RIDGECREST – Creating more opportunities for Southern Baptists to be Jesus’ heart, hands and voice to a lost and dying world – that’s the idea behind two new International Mission Board (IMB) initiatives.
IMB trustees, meeting Sept. 11-12 at LifeWay’s Ridgecrest Conference Center, affirmed a new missions service opportunity dubbed the “Ready Reserve” as well as a new “school of prayer for all nations.”
The trustee meeting dovetailed with a weeklong event honoring more than 1,000 International Mission Board emeritus missionaries who gathered at the North Carolina conference center to reconnect with colleagues and learn about the changing face of global missions. Trustees volunteered their time to help make the event possible, even serving as bellmen to ferry luggage to emeriti’s rooms. On Sept. 12, trustees also welcomed 54 new missionaries during a special service at First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, N.C.
Though the Ready Reserve program is still under development, both trustees and emeriti voiced enthusiasm for IMB President Tom Elliff’s presentation of the concept, essentially a partnership between IMB and former field personnel. It’s designed to bolster Southern Baptists’ global missions efforts by drawing from the convention’s pool of retired and returned missionaries, capitalizing on previous field experience, language and cultural skills to meet specific strategic needs.
Photo by Michael Logan
IMB President Tom Elliff speaks at the missionary appointment service Sept. 12 at First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, N.C. The mission board’s trustees and emeritus missionaries were among those in attendance to honor 54 newly appointed missionaries.
“You have the capacity to be used in a unique fashion,” Elliff told emeriti during a meeting in Ridgecrest’s Spilman Auditorium. “Can you imagine all the skills that are in this room? We want to help you and others utilize these skills for the glory of God and for the expansion of the Kingdom.”
Elliff said Ready Reservists will serve as volunteers, using their talents and passion for missions to help mobilize, train and equip Southern Baptist churches, advocate on behalf of unreached people groups and advance missions strategies on the field and inside the United States. In some cases, Ready Reserve members also may be asked to serve overseas for short-term projects or to fill urgent personnel needs.
Anticipating a wave of potential Ready Reserve volunteers, Elliff explained that once the program’s details are finalized, IMB’s personnel office will directly communicate involvement opportunities with retired and returned missionaries.
“I cannot tell you the sense of excitement I have felt as I have talked with our emeriti [about Ready Reserve],” Elliff said. “It says to our field personnel, ‘If you have a need on the field, we’ve got people who are ready to come and help you.’”
Elliff added that the need for new service channels like the Ready Reserve is obvious. Noting that the earth’s population has exploded over the past two centuries (1 billion people in 1804, compared with 7 billion in 2012), Elliff said Southern Baptists must face the sobering fact that the world is not waiting on them.
“Every day, 151,600 people die – a city dies,” Elliff said. “6,316 people – a good-sized town – die every hour. Every minute, 105 people die — a small community. Every second, while you say the word ‘second,’ two people die – a small family. … Apart from some great concentrated activity on our part that’s God-orchestrated, many of these people are going to die without ever hearing the name of Jesus.”
But no matter how great the need, Southern Baptists’ efforts are in vain, Elliff warned, without prayer.
School of prayer for all nations
Referencing Matthew 9:35-38, Elliff said Jesus gave His disciples a key command for missions, “… pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers …,” an element that can often be overlooked in trying to accomplish the task itself.
“We dare not ignore this imperative any longer – the imperative of prayer,” Elliff told trustees, saying the time has come for IMB to leverage its influence and lead Southern Baptists to be a “blast furnace of prayer” for the nations.
“He would not call anyone He would not send,” Elliff said. “And if we pray to the Lord of the harvest and we said, ‘Lord, we are praying! Raise up a vast army of people who will work in Your harvest field,’ I’ll guarantee you everyone God calls, God will support.”
Elliff named Chuck Lawless, IMB vice president for global theological advance, to head the creation of the school, which will be headquartered at IMB’s International Learning Center (ILC) near Richmond, Va.
Elliff said he envisions Southern Baptists flocking to the ILC to learn about the kind of fervent, effective, Great Commission-directed prayer that can change entire countries for the sake of the gospel. He added that the “school of prayer for all nations” will be a “great complement” to existing prayer emphases provided by both the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) and state convention prayer leaders.
“If you want to learn how to pray for the nations, this is where you can come,” Elliff said. “If you want somebody in your church to learn how to start a prayer ministry that will pray for the nations, this is the place to come. If you want to find a spot on this earth where 24 hours a day people are calling out to God for the nations of this world – it ought to be IMB.”
The next IMB trustee meeting will be Nov. 15-16 in Springfield, Mo. Springfield’s Second Baptist Church will host an IMB missionary appointment service Nov. 15 at 7 p.m.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham is an IMB senior writer.)