili people along Africa’s
east coast, Jackson said he wants
the church to keep learning and finding ways to help reach the unengaged,
“For pastors, we’re inundated with the immediate,” he said. “It’s easy to let
the unseen be neglected, (but) God is a God of nations.
“I came away deeply moved in my spirit,” he said. “In many ways this would be
the single most encouraging convention that I’ve attended.”
What is embrace?
The embrace challenge is different from “adopting” a people
group. It is a more focused emphasis that challenges churches to make a
lifetime commitment to an unengaged, unreached people group.
To engage them will take tremendous sacrifice, Elliff said.
“They’re unengaged for a reason,” he recently told IMB staff. “A lot of them
are on top of mountains, deep in the valley and in countries that are
absolutely closed. We can’t do it alone. IMB can’t do it. Southern Baptists can’t
do it alone.”
This initial response from pastors is just the beginning — a “crack in the
barrel” — of a long and challenging journey,” Elliff said. He hopes it will
spur more Southern Baptists to accept and follow through with this opportunity
so that every language, people, tribe and nation will have an opportunity to
hear and accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
To begin the “embrace” process, pastors and church leaders are urged to check
out the embrace website at call2embrace.org. Here, they can begin the journey,
which IMB leadership suggests should begin with church-wide focused prayer.
Churches can download a six-week Sunday worship prayer guide and small-group
guides that are provided on the embrace site.
Pastors also are encouraged to:
the approximately 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups by visiting
gettingthere.imbresources.org. On this site, churches can study a group’s
location, culture and identify their language, religion, barriers to the Gospel
and other helpful information.
— register to attend one of the embrace equipping conferences scheduled:
Sept. 7 at Johnson Ferry
in Marietta, Ga.
Oct. 27 at Hillcrest Baptist
Church in Cedar
Nov. 4 at Applewood Baptist
Church in Denver
March 24 at Immanuel Baptist
Church in Highland,
Additional training opportunities are being planned.
The embrace site also includes links to information on the global status of
evangelism, church-planting movements, discipleship training and spiritual
For more information on how churches can become involved, contact the IMB at (800)
999-3113 or go to imb.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — James is a senior writer for the International Mission Board.)