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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 of lostness."
     "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 century."
      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 known believers.
      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 throne!"

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