Things Every Missionary Needs (Part 2)

by Kevin S. Hall

In Part 1 of “Things Every Missionary Needs,” I listed five things you can do for missionaries even when they get too busy to ask. As a missionary in the past, I always found asking difficult to do. Yet, I understood that working together as the body of Christ is the best way to accomplish God’s purposes. When it came to enhancing or advancing the ministry on the mission field, I really did try to ask, even when it was challenging to do so.

However, missionaries have needs outside of the things for which they might ask. I knew we needed to receive support, be encouraged, and feel valued while ministering on the mission field. But I didn’t know quite how much, or even how to ask for the fulfillment of those types of needs. Through the love of our support team and churches, we learned by example how to fulfill the needs of those on the field.

Remind them that you are praying for them.  Let them know you are thinking about them.  Tell them you miss them.  Re-confirm that you are encouraged by their obedience to the Great Commission.
— Kevin S. Hall

Here are five things you can do for missionaries for which they will likely never ask:

Send a care package

Find out what they would like to receive, what’s safe to send, and where to send it.  Send them things that they can’t get on the field, such as their favorite candy bar or coffee. My in-laws were creative to send a valentine’s party in a box with decorations, snacks, and crafts for our kids.  One of our supporting churches sent a movie night package complete with a DVD, encouraging letters, and popcorn.  

Give a gift

Send a gift for their birthday or Christmas. Pay for their meal when they are stateside, or simply give them a gift card to use to take their family to dinner or the movies. There are many creative ways to give e-gift cards or transfer money so that a spouse can buy a gift on the field. I was lucky enough to have a Starbucks in my city, so gift cards were very well-received!

Email an encouraging message

Remind them that you are praying for them. Let them know you are thinking about them. Tell them you miss them. Re-confirm that you are encouraged by their obedience to the Great Commission.  

Plan a visit

Go visit your missionary to encourage them and see their work in action. Be so invested in their work and interested in their lives that you leave your own comfort zone to join them. We sometimes found ourselves lonely and regularly missed those relationships that we left behind.

Send a mission team

Plan with your missionary to send a short-term team that will minister to, for, and with the missionary on the field. Let them be able to share, in person and in real time on the field, all that they are doing. We made lifelong friends with church members who came on short-term trips and connected with our ministry.

It does indeed get lonely on the mission field. At times, it can feel like there is little support from those with whom the missionary was once very connected. These five actions will go a long way toward encouraging missionaries and showing them how much you value their work for the cause of Christ. I know, because I was once the grateful recipient of these actions for which I didn’t even know to ask.


Kevin S. Hall is a graduate of Cedarville University (B.A.) and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Adv. MDiv). He is currently pursuing a PhD at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Kevin is a former police officer and has served in Mexico as a missionary. He is married to Bethany, and they have three children.

Things Every Missionary Needs (Part 1)

by Kevin S. Hall

While serving as missionaries, my wife and I would reach out to others for some of our needs. We understood that ministry is accomplished through partnering together with others. Often, though, without regular requests and reminders, those who heard our requests quickly forgot about them. Yet we, like many missionaries, found ourselves either too busy to keep up on requests or tired of taking the time and effort to make “the ask,” especially since we assumed those whom we asked should be involved without a reminder.

Pray for your missionary by name. Pray for their ministry. Pray for the people with whom they have contact. Pray for their safety, sanity, and spirituality. Pray. When they do give specific areas for prayer, remember to pray.
— Kevin S. Hall

With that said, here are five things you can always do for the missionary even when they have stopped asking.

Pray

Pray for missionaries and their families, both their immediate family on the field and their extended family left behind. Pray for your missionary by name. Pray for their ministry. Pray for the people with whom they have contact. Pray for their safety, sanity, and spirituality. Pray. When they do give specific areas for prayer, remember to pray.  

Give

Give a monthly, annual, or one-time monetary gift to their specific ministry. Most sending organizations have easy ways to give a tax deductible gift through many medians (online, mail, etc.) with many forms of payment. You may not be able or specifically called to go, but you can give. Missionaries cannot do what they do on the field without regular monetary support.

Share Their Ministry With Others

Tell others about what they are doing. Share their blogs and newsletters with others. Write a post on Facebook or another social media platform that points people to them and their ministry. Share their website with others. Get others excited about the ministry you are a part of through their work. However, make sure to be cognizant of those missionaries who are in risky areas where it could cost them their ministry or life if they are known as “missionaries.”  Don’t share things they have advised you not to share, and always use discretion.

Read Their Blogs and Newsletters

Blogs, updates, and newsletters take effort. They are created for supporters and used to stay connected to those who pray for, give to, and support their ministry. Don’t disregard them. Depending on the programs used to create and send them, missionaries likely can see who and how many people open their emails and newsletters. And truly, why wouldn’t you want to keep up with what your missionary is doing?

Attend Their Stateside Events

Even though it is often exhausting for them during stateside visits, missionaries want to see you and share with you. They could be resting with family or doing fun things they can’t do in their ministry country, but they choose to minister to you even when they are stateside. If they reach out to you or plan an event, show up.  

We were fortunate to have many people praying for us regularly and reminding us that they were thinking of us. Many gave sacrificially and told others about what God was doing in our ministry. We were always encouraged by those who responded to our newsletters to let us know they were still engaged with our partnership. We felt loved and appreciated when others would plan or help with a stateside event. It communicated to us that they wanted to be with us and that others did too.

What other things do missionaries ask for that you can be a part of in order to partner with and encourage them?


Kevin S. Hall is a graduate of Cedarville University (B.A.) and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Adv. MDiv). He is currently pursuing a PhD at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Kevin is a former police officer and has served in Mexico as a missionary. He is married to Bethany, and they have three children.


Feature image by IMB.

Passing the Baton: The Missional Legacy of Dr. George Braswell

by Marylou Springer

The eternal value of faithful saints who have gone before us is difficult to put into words. It’s one thing to read about the missionaries of old — the pioneers who heralded the gospel years before we were even a thought. It’s another thing altogether to have the privilege to know and hear from such pioneers.

On September 12, 2019, we honored the legacy and ministry of Dr. George Braswell and his wife, Joan, in the dedication of the George Braswell Missions and World Religions Library. The Braswells were the first SBC missionaries sent out to serve in Iran in 1968, and Dr. Braswell left the field to teach here at Southeastern in the ‘70s. Their passion to go to the field, tenacity in finding a way to stay there, and endurance through years of ministry is inspiring to say the least. As Southeastern President Dr. Danny Akin said, “It would not be an exaggeration to say George Braswell is like the Apostle Paul of Iran.”

During the dedication, Dr. Braswell referred to the day as “a sacred moment.” He reminisced on the great impact of SEBTS in the life of he and his bride. He spoke of dear partnerships in the Gospel. He acknowledged fellow missionaries in the room and pointed toward the Lord’s faithfulness in allowing Gospel seeds to grow and be evidenced around our campus.

It was certainly a sacred day for us, as well, as Dr. Braswell gifted us with a tangible reminder of the work God accomplishes when we entrust our lives and futures to Him. Brothers and sisters, may we walk in obedience to the Gospel of Christ and be faithful to heed so great a legacy!

Below is an in-depth interview with Dr. Braswell. We invite you to grab a cup of coffee or tea, settle in and enjoy. You won’t regret it.

To read more about the life and ministry of Dr. Braswell, you can read an interview from the Southeastern Theological Review. You can also see more photos from the day here. The library is open to all and can be found in the Jacumin-Simpson Building on Southeastern’s campus.

No Small Suggestion

by Brian Autry

Matthew 28:18-20 is simply and often referred to as The Great Commission.  Some form of Christ’s commission is also found in other places of the New Testament, but Matthew 28 seems to be one of the most heralded.  As followers of Christ we are called to “make disciples of all nations.” Christ has called us and commanded us to proclaim the gospel unto the ends of the earth. The Great Commission is no small suggestion! 

Since the New Testament era, church and mission leaders like the Apostle Paul have called upon churches to work together to plant, strengthen, and mobilize churches so the gospel of Christ is proclaimed. 

The more I have gotten to know and see the impact churches have by working together in this Cooperative Partnership for the Gospel, the more I believe churches don’t give TO but give THROUGH the Cooperative Program.


Strategic Partnership

On May 13, 1925, Southern Baptists, the group of Baptist Christians I identify and serve with, launched a unified and strategic missions support plan that became known as the Cooperative Program. Through this Cooperative Program, or what I have come to call a Cooperative Partnership, a church is able to support a greater missionary force and have greater ministry impact by working with other churches.  For instance, local, regional, national, and international mission fields are reached when a church provides financial support through the Cooperative Program.

At first, it may seem that churches give to the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program. However, the more I have gotten to know and see the impact churches have by working together in this Cooperative Partnership for the Gospel, the more I believe churches don't give to but give through the Cooperative Program.

Full disclosure: I now serve with the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia, so I am supported through the Cooperative Program. But before you think I am just pushing a “company agenda,” I want to share with you four simple reasons I came to believe in this Cooperative Program (Partnership) as a pastor, church planter, missionary-supporter, and seminary student:

 1. Immediate Impact 

It could take years for a church to develop a missions strategy.  The Southern Baptist Cooperative Program allows you to act now. As a church planter, our church was able to have immediate impact.

2. Mutual Support 

Instead of missionaries having to constantly plead for resources or leave the field every year to raise funds, we work together to provide a system of mutual support so they can focus on their calling.

3. Global Strategy

Even though the world may seem to be getting “smaller,” it is still a big world with many people groups.  Even here in Virginia, we are seeing a multiplication of people groups, but we also want to reach across North America and around the world.  The Southern Baptist Cooperative Program is a strategy to reach locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. As a pastor, I was thankful for a global strategy instead of having to develop a strategy piece-meal on our own.

4. Personal but comprehensive

Because the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program is so comprehensive, you may be inclined to think it is impersonal.  But it is not. The Cooperative Program makes seminary more affordable for individual students, helps plant and revitalize local churches, and supports missionaries all around the world. Every seminary student trained, every church helped, and every missionary sent has a name, a story, and a calling. They are our children, our families, our communities, and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

For more information about this strategic plan for Gospel Partnership, visit www.sbc.net, contact your state Baptist convention, or read Dr. Scott Hildreth’s book, Together On God’s Mission. Why? Because the Great Commission is not a small suggestion!


Dr. Brian Autry serves as Executive Director of the SBC of Virginia, a partnership of more than 700 Southern Baptist churches. Brian previously served as a church planter and senior pastor of Parkway Baptist Church in Moseley, Virginia. He is also a Ph.D. candidate in Christian Leadership at SEBTS. For more information: www.brianautry.com; https://www.sbcv.org/staff/brian-autry/

Discipling Children Toward Missions

by Matthew Hirt

I have heard a refrain consistently repeated in the stories shared by missionaries at their commissioning services: “From a young age my parents/grandparents/pastor/Sunday School teacher taught me about missions and missionaries.” There seems to be a noticeable correlation between children who receive missions education and those who later commit themselves to missionary service. Let’s look at a few steps that we can take in our churches and homes to influence the next generation of missionaries.

One of the responsibilities we have in discipling children toward missions is helping them live missionally where they are right now.
— Matthew Hirt

Expose Children To Missionary Biographies

On my shelf sits a volume entitled simply, The Book of Missionary Heroes by Basil Mathews, first published in 1922. The book was written to be read out loud to children and then, later, to be read by children as they learned to read. The book contains short biographies of missionaries from the Apostle Paul to Archibald Forder, a missionary who worked among the Bedouin tribe in the early 20th century. Along the way, a child would be introduced to figures such as Raymond Lull, David Livingstone, Mary Slessor, and Henry Martyn. Even though Mathews tended to glorify these missionaries and make them appear to be larger than life, he shared their stories in a way that children could understand. 

While we should not elevate missionaries to a super-Christian status, we also should not diminish what they do. All Christians are called to make disciples, but the call to leave your people, your homeland, and your language to proclaim the gospel cross-culturally is different. The call to missionary service should be celebrated and encouraged. For this reason, we should expose children from a young age through their teenage years to missionary biographies.

Exposure to missionary biographies can also create opportunities to discuss why missions is necessary. Why did Adoniram and Ann Judson leave their home to go live in Burma? What compelled C. T. Studd to abandon his career as a superstar athlete? If Lottie Moon really was the most educated woman in the South, why would she go to China? These questions can lead to conversations about why each person needs to hear the gospel—the truth that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. Sharing the stories of missionaries around the world today and in the past creates an opportunity to share the gospel with your children or those in your children’s ministry. In fact, the story of a missionary could be the way the Lord calls a child to salvation.

For younger children, The Book of Missionary Heroes may be a good option, or there are other individual children’s books on missionaries like Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor, and Adoniram and Ann Judson. Older children could benefit from individual volumes of The Christian Heroes series while teenagers and adults have the opportunity to dive deeper with Danny Akin’s 10 Who Changed the World or Ruth Tucker’s From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. Women’s Missionary Union also continues to publish quality missionary education curricula for children.

Help Children to Think Missionally

Indeed, exposure and instruction are necessary for discipleship but do not constitute the whole of discipleship. Parents and ministry leaders can begin helping children to think practically about their role in missions. My wife, Heather, was teaching a group of three and four-year-old boys and girls about missions on Wednesday nights. She taught them all a simplified version of Matthew 28:19. One little girl in the class knew that her daycare teacher did not go to church, so the little girl asked her mom if she could bring her coloring page to daycare the next day to share the memory verse with her teacher and invite her to church. The teacher had been hesitant to accept invitations from the mom, but it is difficult to turn down the invitation of a three-year-old girl. The invitation and explanation that the little girl issued was not sophisticated or complicated, but it was effective because the teacher showed up at church the next week.

Children have opportunities that parents and ministry leaders do not have. They have relationships in their school. They know people through community groups and sports. Children of all ages have their own network of contacts. If an adult can enter that world at all, it is extremely challenging to connect in a meaningful way. A better method is to disciple our children in our homes and in our churches to see the missional opportunities around them. Isn’t this what we would do on the mission field? We train and equip national believers to engage their own networks and to utilize the natural connections they have at home, at work, and in everyday life. One of the responsibilities we have in discipling children toward missions is helping them live missionally where they are right now.

Include Children in Your Missionary Outreach

One of the worst things we can say to children as we disciple them is, “You can do that when you get older.” There are very few things I would refuse to let a child do in church. A parent or adult may need to help them, but we can certainly involve children in every aspect of the church. If we want them to grow up and serve as future missionaries, whether church planting in urban centers or proclaiming the gospel among an unreached people group, then we should include them in our missionary outreach today.

Simple is often better. Whatever outreach you or your church is already doing, take your children along with you. Some of the most effective discipleship is done just by taking someone with you. Mark reminds us in his gospel that Jesus, “appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, to send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14). First and foremost, Jesus called the apostles to be with him. The apostles learned a lot just by being with Jesus. As we disciple children toward missions, we must take them with us when we go on a visitation, when we engage the community during our church’s “Trick or Treat” outreach, or when we invite families to Vacation Bible School. As we live our lives missionally, may we choose to involve our children in what we’re doing instead of leaving them at home.

Providing Care and Guidance to Fellow Disciples: An Interview with Matt Rogers

by CGCS Staff

Last but certainly not least of our introductions for the CGCS is Dr. Matt Rogers. Dr. Rogers is our Coordinator of North American Church Planting. His focus consists of aiding students in understanding God’s heart for church planting in North America, equipping them with sound missiology, and connecting them to people and places in need of healthy, reproducing churches. Continue reading below to learn more about Dr. Rogers.

The CGCS taps into the best SEBTS has to offer and fuels the love students are developing for Great Commission work around the world.
— Matt Rogers

How did God call you into ministry and into the vocation of teaching?

My sense of calling has been a work in progress since coming to faith at the age of 20. I spent the better part of the first decade of my Christian life trying to figure out my gifts and role in the church on my own. It wasn’t until coming to SEBTS that I found a healthy, local church with pastors who could provide direction and external confirmation to my sense of God’s work in my life. Their guidance, combined with prayer and a bit of experimentation, led me down the path to pastoral ministry and teaching. I’m committed to providing other students with the level of care and guidance I wish I had during my early walk with Jesus and pursuit of service in the local church.

How did you arrive at SEBTS?

After finishing my Masters in Counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, I decided counseling wasn’t the profession that best utilized my gifts and passions. That led me to consider options for a Master of Divinity. I choose SEBTS based on the recommendation of several trusted friends and the reputation of a number of the professors. After completing my degree and starting a church, I reengaged SEBTS about hosting an Equip Center in our church. Through those conversations, God prompted me to pursue PhD studies in Applied Theology studying with Bruce Ashford. That degree and the relationships that were fostered during my time in the program positioned me to spend the last several years writing and teaching, now in the role of Church Planting Professor and Coordinator of North American Church Planting.

What excites you most about the CGCS?

The ethos of SEBTS is permeated with a Great Commission mentality. Not only are courses in Evangelism or Missions dripping with a missionary orientation, but all of the other courses are as well. As a result, the CGCS taps into the best SEBTS has to offer and fuels the love students are developing for Great Commission work around the world. I’m thrilled to partner with the Center to resource students to leverage their lives so that all know and worship Jesus.

What advice would you give to new students at SEBTS?

Settle down. You don’t have to arrive at the perfect place or role tomorrow. There’s no rush to get to a certain destination. What’s important is the type of man or woman you are becoming in the process. Allow the Spirit of God through the Word of God to refine your character in obscurity for a season. Find a healthy church. Join it. Serve as a meaningful member without a title. Share your faith. Make a disciple. Go on a short-term mission trip. Give extravagantly. Learn to love your spouse or the people around you. Do your work with excellence. This type of worshipful obedience will take you further than a charismatic personality or big gifts ever will.

Who's your favorite missionary and/or favorite missions quote?

Recently I’m compelled by the no-names. Maybe that’s just the result of seeing so many big-names in our day flame out. I think about the random brothers and sisters who are cited as sharing the gospel and planting churches through the book of Acts. I imagine the lives of countless, faithful men and women who have moved their families, risked everything, and done so with little fruit to show for their work. I’m increasingly convinced that this no-name path is the trajectory for savvy missionaries of the future, knowing that God sees and honors the labor of those we may never read about in a missionary biography.

This is the last post in our series of introductions for the Center for Great Commission Studies. If you missed our prior introductions, we encourage to go back and check those out. You’ll learn more about the heartbeat of the CGCS and the people who help make it all happen.

Helping Others Fulfill the Great Commission: An Interview with Keelan Cook

by CGCS Staff

Fourth up for our introductions is Keelan Cook. Professor Cook serves alongside our Director and Associate Director as the Coordinator of Diaspora Missions and Evangelism. He also serves as the Senior Church Consultant with the Union Baptist Association in Houston, TX. Professor Cook’s primary focus is challenging students to see the unprecedented Great Commission opportunities in North American missions today. Keep reading below to learn more.

If we’re the Great Commission seminary, and every classroom is a Great Commission classroom, then it just makes sense for every student to supplement their equipping by taking part in mission trips and the many training opportunities provided.
— Keelan Cook

How did God call you into ministry and into the vocation of teaching?

Leaving college, I did not intend on serving in vocational ministry. However, shortly after college I really rooted into a local church that changed my whole understanding of ministry. The Spirit worked through that church family to shape me into a minister for our college students and eventually into an international missionary, serving with the IMB to help facilitate our church's engagement with an unreached people group in West Africa. Overseas, I developed a love for church planting and taking the gospel to people who have not yet heard it. God eventually brought me to Southeastern to receive further theological equipping, and it was here that I developed a love for teaching and equipping potential ministers. 

How did you arrive at SEBTS?

I decided to attend Southeastern to complete a PhD while I was serving with the IMB in West Africa. After my time there, I moved to campus and stumbled into a journey that would change my trajectory in ministry. Before long, I was working in the CGCS and learning everything I could about the significance of urban and diaspora missions for the North American church. Southeastern's emphasis on the Great Commission shaped my overall direction in studies and also led to my current service in Houston. Now,  I help a whole network of churches work to fulfill the Great Commission together through sending and multiplication.

What excites you most about the CGCS?

The CGCS is one of my favorite things about Southeastern, and it’s one that I think every student at the school should utilize. I think a lot of students assume the CGCS is only for people getting some form of missions degree, but that's not true at all. Every, single student, whether on campus or at a distance, can take advantage of the resources offered by the CGCS. If we're the Great Commission seminary, and every classroom is a Great Commission classroom, then it just makes sense for every student to supplement their equipping by taking part in mission trips and the many training opportunities provided.

What advice would you give to new students at SEBTS?

Christ died for the church, not the seminary. That may sound like too sharp a distinction, but I would hope to impress upon students that seminary is in no way a replacement for the local church, even while you are studying. Seminary is best when it is a supplement to your discipleship and ministry in the local church. If you're not actively applying what you learn in the classroom to service in a local church while you're here, you're missing the most significant equipping you can receive. That's the beauty of this new emphasis on distance education. I'm thankful that students now have the ability to stay in their mission or ministry context in the local church and still receive quality equipping. And for those students moving to campus for a residential experience, landing in and covenanting with a local church while in the Wake Forest area is just as important.

Who's your favorite missionary and/or favorite missions quote?

I'll leave you with three quotes. It's so hard to choose.

  • “The history of missions is the history of answered prayer.” — Samuel Zwemer

  • “The Gospel is only good news if it gets there in time." — Carl F. H. Henry

  • “The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.” — Henry Martyn

Committed to a Lifetime of Ministry: An Interview with Dr. Greg Mathias

by CGCS Staff

We’re on our third introduction for the Center for Great Commission Studies. If you missed the Introduction to the CGCS or to our director, Dr. Hildreth, we encourage to read those following this.

Today, meet Dr. Greg Mathias. Dr. Mathias serves as the Associate Director of the Center for Great Commission Studies. His primary area of focus is cross-cultural missions. as he spent time overseas with his family for a time in the Middle East. Keep reading below to learn more.

The CGCS is at the heartbeat of all we are called to do at Southeastern. Working here allows me the opportunity to influence and impact students headed all over this nation and all around the world.
— Greg Mathias

How did God call you into ministry and into the vocation of teaching?

My calling is littered with the impact and influence of many prayers and tons of people. I will mention two of those influences: one was a book by David Bryant entitled In the Gap. God used this book, along with being immersed in the Scriptures, to begin to give me a global vision. Another influence in my life was a bi-vocational pastor that mentored me in my early years of college campus ministry. He demonstrated how someone could love God with their mind as well as with their heart, soul, and strength. These influences, along with a strong sense of wanting to equip others, led me into the teaching ministry.

How did you arrive at SEBTS?

I could say I arrived at SEBTS dragging my feet. At the time, I was not completely convinced about my need for formal theological training, but I did know that my family and I were committed to a lifetime of ministry. The thought of doing that in an unprepared manner scared me, and I knew that pursuing my MDiv at a place like SEBTS was a valuable opportunity. The Lord used my time at SEBTS to prepare me beyond what I could have imagined. Serving now as the Associate Director of the CGCS and a Global Studies Professor is in no small way connected to my time of preparation at SEBTS.

What excites you most about the CGCS?

The CGCS is at the heartbeat of all we are called to do at Southeastern. Working here allows me the opportunity to influence and impact students headed all over this nation and all around the world. It is overwhelming to think about the number of people who have heard the gospel, as well as the churches that have been planted and the missionaries and ministers who have been trained through our center. We are serving in a unique time and in a special place as students go out to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission. 

What advice would you give to new students at SEBTS?

Take this time of training seriously. In doing so, remember that this is a season of ministry preparation for a lifetime, so invest well in your studies, the lost, and don’t lose that sense of calling while you are here. Outside of the classroom, connect and go deep with a local church. It is in the local church that much of what you are learning in the classroom will be fleshed out for you. Ministry preparation should cultivate your love of God and neighbor. Your time here is designed to be an environment and a catalyst in these areas no matter where the Lord uses you in the future. Embrace this opportunity for training and equipping.

Who's your favorite missionary and/or favorite missions quote?

“We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God.” — John Stott

“Here then we see God’s way of success in our work, whatever it may be – a trinity of prayer, faith and patience.” — James O. Fraser

Called to Equip: An Interview with Dr. Scott Hildreth

by CGCS Staff

Last week, we shared with you who we are and what we do. Over the next couple weeks, we will introduce you to the four directors of the Center for Great Commission Studies. Dr. Scott Hildreth is the George Liele Director of the CGCS at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. He stepped into his current position over 10 years ago right after coming home from the mission field. To learn more about how him and his story, keep reading below.

Don’t put God’s will in your predetermined box. My life is a story of God re-directing me to accomplish His will. Tape a map to the wall and ask God to send you somewhere on it.
— Scott Hildreth

How did God call you into ministry and into the vocation of teaching?

When I was a pastor, God used a phone call with a church planter in Minnesota and a trip to South America to open my eyes to the Gospel needs around the world. My wife and I started praying together about where God might be calling us. Eventually, he led us to Europe and Central Asia. During that time, we worked to get the Gospel to those around us. We also worked with new people coming to the field.

God used these experiences to awaken in us a desire to be involved in theological education as an extension of our missionary call. I serve at Southeastern as a way of fulfilling my original call to see the Gospel shared with the lost. My vocation of teaching is really a call to equip a generation of Christian leaders to serve Christ and his Great Commission.

How did you arrive at SEBTS?

I came to Southeastern straight from Central Asia. Originally, I came to pursue a PhD as a vehicle to do theological education (see the first question). God was gracious enough to open this door to serve as the director of the CGCS, and I have been in this role over 10 years.

What excites you most about the CGCS?

Every year, we see students and other members of the SEBTS family serving God's grand mission. It is exciting to watch God re-write the hopes and ambitions of young men and women from their original pursuit of a "normal" life to a “Great Commission” life. Now, they are committed to following wherever He leads.

I love to be with students the first time they share Christ with a lost person and even more, to be with them when they lead someone to Christ for the first time.  

What advice would you give to new students at SEBTS?

Don't put God's will in your predetermined box. My life is a story of God re-directing me to accomplish His will. Tape a map to the wall and ask God to send you somewhere on it. This is a unique time in your life when you are positioned to hear God’s voice clearly and be encouraged by others to follow His lead.

Who's your favorite missionary and/or favorite missions quote?

My missionary hero is Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission. He was a visionary, a leader, and a man who made his relationship with God a priority.

Two of his quotes that I like:

  • “God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply.”

  • “There are three stages to every work of God; first, it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.”

Introducing the Center for Great Commission Studies

WELCOME!

As we begin a new academic year, we thought an introduction to our center would be fitting. For those of you who are already familiar with who we are and what we do, hopefully this will serve as a helpful refresher. Who knows – you might even learn something new! We sure did.  

WHO we are 

The Lewis A. Drummond Center for Great Commission Studies is the hub of missionary mobilization at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. We exist to mobilize and equip students, faculty, staff, and the broader Christian community in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. We accomplish this in the classroom, in our community, and among the nations in partnership with local churches, state conventions, NAMB, and the IMB. Simply, we are responsible for helping our Southeastern community obey the Great Commission and fulfill God’s missionary call on their life.  

WHY WE EXIST  

As we mentioned above, the CGCS is named after Lewis A. Drummond, the fourth president of Southeastern. Drummond was elected in 1988 and served as president until 1992. Though it didn’t happen during his presidency, it was Drummond’s vision to one day have a center devoted to missions and evangelism. Today, the CGCS is a fulfillment of this original vision as we help our students and faculty reach their neighbors and the nations with the gospel.  

WHAT WE DO 

Our center does a lot of different things! We help send students all over the world every semester. The mission trips we offer are an incredible opportunity to go with our professors to see how God is at work globally and to participate in His amazing work. 

The CGCS also hosts conferences, meals, conversations, seminars, and other events throughout the year. These events serve as opportunities to equip and network our students. You can keep up with all of our events on our Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. You can also check them out here on our website.

Finally, we have a blog that we encourage you to keep up with. One of the reasons that this website exists is to be a source of encouragement and to provide resources to students, pastors, church leaders, and missionaries. 

WHERE YOU CAN FIND US 

The CGCS is housed in the Jacumin Simpson Missions building on the main campus at Southeastern. You can find out directors and staff in their offices, the classroom, and participating in other events around campus. We look forward to getting to know you and helping you follow God’s call for your life.  

How Church Planting Changed My Family

by Greg Mathias

My family is above average. No, we are not a family of amazing athletes, and we are not going to solve all the world’s humanitarian crises; but we are a family of six, which puts us above the average size of an American family. If you were to meet me, my wife Page, any of our four daughters, our dog, or our cat, you may think we are similar to any other family in your neighborhood.  Our home needs some repairs, our girls squabble, and we cannot seem to return library books on time. So how are we different?   

In 2003, Page and I, along with our 18 month-old daughter, moved to the Middle East as IMB church planters. While we did our due diligence praying, studying, and preparing to move overseas and start this new venture, we were not prepared for the lifelong impact it would have on us. Church planting changed our family in significant ways, and the following lessons are some that continue to shape us. 

Lessons from the field

1. Ministry is a whole family endeavor. 

There are times when ministering in any context, especially with your family, can be difficult if not overwhelming. However, from the beginning we made a commitment to minister as a family and not separate our home life from ministry life. From day one, we wanted to communicate to our girls that this is our family’s ministry, not just mom’s or dad’s. Any type of ministry, even church planting, is a family endeavor. To be clear, there may be seasons of life that require more or less involvement from certain family members.

2. Flexibility in family life.  

Since ministry is more about people than schedules or comfort, we built flexibility into our family routines. In our specific context, that meant going to the park at 10:00 pm at night if that’s what other families were doing, which was, in fact, a regular occurrence due to the extreme desert heat where we lived. Now, we were sensitive to our children’s needs, but we wanted to be able to minister in a variety of seasons which required flexibility in our daily, weekly, and monthly family routines. 

3. Parenting out of trust and not fear.  

From the early days of our marriage, we determined to make it a priority to trust God. That might seem trivial, but sometimes when it comes to our family, it can be hard to fully entrust them to God. Even now, having two daughters in high school, one in middle school, and the other one in elementary school, our trust muscle is stretched on a regular basis. Living overseas as church planters, we continuously asked the Lord to help us not shrink back from engagement in our community just because it involved trusting Him with our girls in difficult or uncertain places. 

**A word of caution here about family life and ministry. No matter how ‘bought in’ your children are to your ministry, no matter how good of a kid you have, they definitely will not understand all of the sacrifices that ministry requires. However, they should never have to understand a lack of care and love within the home due to ministry busyness. Make sure to spend time as a family enjoying each other, celebrating milestones, discussing real life, and constantly communicating why you are ministering as a family. 

4. An unwavering commitment to prayer and a family life focused on evangelism.  

The dinner table is central in our home. It is our hub for family meals as well as a hub for all kinds of conversation. Page and I talk openly about people we are sharing with and gospel conversations we’ve had with neighbors. We have our girls share prayer requests for their friends, and we challenge them to share their faith regularly and encourage those friends that are believers.  

Beyond the dinner table, we spend time in our neighborhood and community. We know that we have to be around lost people in order to impact them with the Gospel. In all of this we pray. Our family prays for little things, big things, and future things. We want our family to see that prayer changes hearts and opens doors. 

5. Curiosity about other cultures.  

We want our daughters to be exposed to different cultures, places, and peoples. Now, some of this is simply for fun, but beyond that we build expectations for our children to take part in an overseas mission trip once they turn 12. We hope that other simple things like engaging our servers at ethnic restaurants or inviting internationals and missionaries into our home will encourage our girls to go live and minister among the nations one day. We want to provide our family with a missional lens through which to see the world.

6. A posture of listening and learning.  

We lived as minorities in a majority culture for a number of years. While there, we had to learn the basics of a new lifestyle, a new language, and a new culture. All of these things instilled in us an understanding of the need to constantly be listening and learning. Page and I have tried to teach our family to ask questions and listen to peoples’ stories so that they might connect with others and ultimately, have opportunities to build bridges to the Gospel. 

STILL MUCH to learn

Sometimes when we tell people that we lived overseas as church planters they think we must have deep wells of wisdom or that we have mastered the art of marriage, family life, and ministry. Honestly, though , we often feel just the opposite. We still have so much to learn. The impact of our time overseas continues to this day as we continue trying to live in light of these lessons. 

Finally, I hope you will see that the things God drove deeply into our family DNA are no different than what He wants for you and your family. Our time living cross-culturally allowed us an extended season to begin learning these family lessons, but you do not necessarily need to spend years somewhere else as church planters to learn what we have. No matter where you live or what stage of family life you currently find yourself in, God desires to use your family to impact your neighbors and the nations for Christ, too.

Feature image by IMB.


Paul Chitwood: Why Are You Here?

Why are you here?

Paul Chitwood, President of the International Mission Board, answered this question for us at Southeastern Seminary last year when he preached on Isaiah 56:1-8. Chitwood exhorted us to remember that we are here not to serve ourselves, but to serve those enslaved to their sin and idolatry all around the world; we are here to proclaim freedom in Jesus.

You can watch the full sermon above. Keep reading below for some key excerpts.


Slaves to Sin

“The wickedness of human slavery is unspeakable. And yet, while I can’t fathom that, as I read my Bible and you read your bible, spiritually speaking, I’m told I am a slave. Or at least, I was. Because the Bible says in the New Testament the one who sins is, what? A slave to sin. And in fact, Paul goes on to say in the book of Romans that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death…

Aren’t you thankful for a Redeemer? Aren’t you thankful for a Savior? Aren’t you thankful for One who loved you enough to lay down His life to purchase your freedom, to give up His to give you yours? Aren’t you thankful for Jesus and all that He’s done for you?”

Our Purpose as believers

“Brothers and sisters, we are here not just because He has done that for us. We are here not just to because it’s time to worship as a seminary community gathers together. We are here, you are here, this seminary is here because there are still those out there who are yet enslaved. We have come to this place not to serve ourselves or to serve one another; we have come to serve them. We have come here because they’re still out there and the Lord wants them - maybe not here - but He wants them here, in His family. He wants them here in His church. He wants them here in freedom from their sin…”

God is a promise maker

“And that’s why you’re here. Because God has made beautiful promises to those who are still enslaved and to those who are still separated. And it’s not just that they just don’t know that a promise has been made to them; they don’t know that there’s a Promise Maker.”

God is a promise keeper

“All the promises of Isaiah 56, God has already kept. Did you realize that? In fact, he’s kept them all in the same way. Or, I could say it better by saying He’s kept them all through the same One. God promised the Jews salvation; what did God do? God sent a Savior. God promised a name for the one who had no name; so God allowed that One whose name is above every name to be spat upon and ridiculed and His name to be mocked so we all could have His Name. He promised acceptance; what did God do? He allowed His Son to be rejected so you and I could be accepted.”

How to Pray Evangelistically

by Chuck Lawless

Three years before my father passed away, he turned to Christ for salvation. It was amazing, actually.  My dad had quite a temper prior to his conversion. My childhood memories of his displays of anger still echo in my mind. Though my grandmother was a strong believer, Dad never showed interest in Christianity. In fact, he first believed that many routes lead to God; “we’re just following different paths,” he told me.   

We prayed for more than 30 years that Dad would become a believer.  Then, it happened. Dad called my little brother to say he wanted to talk about following Jesus . . . right then! God so transformed my father that we spent the final years of his life getting to know a new man. He was a trophy of God’s grace, an undeniable example of 2 Corinthians 5:17a—“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (HCSB). God graciously answered our prayers.   

Are you praying for non-Christians to turn to Christ? In my book, Serving in Your Church Prayer Ministry (Zondervan), I describe a simple way to pray evangelistically by praying the acronym, “GOD’S HEART.” I’m grateful to my friend Chris Schofield, whose writings about prayer first helped me to think about this kind of process.  

Maybe this pattern will help you as you pray evangelistically for others: 

G = Pray believers, beginning with yourself, will appreciate God’s grace. When we really appreciate what God has done for us, we naturally want to tell others about Him. That’s why new believers are often most willing to do evangelism—their salvation is so fresh they almost can’t avoid telling the story.  We stop evangelizing when we take grace for granted.  

= Pray for believers to live in obedience to God. We can’t change another person’s heart. Only God can do that, as He did in response to our prayers for my dad. If  we’re not walking in obedience to God, though, our disobedience hinders our prayers (Isa. 59:1-2). Abiding in Christ really does matter when we pray (John 15:7). 

D’ = Pray believers will decide to tell others. Evangelism doesn’t just happen. Telling the story of Jesus is a choice . . . an action . . . a decision. Too many Christians know they should do evangelism, but decide not to do it. Pray that won’t happen.   

 S = Pray that believers will speak the gospel fearlessly and clearly. In fact, that’s the way Paul taught us to pray in Ephesians 6:19-20 and Colossians 4:2-4. If Paul – the apostle extraordinaire – needed others praying for him to do evangelism, how much more do we need that kind of support?   

 H = Pray for nonbelievers to have a receptive heart to the gospel. Apart from Christ, all people are dead in their sin (Eph. 2:1), held under the devil’s sway (Acts 26:18). Only God can make our hearts open to the good news.  

 E = Pray their spiritual eyes will be opened. Non-believers are blinded to the truth of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-4), and the “god of this age” does all he can to keep them in darkness. Nothing we do apart from the power of God can open their blinded minds.  

 A = Pray they will have God’s attitude toward sin. Understanding God’s remedy for sin begins with understanding our sickness. We’re all sinners (Rom. 3:23), and we must see our sin as God sees it – as wrong against a holy God.  

 R = Pray non-believers will repent and believe. The message of Christ is clear: we must turn from our sin and trust Christ for salvation (Mark 1:15). God gets the glory as He frees nonbelievers from the domain of darkness (Col. 1:13).   

T = Pray their lives will be transformed. Only God can change a man like He changed my dad. Here’s the good news, though – He’s still doing that! When God does that, the non-believing world takes note.  

Who is praying for you to speak the gospel boldly and clearly? Are you praying for other believers to be evangelistic? Are you praying for non-believers? Are you asking God to save and transform a specific person?  

Even if you’ve been praying for someone for many years, don’t give up. God still responds to the prayers of His people.  That’s His heart.  

 

*This post first appeared at www.chucklawless.com

Trends in North American Missions Today that Excite Me

by Keelan Coook

I first shared the trends in this article a couple of years ago, and I thought it would be interesting to revisit these trends today. I’m encouraged to say all three seem to have continued to develop, and I am encouraged by the growth of the North American church in these areas. There is still much room to grow, but I am hopeful.

The first three trends I shared previously, and they all concern the shifting face of the North American population. Increasingly, North American churches are realizing that North America is a mission field but many different mission fields. The staggering growth of the foreign born population in recent decades brought some of the least reached people in the world within arms reach of local churches. Furthermore, cities are increasingly diverse, and that means many cultures on top of each other that all need contextualized expressions of the gospel. Needless to say, churches must realize that no cultural expression of the gospel is “one size fits all.” Each of these first three trends take this new reality in North America seriously.

Churches must realize that no cultural expression of the gospel is “one size fits all.”
— Keelan Cook

The final trend is one that I am adding this time. For a long time, church planting has been a priority conversation in North American missions. For some, the traditional planter-pastor model of church planting is roughly equivalent to North American missions. However, the priority is changing as a renewal movement swells concerning the large number of unhealthy and declining churches across America. 

Diaspora Missions as a Church-based Missions Strategy

Diaspora missions is the fancy term for working with people groups when they migrate somewhere other than their home. For example, engaging unreached people groups in America would be considered “diaspora missions.” Of course, I am biased on this one, because it is what we do with the Peoples Next Door Project. In fact, it is what this website is all about!

Nevertheless, the rise of both awareness and activity concerning unreached peoples in the United States is one of the most exciting trends in missions today. Only a few years ago, it was common for the reality of unreached peoples in North America to never cross the mind of an average church member. That is a far smaller number today. In fact, it seems as though more and more missions agencies and local churches are talking about the changing face of America and the need to reach the growing number of international and unreached peoples.

Of course, various strategies are being developed, but I think local church-based strategies stand out among them as the most important. The old “find a guy and resource him” strategy is not the leading edge of this work. Instead, training and equipping local churches to discover and engage people groups around them with simple, reproducible church planting strategies seems to be the better road. Of course, there will always be places for that missions specialist or resourced pastor/planter. However, that model simply does not scale to the size of the problem. It usually leads to addition rather than multiplication. 

Moving forward, my hope is that we see a focus on local church equipping that (a) gives them a heart for the nations in their own community, (b) empowers them to actually go out and meet these people in a way where they can do cultural acquisition, and (c) gives them simple tools for leading Bible studies that can become church plants.

The Rise of “Apostolic” Church Planting Methods in North America

Alongside the above trend is the gaining momentum of “apostolic” methods of church planting in North America. In this model, the planter usually does not become the pastor of the church. Instead, they plant a church, help it move toward health and reproducibility, and then move on to start another. It is called “apostolic” because it is more akin to Paul’s model in the New Testament. This is, of course, different than the planter-pastor model where one or more guys move somewhere to start a church and eventually pastor it. I do believe there is a place for the more traditional North American Church Planting model, and I am excited about the uptick in that as well.

With that said, there are some important convictions I believe the apostolic approach brings to the table. First off, the model focuses on reproducibility and multiplication. In other words, this model is not about planting only one church but initiates conversations about reproduction from the very beginning. Second, the emphasis is on growth through conversion, not transfer. In other words, this model most often starts with a group of unbelievers in an evangelistic Bible study that can become a church. Comparatively, the more traditional church plants tend to grow primarily through transfer growth, or existing Christians who switch churches or move into the area. Finally, it shifts the paradigm of mission from a “come and see” model to a “go and tell” model.

Of course, apostolic models will have some hurdles in our context, and that needs to be stated. In the days ahead, I would love to see some good dialogue between advocates of both models so best practices can develop. If you want to know more about this, JD Payne wrote a helpful book on the issue fittingly titled, Apostolic Church Planting.

No Longer “The West to the Rest”

The third one is nothing new, but it sure does excite me. I have written before about how missions is changing, and this may be the most important way. Since the beginning of the modern missions movement some two hundred years ago, missions has largely been seen as a Western enterprise. In other words, developed nations in the West would send missionaries to developing, unreached nations in the East and South. However, this is no longer the case. Missions is from everywhere to everywhere now.

The US is being supplanted as the number one sender of missionaries, as countries like Brazil, China, and South Korea become missionary sending forces around the globe. Missions is no longer “the West to the rest.” When I served in West Africa, I worked with a whole team of Brazilian missionaries. They often made better missionaries than we Americans, too. They took a fraction of the money we used and did more imbedded missions work.

In addition, many of the international peoples that are coming to the US come evangelized. Much to most of the church planting in North America right now is not being done by us. It is being done by groups moving in from the Global South and starting churches for their own people. The question this raises for us is, how do we partner with them, both as they send overseas and as they come here and establish churches? How do we help equip and fan the flame without trying to control or manipulate their work?

The Rise of Replanting

In the past two years since I first named the above trends, a focus on replanting dying churches has emerged, and that is worth noting. Certainly, revitalization has been a topic for a while, but as the generational turnover and rapid cultural shifts in our nation are occurring, there is a resulting wave of declining churches. Among SBC churches, we regularly celebrate the fact that we are planting somewhere just over 1,000 churches per year, but many do not know that we are closing just under a 1,000 a year as well. Church planting is necessary and needed, but if we’re ever going to multiply, we have to close the back door. 

The process of replanting steps into that gap. Replanting is often a more radical process than traditional revitalization. Essentially, it’s the process of relaunching a church with a different identity and structure after a period of intense assessment and reconfiguration. Recently, Mark Clifton of the North American Mission Board noted that over 200 churches have been replanted through cooperative efforts by local associations and conventions.

Instead of just waiting for these churches to die out while trying to plant a new one next door, this concept of replanting and revitalizing existing congregations is gaining momentum. For me, that is an encouraging sign. It reveals that the care of existing congregations and the desire to see them once again involved in the Great Commission should, at least in some instances, take priority over expediency.

Marriage vs. Missions

by Will Jackson

“Should I marry or should I devote my life to missions?”

In serving a local church in a college town, I hear this question asked a lot. As students are being saved, experiencing growth, and processing their futures, specific passages of Scriptures can be very gripping. 1 Corinthians 7 is one such passage that presents a host of marriage-related issues to its readers.  Specifically, 1 Corinthians 7:25-35 often causes young Christians to consider Paul’s wisdom that the married person is “anxious over worldly things” instead of “things of the Lord”—a gut check for the one desiring marriage. I’ve seen engaged couples begin walking through premarital counseling come across this passage and think, “oh no!” and question everything about their upcoming nuptials. 

This brings us to the question at hand for the person feeling guilty about his or her desire for marriage — “Should I marry or should I devote my life to missions?”

The Apostle Paul seems to answer, “ . . . yes, maybe.”

PROHIBITION VS. PROMOTION

If we consult Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, we see less of a prohibition against marriage and more of a universal promotion of Great Commission activity. Verses 25-35 read: 

“Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.”

Where do we start?

First, we know Paul was certainly an advocate for marriage. He is, after all, the biblical author most quoted at  Christian weddings. When we think of classic passages concerning roles in marriage, we go to Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3—both authored by the Apostle. Paul especially shows a high regard for marriage in the way he illustrates Jesus’ relationship with his bride—the church. Seemingly, however, Paul speaks harsh words about holy matrimony in this particular passage. 

But upon a closer look, we find that Paul is not making a theological statement when he “speaks against marriage” in 1 Corinthians 7, as Paul’s theology of marriage is founded on the celebration of marriage in Genesis 2. Instead, he is making a contextually practical one.

Let’s dive in.

The Oxymoron of a Married Bachelor

We first notice a potential contradiction in Paul’s argument when he says “it is good for a person to remain as he is” in verse 26 (i.e. to stay married or stay single). However, he says later, “let those who have wives live as though they had none” in verse 29.  Stay married but live like a bachelor . . . ?

I think verse 28 brings helpful clarity to see there is no contradiction at all: 

“But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.”

It would seem that when Paul identifies the need to “live as though they had [no wife]” in verse 29, he assumes an audience that was typified by distracted marriages. See also his words in verses 32-35 in which Paul speaks to the way many married persons are “anxious about worldly things” within their marriage and are “divided from their devotion unto the Lord.” That is to say, throughout Paul’s journeys, he had likely witnessed more marriages that were all-consumingly-inward rather than Great-Commissionly-outward. Therefore, this present encouragement—to live as a married bachelor—is presented with a bit of hyperbolic flare.

Christians in the first century, whether married or not, needed continual re-centering as disciples of Jesus. Whereas they were new creations regenerated by the Spirit-empowered gospel, they remained weak vessels prone to stray from the path. Here, in 1 Corinthians 7, we see another example of Paul recalibrating Christians for the sake of kingdom advancement.

This recalibration brings us to our second observation. While Paul was undeniably an advocate for earthly marriage, he was even more so a herald for Jesus’ Second Coming.

Notice the emphasis provided in the phrases within verses 26, 29, and 31: “view of the present distress” (v. 26), “appointed time” (v. 29), “present form of this world” (v. 31). Each of these draws into mind the New Testament principle that Christians are living in the “last days” (see Acts 2:17, Heb. 1:2, 2 Tim. 3:1).  Universally, it would seem, the apostles took seriously the command to live in anticipation of Christ’s return. Jesus himself said he would come swiftly and without warning. Therefore, his disciples were not to delay in the completion of their task (Matthew 24-25).

The call is simple. Jesus is coming back, and he has called his disciples to maximally pursue the Great Commission until he does.

This is Paul’s framework for the appeals on marriage and singleness in 1 Corinthians 7.

It isn’t that Paul saw marriage as an absolute obstacle to missions. Instead, he wanted his readers to understand that marriage and singleness must be understood through the lens of Jesus’ calling first to be Great-Commission-Christians. In other words, in light of this fading present age, do whatever propels your devotion to the expansion of Christ’s kingdom. For some, this will be a green light to marry; for others, a life of singleness will best serve the Lord. Marriage and missions are not competing entities in God’s economy.

Maximally Pursue the Great Commission

So, where do you find yourself? Are you single and ready (or not ready) to mingle? Dating and considering engagement? Happily married? Widowed?

With whatever the Lord has gifted you, maximally pursue the Great Commission. Consider these warnings and perform a quick assessment of your life:

To the one presently gifted with singleness…

  • Don’t believe the lie that singles are second-rate people. It may be cliché, but two of Christianity’s heroes were single. One is responsible for the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles and the other—well, we worship him as God. Your life is not incomplete because you aren’t married—for we know our true selves will be made manifest when Jesus returns to resurrect us—as eternal singles.

  • Don’t believe the lie that your life is more expendable. It may be logical for the one with no responsibilities to care for family members to travel to the most dangerous parts of the world to share the gospel, but it isn’t because that person is “less valuable.” When we consider the cost of following Jesus (“to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” Philippians 1:21), we are reminded this applies to all Christians.

  • Don’t believe the lie that singles can only reach singles. Continue to build relationships with people from all walks of life and widely share the gospel, invest in younger believers, and participate in the mutual edification of all types of saints.

  • Don’t believe the lie that marriage is evil. You may well be called to marriage. Heed Paul’s wisdom provided in the rest of 1 Corinthians 7. Are you (appropriately and in step with Christian holiness) burning with passion? Has God presented a suitable companion with whom you can better walk with Christ? Maybe you should marry.

To the one presently gifted with marriage…

  • Don’t believe the lie that being married means you must throw up a white picket fence on Elm Street. You and your spouse can be mobilized together to virtually any place on the planet to spread the Good News.

  • Don’t believe the lie that you and your spouse must operate with two independently separate ministries. This is a big one. Indeed, one spouse may directly invest in persons the other spouse has little contact with, but being married means the two are now one. As such, a Great-Commission marriage is a joint effort. When one spouse mentors someone in the gospel, they do so as an extension of the couple’s ministry as a team.

  • Don’t believe the lie that married couples can only reach married couples. Marriage can be such a beautiful display of the gospel—namely in its rhythms of repentance, forgiveness, and mutual self-sacrifice. Invite singles into your home and be vulnerable for the sake of celebrating Christ’s love.

  • Don’t believe the lie that marriage is evil. You didn’t make a mistake when you said your “I Do’s” and to undo this covenant would be sinful. God, in His perfect providence, arranged your marriage. Congratulations! Because you are married, you successfully found the one for you and it would seem God gave you into marriage so that you would be a better missionary. Maximize your marital union for the Great Commission.

The call to give our lives for the spread of the gospel to the nations supersedes our marital status, but we shouldn’t view these as mutually exclusive. Live where the Lord has you. Give your life for His higher purposes. As Paul said, “secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.”


Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 

Feature image by IMB.

Researching Your City

by Lisa Hoff

It was a blustery January morning when I hailed a cab to take me across town. I had only been in the city for a few days and was anxious to meet people in the community and explore new neighborhoods. It was clear the driver knew the city well, so I asked him about an imposing building that caught my eye. He told me it was a church. I was surprised by his response because I had heard that few people in this area were familiar with Christianity. 

When I asked him what they did at the church, he said they held lots of parties, including a big get together last month. I thought he was probably referring to a recent Christmas Eve service, so I asked if he knew about Christmas and that it was a celebration of Jesus’s birth. He said that he knew of Jesus and was familiar with the meaning of Christmas. I was encouraged by his response until he said “Yeah, I really love Jesus’s white beard and his red suit.” In that moment, my excitement waned as I realized that, to him, Jesus was really Santa Claus. 

Informative Research

My initial discussion with the taxi driver seemed to indicate that he had at least a cursory exposure to Christianity. However, as the conversation progressed it became clear that his knowledge of Christmas and Jesus was not based on exposure to Scripture but on general observation or cultural interpretation. My follow-up questions provided an opportunity to assess his spiritual condition and learn more about his understanding of faith issues. 

This conversation highlights the importance of conducting onsite research to better understand a city and her people. Gathering information through conversation and observation provides a deeper understanding into the worldview, values, and inner workings of a community. When ministry decisions are based on research findings rather than assumptions or personal preferences, there is greater potential for Kingdom impact. 

Although some ministry leaders see research as unnecessary, cumbersome, and time consuming, when done well, it ultimately leads to a more efficient and effective ministry. Research does not need to be complicated, just organized and clear. To better understand a city, it is important to know how to ask good questions and have a grasp on the way a community defines and utilizes space. 

Outsider and Insider Perspectives 

Many are aware of the importance in doing preliminary research before visiting or moving to a new city. A person may scour the internet for information, read a few books, or even talk to people who have visited there before. All of this is helpful in preparation for engaging people and cultures who may not share the same belief system, values, or lifestyle. 

There are limitations, however, to gathering information in this manner.  Data is interpreted through the lens of those who collect it, analysis techniques vary, and resources do not always answer specific questions an individual may have about the needs of a community. Statistics and numbers can also be skewed because of undocumented or transient peoples or because there are government restrictions about what information is made public.

In a rapidly changing world, many printed resources become quickly outdated. This is particularly true regarding topics like urbanization, cultural change, and societal attitudes. It is therefore important for ministry leaders to know how to do onsite research to gain an understanding of a people or place. Observations and interviews can provide particularly valuable information on what influences a community to relate and act in a specific manner. 

Good data gathering and analysis is comprised of both insider and outsider perspectives. Insiders are a part of the community and are familiar with the inner workings that motivate behavior and values. They have unique access to information but may also struggle to understand the bigger picture because they are deeply immersed in the culture. Outsiders bring a greater emotional distance to a context and may be able to better identity more broad trends that are taking place. Because outsiders are not part of the societal fabric, they are often trusted with information that an individual may not feel comfortable sharing with a member of their own group.  

Spaces

Another way to learn about a community is through its use of space and place. Communal values and social practice are reflected in how people utilize their surroundings and the meaning they assign to it. On a recent trip to a European city, I walked into an unfamiliar restaurant and immediately knew that this was a gendered space meant only for men. No one had to tell me, all I had to do was observe that no women were present in this establishment that catered to immigrant workers from North Africa. Many times, limitations or boundaries on space and place are not articulated, just simply understood by insiders within the community. 

Spaces are categorized as open, semi-accessible, or closed. Understanding these different categories can be instrumental in facilitating informed ministry research. In open spaces, like a city square, there is no permission needed to just sit, watch, and interact with people. If an individual is new to a community or has language challenges, this is an easy place to begin learning. Semi-accessible spaces are not open to everyone and require affiliation or payment for access.  A fenced off community playground or a coffee shop are two examples of this. Closed spaces are the most restrictive and require a deeper level of relationship or a specific invitation to be there. These spaces include homes and offices which reflect more intimate or important aspects of people’s lives. In these locations, some individuals may feel more comfortable and willing to have personal conversations.

Conclusion

Onsite data collection can be done by anyone. All it requires is few basic research tools, a genuine desire to understand a community, and collecting relevant information. The result is a more well informed ministry that effectively meets the needs of people and expands God’s Kingdom around the world. 

Lisa Hoff is an associate professor of intercultural studies at Gateway Seminary. Her doctoral research focused on rapid urbanization and its influence on social dynamics. She lived in Asia for many years where she conducted ethnographic research projects.

Featured image by IMB.

5 Encouragements for Short-Term Summer Mission Teams

by Jack Swift

Summers provide great opportunities for short-term mission teams to serve the cause of Christ around the globe. At the same time, missionaries in cross-cultural settings are anticipating the arrival of those teams—a process that can bring joy and excitement, but sometimes fear. Short-term summer mission teams can provide much needed help for missionaries, but for both the missionary team and the volunteer team to profit, each side needs to prepare well.

I’ve been on both sides and benefited greatly from the other. The Lord used short-term opportunities to speak to me about my call to missions fourteen years ago, and I’ve also received great help from summer teams during my time on the field as a career missionary. I rejoice that the Lord will use experiences this summer to call short-term volunteers into lifelong service and real needs will be met at the same time. Although this is true and exciting, volunteers who aren’t careful can hinder the work of the missionaries and cause more harm than good.

5 Mistakes That Could Derail Your Short Term Trip
As I look back on my time as a short-term volunteer, I am reminded of the help, hospitality, and grace that was abundantly and repeatedly given to me by the missionaries on the field. I was, like most volunteers, highly motivated. But while I had much energy, I did not understand how to best serve the missionary team, which is the role of the short-term worker. In light of this, here are five encouragements I could have benefitted from as a short-term summer volunteer. I hope that they will encourage you too as you serve the Lord this summer.

Press into Christ
Short-term trips provide a great opportunity to refocus and recommit to pursuing a vibrant relationship with Jesus. Go into this summer with a plan for spiritual growth—a plan that relies on God’s Spirit to speak to you and God’s Word to transform you, and that also leads you to a recommitted resolve to actively participate in a spiritual journey. I encourage you to sit down with a parent, pastor, or mentor before you depart and ask that person to help you map out goals that point you to Christ-centered spiritual growth.

Prepare for Your New Context
Packing for an international trip is a lot of fun. I remember falling victim to the hypothetical scenario syndrome, carefully thinking through every potential scenario and trying to pack accordingly. I didn’t know what I was going to face in a foreign country, but I knew I would be prepared for everything. Everything, of course, except for what really mattered. Take this opportunity to learn everything you can about the culture where you will serve. A quick Google search on the city or peoples will help you get started. Don’t be afraid to ask the missionary for good resources related to their context. The missionaries will fill in the gaps concerning relevant issues when you arrive, but you should do your part to prepare first.

Follow the Lead of the Missionary
Missionaries are on the field because God has given them a vision for reaching that city or peoples with the gospel. Missionaries don’t study just the language of the people; they study the cultural values, historical setting, and religious strongholds of the people too. They will be your best source of information for understanding the religious worldview of that context and explaining how to share the gospel in a culturally relevant way. Ask good questions and listen well. They want to see your team make a meaningful contribution. Remember, the more effective your team is, the more it benefits the missionary. Make it your goal to be a blessing to the missionary team by following their lead and contributing in a significant way.

Volunteers who aren’t careful can hinder the work of the missionaries and cause more harm than good.

Detach from Home
Detaching from social media, academic studies, and jobs allows you to narrow your gaze to a laser-focus that is much needed on the field. Social media is a helpful tool that informs supporters how to be praying for you, but oftentimes it becomes a distraction rather than an instrument for good. You have limited time. Use every opportunity to maximize your impact. You can’t do that if your mind is somewhere else. Even on days when plans fall through—and they will—use that time to prayer walk, or check in with the missionary team and ask for simple ways you can help make their life easier.

Preach the Gospel with Grace and Boldness
Regardless of the context to which God has called you to serve, the needs are ultimately the same: people need the hope of the gospel. The sovereign, holy Creator of the universe has purposed a way to redeem disgraced sinners of every nation, tribe, people, and language to himself in the life, death, resurrection, and power of Jesus Christ. And God is calling you to share that message of hope with faith, boldness, and a spirit of grace. Therefore, seek to communicate the hope of Christ to every man, woman, and child the Lord places in your path.

Short-term mission trips are a wonderful blessing to the missionaries on the field, and they have the potential to be life-changing experiences for the volunteers, too. This summer, may the Lord bless you and your team, and use you to declare the glory of God and the majesty of Christ among those who have and have not yet heard the name of our Lord Jesus.

This article was originally found here.

Greatest Week of Southern Baptist Cooperation

by Scott Hildreth

A lot will be said about cooperation in the Southern Baptist Convention over the next couple weeks. We will gather in Birmingham, Alabama and participate in our cooperative convention. We will talk about Cooperative Program giving. We will learn about the work of our cooperative institutions, boards and agencies. We will even commission missionaries and pray together for their success.

In my estimation, one of the most overlooked weeks of Southern Baptist cooperation happens the week before the gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention. Crossover is one of the greatest moments on the Southern Baptist calendar; hundreds of seminary and college students gather in the convention city to worship together, pray together, celebrate together, and spend hours sharing Christ together. It is SBC cooperation at its finest!

This year, we are gathering on the campus of The University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB). Each afternoon we will go as groups to partner with local churches in the Birmingham area. Our goal each day is to support the ministry of the local church by promoting their ministries and sharing Christ door-to-door. On Wednesday night, we will participate in an evangelism training simul-cast that us sponsored by the North American Mission Board equipping Southern Baptists to share Christ as part of The Who’s Your One campaign. It is going to be a great week as we share Christ and watch God work in us and through us.

It is no secret that the past couple weeks have not highlighted the best side of our denomination. However, as I gather each year with our denomination’s future leaders, I am not discouraged. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that our future consists of men and women who love Jesus and are committed to his mission. I know that our future is in the hands of a God who loves the lost more than we do.

Crossover is an event that highlights our better side and also reminds us that the struggles of our present day are worth it. We are stewards of future leaders and a message that will change the world.

Special shout out to the North American Mission Board for helping underwrite Crossover expenses. This week, we will cooperate to fulfill our “one sacred effort.” Taking the gospel to those who need to hear it.

The Down Payment Of Prayer

by Will Jackson

We know the apostle Paul as the greatest missionary in the history of the Christian church. It goes without saying, Paul’s ministry was one of proclamation. He preached to Jews, Gentiles, pagans, philosophers, criminals, and dignitaries. In a sense, we can somewhat quantitatively estimate the reach of Paul’s ministry from Luke’s account in the book of Acts. But what if we consider the thousands of people Paul also impacted, not through proclamation, but through participation—specifically participation in praying.

From what we can gather in his letters and in the book of Acts, Paul multiplied his ministry by raising up and sending out leaders—all under the commissioning of Jesus. Paul called for prayer from the churches that the gospel may go forward in his ministry (Colossians 4:3, 2 Thessalonians 3:1) but also reminded all Christians of their equal responsibility to proclaim the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). Specifically, in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, we see him exhort Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). Whether by his mouth or through his disciples, Paul wanted to see the gospel spread throughout the ancient world like wildfire.

Consider how Paul might have prayed for the fruit of Timothy’s ministry or the evangelism that would take place through the churches in Philippi or Colossae. If his letters are any indication of his desire, he likely prayed for his disciples to preach the gospel boldly but also prayed for its hearers to respond with repentance and faith. It would seem, in His providence, God has ordained prayer as the thunder to the lightning of proclamation.

Praying it Forward

This past year, my wife and I began caring for foster children in our community. As Christians, our natural desire is to not only provide shelter and comfort but to introduce children (and if possible, their parents) to the God who loves us. So, as soon as we began receiving calls for kids in need, we started rehearsing our ministry plan: model worship at meal-times, read from the Jesus Storybook Bible before bed, and regularly engage in deep gospel conversations. Human plans are great . . . until the Lord shows you something greater—ministry to toddlers.

My wife thinks I’m crazy, but two-years-old may be my favorite age. They are full of life, full of energy, and soak up everything like a sponge. However, I don’t know about you, but I find it particularly challenging to walk through the Four Spiritual Laws or Two Ways to Live with a two-year-old. My plans for reaching foster kids for Christ seemed thwarted. Then as the Lord continued to move our hearts to action, we were quickly reminded of the power of prayer while sitting under the preached Word at my local church.

People often ask us, “how long are kids in your home?” Honestly, it depends. The time in our home could last a year or more or be as brief as a few days. But foster care by definition is always temporary. For us, whatever length of time the Lord has kids in our home is the exact amount of time He has called us to at least intercede for their future salvation. If we aren’t able to share the gospel with them today, we trust and pray that God will send another laborer to preach the good news when they are older. We hope that our prayers will provide the down payment for evangelism in the same way Paul prayed for the kingdom to expand far beyond his efforts in the 1st century.

Praying Far from Home

Our God has a heart for the nations. I don’t know if any truth has been further pressed upon me during my time at Southeastern Seminary. Not only does God desire to save the nations but He has perfectly planned and initiated an execution strategy—the church.

Jesus’ final words to his disciples couldn’t have been more clear. Our calling as Christians is to preach the good news continually and constantly. Yet, no matter where the Lord has called us to live out our faith we can all participate in global mission work as well. Giving resources? Yes. Taking short term trips? Absolutely. What about the ministry of prayer? Have we considered the thousands we could impact through our participation in praying?

I’m thankful for the ministry of The Joshua Project. Their mission is to “highlight the ethnic people groups of the world with the fewest followers of Christ” so mission agencies can be well informed for strategic deployment. They also resource “everyday” Christians like me with much-needed exposure to people groups who have little to no gospel presence. I recommend signing up for their Unreached of the Day newsletter or mobile app which prompts users to pray for various people groups regularly.

There are villages and towns that have never been reached with the gospel. But missionaries are on the way. The Lord is daily raising up laborers to go. Will you go before them in prayer? Will you, like Paul, lay the groundwork for their evangelism while on your knees?

Matthew 6:9-10. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (ESV)

You Are Called to the Nations…But Which One?

by Caleb Walker

What about those who never hear the gospel? The question does not concern those who hear it and are indifferent or those who hear it and reject it, but those who never, ever hear the bad news of their rebellion against their Creator and the good news of the reconciliation found in Jesus. My wife and I began wrestling with the implications of that question and its clear biblical answer while in college. Though we had been raised in Bible-believing, missions-supporting churches all of our lives, we had yet to embrace our God-given role in getting the gospel to those who have no hope apart from a personal encounter with Christ.

The weight of Romans 10, the stirring words of men like Platt and Piper, the inspiring testimonies of Jim Elliot and his comrades, and the undeniable urging of the Spirit sent us, two naïve, but zealous newlyweds, on a journey to the nations that included taking part in an international sponsor-a-child program, increasing our missions giving, enrolling in seminary, and participating in short-term trips to South America and the Caribbean. It was during one of those trips, amidst foreign sounds, smells, and people, that the Lord confirmed our call to long-term missionary service. Our call to the nations was sure, but one important detail was noticeably absent. Our answer of “Yes, Lord” was followed by “But where, Lord?”

I have found that the call-to-field process is different for every cross-cultural missionary and church planter. Some describe a definitive call early in life while others sense God’s redirection well into their professional careers. Some receive specific instructions concerning a people group or a geographic context while others cite a general obedience to the Great Commission and possess some degree of flexibility concerning field assignment. Our family would identify with the latter group. There was little doubt that we were supposed to go to the nations; we just were not sure which one.

Admittedly, the lack of clarity concerning a specific people or place proved to be a challenge for us in the beginning. We had friends and classmates who had a heart for Turks, Jews, or Spaniards or who had traveled to Africa or Asia multiple times and possessed a certainty of both their calling and their context. Had we misinterpreted our call? Had we missed a clue from the Lord along the way? Or were we embarking on a leg of our journey that would shape us for the task ahead? In our case, it seems a year of praying, fasting, seeking counsel, and waiting on the Lord was in order.

If you are called to the nations and you possess a God-given clarity directing you to a specific region or group, then pursue this with passion and purpose. But if you (or someone you pastor, mentor, or encourage) are wrestling with this crucial aspect of the call, then consider the following recommendations:

  • Take part in short-term trips or internships in various international contexts.

Nothing compares to actually spending time in a foreign context. You personally interact with a target people, experience the climate, hear the language, and may even wrestle with some of the unique challenges associated with that location or culture. Many of these trips also pair you with experienced field missionaries. Thankfully, international travel is extremely accessible and opportunities abound in almost every locale around the world. Our short-term trips were an indispensable part of our decision-making process.

  • Speak with current or former international missionaries who serve/served in different regions.

One of the greatest resources available to future missionaries is the testimony of those who have personally lived and ministered cross-culturally. These like-minded missionaries can specifically speak to the joys and trials associated with each region and people. They can speak with a degree of realism that many travel books neglect or ignore. We are indebted to IMB missionaries from Central and Eastern Europe who helped us refine our call and connect us with our first field supervisors.

  • Learn from those who were faithful in the past.

Plunging into the biographies and autobiographies of missionaries from church history should be a part of your preparation for the field, regardless of whether you are struggling with your future location. These accounts often explore the depths of missionary service and shed light on the complexities of cross-cultural work in distant lands. These true stories often reflect on God’s faithfulness and the missionary’s perseverance in the midst of spiritual darkness, loss, heartache, and struggles, whether physical, emotional, or relational.

  • Examine yourself and think practically.

One of the best pieces of advice we received during this period of waiting came from a professor who had previously served overseas. “Do not be afraid to think practically and be honest,” he advised. Thinking practically initially sounded terribly unspiritual, self-serving, too pragmatic, and generally unmissionary-like. Despite my initial reservations, his counsel was quite possibly the single-greatest factor the Lord used to guide us to the Balkans. As a couple, my wife and I prayerfully answered a number of questions and reflected upon how God had shaped our personalities, our interests, and our experiences. We then shared our results with trusted friends, pastors, and missionaries and asked God to use them as a compass. While God is certainly not beholden to our preferences and often delights in stretching us beyond our perceived limits, I believe that he also strategically prepares us for our service long before we reach the field.

Consider the following questions:

1) In what climate or terrain would I best serve?
2) What level of physical danger can I emotionally and mentally tolerate?
3) Do I envision myself pioneer church planting or coming alongside existing believers in their efforts?
4) How important is the ability to host short-term teams?
5) Do I feel comfortable utilizing a platform to enter a country?
6) Do I only want to target unreached peoples?
7) How important are services and utilities such as Internet, running water, electricity, etc.?
8) Do I prefer to live and work in large cities or small villages?
9) Do I have medical concerns that will limit my options?
10) How do my current/future children impact my decision?
11) What education options for my children are important?
12) Do I wish to live in close proximity to teammates?
13) Do I prefer to work among the affluent or the impoverished?
14) Do I have unique skills, interests, education, or work experience better suited for certain regions?
15) Does working amongst a certain culture or worldview (e.g. Islamic, Post-Christian, Animistic, etc.) appeal to me?

  • Commune with God.

Assumed, but often neglected, parts of the preparation and decision-making process are fasting and prayer. God very well may use these times of concentrated focus and communion to reveal his will for your future or he may be honing you spiritually for the spiritual battles that lie ahead. Our family made it a habit to pray for a different nation and people each day utilizing resources like www.operationworld.org and www.prayercast.com. We asked that God would clearly direct our minds and affections to the region where he would have us serve.

  • Develop relationships with internationals where you currently live.

Thanks to an ever-connected world, one need not take a flight to minister and befriend internationals. It is very likely that your community or city is home to international refugees, job seekers, and students. Be intentional about finding ways to volunteer, serve, and connect with those who need exposure to the gospel. They have the privilege of hearing eternal truth; you get an introduction to their culture and homeland. During the year leading up to our assignment selection, we took part in a local German social club and developed friendships with Eastern Europeans.

  • Expose yourself to foreign peoples and places through available media.

In addition to missionary testimonies, you should immerse yourself in a variety of written and electronic media that will equip you and potentially steer you to a certain people or place. These may be cross-cultural tools that specifically compare and contrast the different peoples and regions of the world such as Sarah A. Lanier’s Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot- and Cold- Climate Cultures or the anthropology-focused works of Paul Heibert. One should also consider secular travel guides and books, which seek to aid tourists or highlight conditions and events in unfamiliar locales. The Culture Shock! series and National Geographic are great examples.

  • Trust the sovereignty of our good God, who desires the nations even more than you!

Without a doubt, the most important truth of all to remember is that God is sovereign, good, and unlimited in power. From the human perspective, the decision of where to serve overseas can be overwhelming. The choices are many and the need great. But even greater still is the trustworthy providence of our God who is working for his glory and your good. Do not give into the temptation, the quiet whisper that suggests that the entirety of God’s plan for the nations hangs on your selection of the perfect city out of the thousands on the planet. Our God is far too powerful and his plan is far too secure for such a notion.

As you continue to explore your future, I pray that you will remain reliant upon our gracious God for wisdom, guidance, and power. Remember, we do not serve a God who is desperately trying to get the answer to you but is hindered by some external force or opponent. If God is delaying your answer, he has his reasons. Do not feel the pressure to make a random cloud out to be the outline of Nigeria or cast lots between the continents. God may suddenly overwhelm you one day with a divine clarity that leaves little in doubt. He may also elect to strategically withhold his plan so that you will walk forward in dependent trust upon his goodness and guidance. This process may be as frightening as it is sanctifying. Regardless, it is my prayer that you hold tight to his hand every leg of the coming journey, whether the way is marked with deserts or jungles, mountains or plains, snow or heat, cities or hamlets. Know that wherever you choose to serve, there will be a people waiting that desperately needs the gospel and there is a King reigning who unconditionally deserves their worship!