JACKSON, Miss. — You can’t help but be drawn in by Sarah Ferguson’s big smile and friendly personality. She easily starts a conversation with whoever is close by and it doesn’t take long before she’s talking about her ministry to New Jersey commuters whose long hours en route to and from work in New York City take a toll on family life.
“I’m helping train parents to be the spiritual leaders of their children,” she said while finishing a dinner of chicken parmesan, new potatoes and cooked carrots while waiting to join 88 others to become the newest commissioned missionaries and chaplains of the North American Mission Board (NAMB).
“I’m sharing the gospel and helping families find ways of focusing on Christ in their everyday lives.”
Ferguson, who couldn’t help making a joking reference to her royal namesake, the Duchess of York, is convinced that families are the most important link in passing a Christian legacy to the next generation. She serves as a US/C2 missionary through NAMB and the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania-South Jersey.
Ferguson’s passion for missions started at her home church, McGregor Baptist in Fort Myers, Fla., when she went with other members a few years ago on a missions trip to New Jersey. She always has a ready story at hand about the latest family in which she has seen God work. One father recently rededicated his life to Christ and returned his family to the practice of attending church.
“They were having a lot of problems with their oldest daughter. She and another sibling didn’t want to have anything to do with church. Through our ministry, the dad decided he was going to start leading his family and bring them back to church even if the children disagreed. Now the daughter is in our leadership program and is leading other kids.”
Ferguson’s story was one of dozens that missionaries in the room could tell as they walked down the aisle of Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, Miss., to be commissioned. The group represented multiple ethnic backgrounds and will join more than 5,600 NAMB missionaries serving throughout the United States, Canada and their territories.
NAMB President Geoff Hammond, who was commissioned as a NAMB missionary at nearby First Baptist Church Jackson in 2000, cited the Apostle Paul’s visit to Thessalonica in chapter 17 of Acts in telling the new missionaries to be bold as they go into the mission field.
“There is a trend in ministry today that says you have to first go to a community and fit in and be a part of things,” Hammond said. “Too often we fit in so much nobody can tell the difference. You need to go be a part of the community, but let them know what you believe. Jesus said it well — don’t hide your light under a bushel.
“We say to you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ: Be bold,” Hammond told the missionaries. He pointed to verse 6 of Acts 17 in which the Jews took Paul and Silas to the city authorities and said, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” To the applause of the audience, Hammond told the missionaries, “If you are run out of town for the sake of the gospel, the North American Mission Board will stand beside you and find you a new place of service.”
Hammond also challenged others in attendance to be a presence for the gospel in their communities.
“Do you know what’s wrong with North America? We have Christians in every community, but nobody knows they are there. We have to let people know we are there and that we are Christians,” Hammond said.
Reflecting a diversity of backgrounds and ministry areas, the missionaries took a brief turn on stage introducing themselves and sharing a prayer request.
- Greg and Mia Pendarvis, Mission Service Corps (MSC) missionaries serving through NAMB and the South Carolina Baptist Convention who share Christ through sports outreach programs in Fort Mill, S.C. Greg, a 20-year veteran schoolteacher veteran who coached football and baseball, recently quit his job to give ministry his full-time attention. Their sports evangelism ministry started five years ago with a sports camp for 80 community kids. Today, their year-round ministry shares the gospel with 500 kids annually. New players each season receive a copy of the Bible, paid for by Cooperative Program offering dollars.
“The gospel is part of everything we do,” said Greg, whose four children, age 9 to 15, help out with the ministry. “Even our baseballs and soccer balls reflect the same colors we use to explain the gospel to the kids in the program. They wear our shirts to school and more kids want to become involved.”
- Doug and Joli Cullen, MSC missionaries who partner with NAMB and the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Although based in Kentucky, they don’t really have a home. They travel the nation speaking in churches, schools, homeless shelters and to whoever else will listen about the sanctity of human life at all stages — pre-birth through death — and how Christians can be a voice for life even in a hostile culture. Along the way they stay in unused parsonages, missionary homes, in the homes of host church members and often in their tent.
“You would be surprised how many Southern Baptists say abortion should be left to individuals to decide,” Doug said. Still, they’ve seen God work in the hearts of many people as they hold up the gospel and share the message of life.
“A few months back we were scheduled to speak at a church and the pastor e-mailed and said, ‘I don’t know if you want to come or not. One of our members strongly believes abortion should be legal and I’m afraid she will make things very tough on you.’ But we came anyway and after the service, that 75-year-old woman came forward with tears in her eyes and said she had been wrong about the issue.”
Wanda Lee, the executive director of Woman’s Missionary Union, greeted the missionaries and led in a time of prayer.
“Our partnership with these missionaries does not end tonight,” Lee told the commissioning service audience. “Out of a heart of love we are called to pray for these missionaries and to learn about their needs so you can pray more than just ‘God bless our missionaries.’“
David Michel, associate executive director for missions strategy with the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, reminded the missionaries of their “priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God” as Paul outlined in Romans 15:16. “This is the work to which you are called and in which we join you in prayerful support,” Michel said.
Hammond ended the service with a call to each person in attendance: “I believe God is calling some of you to step out of your comfort zone and to cross barriers and reach people for Christ as a missionary. I don’t believe you are here tonight by chance. I signed up to follow the Great Commission when I signed up to follow Jesus, and so did you.”
The North American Mission Board commissions missionaries and chaplains together, but the missionary count of 5,600 includes only missionaries. NAMB has endorsed an additional 3,048 chaplains in behalf of Southern Baptists. Some missionaries are fully funded by NAMB, but most receive a blend of funding from NAMB and state convention partners. Mission Service Corps missionaries raise their own salary support, but receive training, resources and logistical support through Southern Baptist missions offerings. NAMB missionaries are supported through the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Ebert is publications and media relations coordinator for the North American Mission Board.)