About a year ago I read the comments of a high profile Southern Baptist leader who excitedly reported that he had just returned from “the mission field.” My first thought was, where had he been – New York, Idaho, Vermont, Houston? Maybe he was talking about the neighborhoods around his church. All of those are “the mission field” by the Acts 1:8 definition. Reading further into the article, I learned he had traveled to another country. That was “the mission field” in his mind.
I thought about the sign I see exiting the parking lot of the church where I am a member. It reads, “You are now entering the mission field.” I’ve seen similar signs at other churches.
I like that sign because it keeps the truth in front of church members. We don’t have to get a passport to be on mission for Christ. I am strongly committed to international missions, but overseas is not “the” mission field. Our Jerusalem qualifies. It is first on our Lord’s list.
With almost 1,000 overseas missionaries returning to North America due to the International Mission Board’s (IMB) personnel reduction plan, Baptists may be more poised than ever to reach our homeland for Christ. The leaders of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) have the foresight to seize the opportunity. A front page story in this issue of the Biblical Recorder tells about a dinner that BSC and the Woman’s Missionary Union of North Carolina (WMU-NC) hosted recently.
I spoke with several missionaries at the dinner. I would like you to know what they shared with me.
Steve Cooke told some of his story. “After 33 years of living and serving overseas with IMB, there are many logistical and emotional adjustments required to return to the States. I returned two months ago, but still find myself thinking, ‘When I get back to the field…’ Then reality kicks in. ‘No, that chapter is finished.’ While the logistical issues of transportation, housing, ministry employment and health care are all significant, the unseen emotional adjustments are just as important.”
The celebration dinner at Calvary Baptist was very timely for the Cookes. “My wife, Mary Jo, and I felt warmly received and appreciated by N.C. Baptists and WMU. A lot of hard work went into preparing such a great reception, dinner and gift baskets with books, treats and gift cards from WMU groups all over the state. We were truly honored, far beyond what we deserve. Here is a big thank you for showing your heart for missions through the love expressed to your missionaries!”
Marty and Melissa Childers served 27 years in Central and South America through IMB. The Biblical Recorder featured their story in the December 5 edition. Melissa said, “We were overwhelmed by the love and appreciation we felt at the dinner. We were truly moved by the gift baskets given by WMU-NC. We know they were given with much love.”
Marty said, “Words really can’t express our gratitude for the recognition, but more for the prayers for those of us who are transitioning back to the states. I am thankful for the job opportunities offered through the state convention. Many of us could benefit by this, and I believe we have something to offer to Kingdom growth here in the Tar Heel state.”
When Craig and Charity left the U.S. in 2006 for a career in missions, they never thought they would be returning home. Going overseas had been their pursuit since they married in 1997. After working in Southeast Asia as church planters for 10 years, they returned home with their three children – not because of health issues or family issues, but because they were willing to take the hand-raising opportunity when financial stress hit IMB.
The couple said this was the hardest decision they have ever made. “It was not easy to leave people you have grown to love, a place where you felt at home and a life that was our passion for so long.”
They have returned to the Raleigh-Durham area, where they previously lived, and are starting over. They don’t know where they will live. They don’t know where they will work. They don’t know what God has planned. For them, coming home was a bigger step of faith than leaving home.
They said the dinner meeting encouraged them. They met others who share their vision and passion for reaching internationals, and they were pleased to learn about opportunities to serve in N.C. “We are praying and seeking the Lord about where and how to use our gifts and experiences to serve Him in N.C.,” they said.
“We were overwhelmed by the generosity of WMU-NC. We appreciate all the effort and care Amy Boone put into making us feel welcomed. She reassured us that we are still missionaries. This is exactly what we needed to hear!”
Isaiah and Josie* were raised overseas. Isaiah’s parents served in Latin America, Josie’s were in East Africa. The met at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. For more than 20 years they have lived among Asian peoples, working primary with Muslims.
Josie said the dinner meeting was valuable. “The vision casting experience from Milton Hollifield, Chuck Register and other N.C. Baptist leaders was very good for us. We really appreciate that WMU-NC was so gracious and generous with the basket, and for the prayers people sent with that. It was an outpouring of blessing that was totally unexpected.”
Isaiah also appreciated the event, “They treated us so wonderfully. The food was excellent; the way the missions committee of Calvary Baptist Church served us meant a lot to us. Steve Hardy loved on everybody. It felt like more than just one night, more than just saying thank you for a job well done, because they said, ‘Now please come and help us.’ They’ve already sent us follow-up emails to discuss the next steps. There is a real effort to involve us in the [BSC] strategy.”
Isaiah was pleased with the amount of information offered. “I like that they shared so much of their research. Milton mentioned the 300 languages that are spoken in the families of children who go to our public schools, and the 154 different people groups that have been identified.”
The couple wants to join the BSC as they serve churches. “I think we can plug in effectively by coaching churches as they work with internationals,” Isaiah said. “God has called us to cross-cultural work and He has equipped us. He’s not done with us. We’re in a new chapter in our lives that is building on previous chapters. I’m really excited about what the Lord is going to unfold in this chapter here in North Carolina.
“We’re able to come alongside churches and help mobilize, train and equip multitudes of believers in the churches to reach out to these nations that are living here.”
Josie added, “The university students that come to the U.S. will go back to their countries. Most of these students are the elite in their homeland and will go back into positions of influence. They have a chance to hear the gospel and take it to their own people. It’s a lot easier to reach them while they are here.”
The mission field is here. I hope N.C. Baptist churches will make use of these trained missionaries. Our neighbors need the gospel.