Southern Baptists challenged to
evangelize world's cities
--By Louis Moore
ATLANTA, June 17--Southern Baptists must deliver the message of
salvation to the teeming masses living in the major cities in every part of the world,
International Mission Board leaders told the closing session of the Southern Baptist
Convention June 16. Just as God called Jonah centuries ago to go to Nineveh and proclaim
the Word of the Lord to the people of that city, God today is calling Southern Baptists to
evangelize the world's largest cities, the IMB leaders said.
"We, as Southern Baptists, are still growing out of our
southern, agrarian roots where the challenge of reaching the multicultural, mega-cities of
New York, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles stretch our evangelism strategies and overwhelm
our resources," IMB President Jerry Rankin said. "But what about Cairo, Beijing,
Shanghai, Moscow, Calcutta and Istanbul? Does not our mandate to disciple the nations
include these gateway cities with their burgeoning populations, poverty and ethnic
diversity, too? "Does not God's heart cry for the 40 cities in China with over a
million people, most of whom are deprived of hearing the gospel?" Rankin continued.
"Are not his tears being shed over the 20 million people of Mexico City whose
Catholic faith has been reduced to empty ritual and superstition, or Macao where gambling,
drugs and crime have resulted in twice as many prostitutes as Christian believers?"
"I believe we are in danger of making the same mistake Jonah did," said Avery
Willis, IMB senior vice president for overseas operations.
Jonah "was so focused on his mission of predicting the
destruction of Nineveh that he missed God's mission to save the city," Willis said.
"We must join God in his mission -- not ask him to fulfill ours. "The need to
address the cities should not depend on where we came from but where God is going. He is
focused on the lost of the world!" Willis said that in the past two years the IMB
"has radically changed its direction as we have tried to follow God out to the edge
"We are focusing on the peoples who have little or no access
to the gospel -- who comprise 30.5 percent of the world's population. We are going with
him to the hard places of crisis such as Honduras after [Hurricane] Mitch, Serbia and
Albania during the Kosovo refugee crisis, and the strongholds of Islam where Christians
are being persecuted." As Rankin and Willis spoke, video from Kosovo, Honduras and
Islamic lands portrayed a kaleidoscope of human faces who need to be touched by Christ.
Christian entertainer Steve Green and The Stone Brothers Trio punctuated the words and
illustrations with stirring music.
"Scripture tells us that the people of Nineveh
believed God and they turned from their evil ways," Rankin said. "It was not the
preaching of Jonah, but a compassionate God who prepared their hearts and turned them to
him in repentance. "God is waiting on us to heed his call, a call to go to the
nations, to the cities of the world and proclaim a message of healing and hope, a message
of salvation and deliverance." Said Willis, "We are standing on the edge of the
golden age of missions. This is the day God has called Southern Baptists to enter the 21st
Missionaries and national Baptists from various regions
offered insight into how God is at work in their areas during the IMB report to the SBC.
In Kosovo, SBC personnel are assessing what it will take to help rebuild that war-torn
area, the team leader for that work said. "We'll be going back with them [the
refugees returning to Kosovo] and we will help them rebuild their homes," said
missionary Bill Steele, who is spearheading the IMB team there.
"We'll never be satisfied to just put food in the mouths of hungry people, for we
must also give them the Bread of Eternal Life," he said. After the war in Bosnia, the
IMB had "the strategy [to reach Bosnians for Christ] but the people [Southern Baptist
mission volunteers] did not come forth," Willis noted. He urged the SBC to mobilize
to assist in the effort in Kosovo.
Armando Meza, a Baptist pastor in Honduras, told about work among
the roving gangs in Honduras, a ministry which continues alongside the massive $1 million
Southern Baptist hurricane relief ministry there. Meza told about a gang of 37 young men
armed with chains, knives and sticks who threatened to kill him because of the work with
the gangs. After he prayed for the gang members and asked God to forgive them for what
they were about to do, the gang relented and turned him loose. "God showed me how
great his love is," Meza said.
An IMB representative, who cannot be identified, told about the restricted country where
he lives and works that had only 50 known Christians in 1995 but today has around 15,000
When he first moved to that country, he said he was fearful
for his five children, but "my children for whom I feared have seen with their own
eyes the power of God." IMB missionary Charles Beatty, who is battling lung cancer,
thanked Southern Baptists for their prayers for him and urged them to pray for those in
his part of North Africa who are dying daily without assurance of eternal life through
Jesus Christ. "When people tell us of their prayers for us as we battle with cancer,
we have requested that they also remember to plead before the throne for the people of
North Africa, most of whom will perish without a true understanding of God.
"In the spring of 1998, we experienced the death of a non-believing North African
friend, one of the most heart-wrenching experiences of our lives," he said. "The
penetrating pain of her death without Jesus gave us a renewed sense of urgency that all
people hear the gospel in a culturally appropriate manner." Before offering an
invitation, Rankin concluded, "What a wonderful day it is going to be when we get to
heaven and see representatives of every tribe, nation, tongue and people group around the
top of page