Baptists must turn back to God and join Him on mission soon or their churches will continue to decline and die, one missions leader said.
That was the stark message presented by Joe Dillon to hundreds who attended a three-day missions conference at Corinth Baptist Church in Elizabeth City in late February.
People are coming to Christ in record numbers around the world, but not so much in North America, said Dillon, a church strategist who relates to churches across the southeast for the International Mission Board.
The “Engage Your World Celebration” was sponsored for the second year by Corinth’s Baptist Men and Woman’s Missionary Union in cooperation with Chowan Baptist Association.
“We’re seeing this explosive movement of the gospel [in other nations] that cannot be explained, apart from the fact that the Holy Spirit is pouring Himself out,” leading many thousands of people to accept Christ as Savior, said Dillon, who once served as a Southern Baptist missionary in Chile.
He told of one Asian country where a few years ago missionaries rejoiced if even one Muslim came to Christ in a year.
But recently a Southern Baptist missionary told Dillon he has personally baptized 1,000 Muslims who have turned to Christ over the past two years, an unprecedented development.
Rapid church growth has resulted in two nations in Asia sending more missionaries beyond their borders than American churches, he said. Churches in the United States have been declining in their missionary sending capacity each year for the past 20 years. The U.S. is now in third place among missionary-sending nations.
Even during the Great Depression, when unemployment stood at 35 percent, American churches gave proportionately three times to international missions what churches of today give, Dillon said. During those earlier hard times, he added, churches would forgo buying coal to heat their buildings so that the money could instead be used to keep missionaries on the field.
Most U.S. churches are so turned inward they have forgotten the need to sacrificially support missions, Dillon said. Most American churches are not engaging their own culture, much less cultures overseas.
Current studies show Connecticut’s population is already less than two percent Christian, which means that numerically the state could qualify as an “unreached people group.”
Studies also show that in 15 years Atlanta’s population could be less than 2 percent Christian as well, Dillon warned.
While Dillon challenged Baptists to look up and out, Rosalie Hunt urged Baptists to look back and recognize the legacy of missions history.
Hunt is a former missionary to China who still travels widely and now serves the national Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) Foundation as vice-chair of the board of directors and as national recording secretary for WMU.
“If you are a Baptist, what a legacy you have!” Hunt said, noting that 2013 is the 200th anniversary of Baptist missions in the United States, since Adoniram and Ann Judson went to Burma (now Myanmar) two centuries ago.
Rosalie Hunt, a former missionary who now serves as vice chairperson of the National Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) Foundation board of directors and national recording secretary for WMU, was one of the keynote speakers at Engage Your World Feb. 22-24 at Corinth Baptist Church in Elizabeth City. See photo gallery.
In several messages and a dramatic monologue punctuated with precise dates, names and places, Rosalie Hunt told how the woman who grew up to be Ann Judson was born in 1798 and was saved at age 16 in Massachusetts. After meeting Adoniram Judson they were married two months later and set sail on Feb. 19, 1812, for the Far East as the first international missionaries sent out from America.
Ann Judson was a pioneer linguist, evangelist, teacher and translator; she was named the Woman of the Century in 19th century America.
“Our missionary foremothers changed this nation and they changed the world,” said Hunt, noting that today Myanmar has one of the largest Baptist populations in the world.
Also during the conference, Ronnie Wyatt, pastor of Ramoth Gilead Baptist Church in Elizabeth City, shared about his vision trip to New York in 2012 through the Baptist State Convention’s Great Commissions Partnerships office. Ronnie and his wife went to New York City, then on to Syracuse in upstate New York, where they visited the Butternut Street/Shower Park neighborhood, home to about 25,000 people.
The only evidence of Christianity there, Wyatt said, is an abandoned Roman Catholic church building and a charismatic church building with a “for sale” sign on it.
“You can see Buddha statues the size of a house, but there’s no church,” Wyatt said.
Now the Wyatts are headed to Syracuse as North American missionaries to plant a church in that neighborhood. The couple divided the neighborhood into sections and are seeking prayer partners who will pray specifically for each section of the neighborhood.
David Turner, pastor of Corinth Baptist Church, said he hopes the conference will stir Baptists and others to pray, give and go to accomplish the command of Jesus to take the gospel to all the world.