LENEXA, Kan. — Some of the
stories of redemption and new beginnings seemed to have the kernel of a
Hollywood movie script when 71 missionaries and 17 chaplains were commissioned
by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) at Lenexa (Kan.) Baptist Church on
Steve Dighton, senior pastor of the Kansas City-area church, welcomed about
1,000 people to the service, which included special music by the church’s
130-voice choir, soloists and orchestra.
The newly commissioned missionaries and chaplains will serve in 32 states and
two Canadian provinces.
Richard Harris, NAMB’s interim president who delivered the commissioning
sermon, quoted the words of Jesus as recorded in John 14:12: “I tell you the
truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I’ve been doing. He will even do
greater things than these because I’m going to the Father.”
“God wants every missionary and chaplain to be successful in ministry,” Harris
said. “But when God gives you a vision, you need to move out. I don’t know what’s
more important in your ministry than praying, ‘Lord, what is it You want to do
in and through me in the coming days, months and years?’”
Harris reminded the missionaries of their heritage on a continent where, now,
some 258 million people are lost without Christ — three out of four North
“Southern Baptists in churches, associations and state conventions — like the
Kansas-Nebraska and Missouri conventions — have sacrificed so you can have the
privilege, honor and freedom to be on the front line,” Harris said. “You’re not
here just to have a good religious experience but to penetrate lostness in
North America … to make a difference between heaven and hell … to make a
difference in the Kingdom.”
Harris told the missionaries and chaplains not to live in fear but in faith.
“I feel sorry for those people who never expect great things from God. They go
through life or through their ministries — which is even sadder — and never
expect God to work miracles in their lives,” he said.
“Remember this as the day
at the missionary and chaplain commissioning at Lenexa Baptist Church in
Lenexa, Kan., when God began a new work in your life — when God set you on a
journey and a mission. You’re not the same nor will you ever be the same,” he
“Twenty years from now, you won’t look back and be disappointed in the things
you did, but in the things you didn’t do in obedience to God,” Harris said.
Voicing a word to the chaplains, he noted that “you’re going out to be in
places us preachers and pastors will never be, so take the lead and boldly
present the gospel.”
One of the stories a Hollywood movie could tell would focus on Stacey Smith,
who was commissioned as a Mission Service Corps missionary to serve as a
chaplain at the 800-inmate McPherson Women’s Prison in Newport, Ark., about 80
miles north of Little Rock.
It’s the same prison where Smith spent 12 years after a conviction in the 1990s
for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
“I was actually sentenced to a 60-year sentence as a first-time offender,”
Smith recounted in an interview. “I had a $500-a-day drug habit. Though I came
from a good moral family, I had been in five drug rehab facilities.”
seemingly harsh sentence for a first-time offender, Smith still believes “it
was perfect for me,” explaining. If I had gotten what I deserved … for all
(the drugs) I didn’t get caught with.”
Smith served 12 years of her sentence but, with the intervention of
then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, was released in 2005.
While in prison, she
accepted Christ, thanks to a NAMB-endorsed chaplain who shared the gospel with
Two years later, she went back into the prison as a volunteer.
“I didn’t know that up ahead all along, God had planned for me to go back into
the prison in regular clothes,” Smith said. “Now I’m unmarried, my children are
grown and this is my life — spending 55 hours a week at McPherson. It’s not
just a job.”
How do hardened women inmates — convicted of crimes ranging from forgery to
murder — respond to Smith and her story of redemption?
“It brings them hope. We have an immediate connection. It helps me to encourage
and share the gospel with them and allows them to hear me immediately. It
reminds them that prison is not the end of the world or the end of the story
… (or) just another chapter. I just share with them that God can use anybody.
Anyone can do something for the Lord. I’m just as amazed at my story as others
are,” Smith said.
As did all the 88 new missionaries and chaplains during the two-hour
commissioning service, Smith crossed the church’s stage to say a few words
about her ministry.
Breaking with emotion as she ended her brief remarks, she
received the warmest ovation of the night from a crowd clearly moved by her
Mission Service Corps missionary Nick Williams’ personal story of grace and
forgiveness began in a dark bedroom in Cambridge, Ohio, back in 2004.
hands was a shotgun — the safety off — ready for him to pull the trigger. He
had been a successful businessman, was “well off,” but miserable.
But instead of pulling the trigger, Williams surrendered his life to Christ.
and wife Bethany later founded “Quiet Love,” a ministry that presents the gospel
in American Sign Language to the hearing-impaired and hearing alike.
“Our goal is to spark revival regardless of whether the people can hear or not,”
Williams said in an interview. “We have two deaf people in our ministry who
lead people in worship and singing although they cannot hear the music at all.
They sign ‘Amazing Grace’ and it’s so powerful. Everything in the room is done
in darkness with black light only, which prevents distractions and allows the
audience to focus on the real light of Jesus. People can’t help but pay
attention,” Williams says.
With the addition of the 71 new NAMB missionaries and 17 new chaplains, NAMB
now supports some 5,300 missionaries across North America and some 3,000
endorsed chaplains — not only military chaplains but also chaplains
ministering in prisons, law enforcement, hospitals and other health facilities
and in corporations.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)