JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Does God know sign language?
Since their earthly fathers cannot speak to them in their heart language, can their heavenly Father understand them?
Emma Zondervan* says yes: “When God speaks to you, He speaks to your heart. He doesn’t speak to your ears,” said the Huntsville, Texas, native, who is hearing. “Your deafness does not prevent you from going to heaven.”
Zondervan was among 60 new missionaries appointed by the International Mission Board (IMB) Sept. 16 at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. The appointees are being sent to four continents — 35 to Asia, 12 to Europe, 12 to Africa and one to the Americas, bringing the total number of Southern Baptist missionaries to 5,562.
While in college, Zondervan called the IMB almost every week for two years to keep informed of opportunities to serve the deaf. While still a student, she raised her own support and worked with Southern Baptist missionaries in Europe ministering to the deaf in the summer of 2006. After graduation, she spent several months in Asia working with the deaf — once again, paying her own way.
The trips confirmed her calling and now Zondervan is going to Asia to minister to the deaf.
Rick Eckhart* and his wife Lena* likewise have a message to share. When Rick was in high school in Maryville, Tenn., a missionary invited him to serve in Papua New Guinea one summer. “As a teenager I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m going to New Guinea,’“ Eckhart recounted, concerned at the time about “all the … things that I was going to miss out on.”
But God started working in Eckhart’s heart, and he realized he didn’t want to miss this opportunity.
“In Papua New Guinea, I shared my testimony with a tribal group in the jungle. A tribal leader, after hearing my words, stood up and asked me to come and teach them the Scriptures,” Eckhart said. “His request, along with the prompting of the Spirit, solidified my call to missions.”
During that trip Eckhart knew he wanted to be a missionary. The thought of people, like the Papuan tribal leader, perishing without hearing the gospel broke his heart.
“I walked away from that trip totally and completely changed. From that point forward, I’ve geared my life toward missions and God has just continued to give me confirmation … that He wanted me to be on the mission field,” Eckhart said.
The Eckharts are going to work in southern Asia in a city that is largely unreached with the gospel.
“There are others who would like to be here, who anticipated being here,” IMB President Jerry Rankin told the new appointees, “but because of financial limitations, the number of missionaries that we are now able to send out is having to be restricted.
“It is indeed a privilege in the providence of God that you’re among those who … can go to the ends of the earth and share the gospel,” Rankin said.
Southern Baptist missionaries are experiencing unprecedented victories in sharing the gospel around the world, said Gordon Fort, vice president of the IMB’s office of global strategy. Fort reported that in the past five years, thousands of people from Muslim backgrounds in south Asia have accepted the message of salvation.
But there are still millions who have not heard, Rankin reminded those attending the appointment service. In Central Asia, only about 80 of its 500 people groups have access to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“By what criteria should any people be deprived of hearing the gospel when God has blessed us so richly in numbers and resources as Southern Baptists?” Rankin asked.
“You’ve been confronted tonight with a world that is dying without Jesus Christ,” he said, underscoring the responsibility of Christians to respond to the Great Commission call to take the gospel to a lost world.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Anderson is a writer for the International Mission Board.)