IMB: A lost world waits, Rankin tells SBC
Published June 21, 2007
SAN ANTONIO (BP)—KGB agents had arrested Shokrat before, but this time was different. Instead of being taken for interrogation, he was tortured.
Messengers to the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio listened, transfixed, as the former Turkmen pastor described how agents forced a gas mask over his head and waited for him to suffocate. As he struggled for breath, the mask was removed momentarily, then replaced and the cycle repeated.
Shokrat's skin was pierced by hypodermic needles. His throat was strangled, his body beaten and electrocuted. Threats were made to torture family and friends, rape his wife and murder his children. He endured this abuse for days, not because he was a spy, but because he had chosen to tell a story of suffering and sacrifice not unlike his own—the story of Jesus.
Shokrat's powerful testimony came as part of the International Mission Board's annual report to the SBC on June 12, where hundreds of Southern Baptists answered an altar call to greater missions involvement.
IMB President Jerry Rankin said Shokrat's story—and the stories of persecuted Christians everywhere—serve as evidence of a lost world desperate to hear the Gospel.
"Numbers can be overwhelming," Rankin said, noting that "1.6 billion people have not yet heard the name of Jesus. ... Yet God's desire is for all the world to know Him, and He sent us with the responsibility to be His witnesses.
"He's not waiting on our response. God is moving in providence and power, stirring through political disruption to open doors to countries and people groups where we would have never imagined missionaries being able to serve."
Rankin cited the thousands who have come to faith in the nations of former Soviet Union, the IMB's missions emphasis for 2007, since the collapse of the communist superpower.
Turkmenistan is among the Soviet republics that gained independence in 1991. Though Shokrat may never be able to return to his home, he continues his work to spread the Gospel there thanks to a partnership with John (last name withheld for security needs), an IMB missionary serving in Central Asia. With the support of Lexington Baptist Church in Lexington, S.C., Shokrat and John have developed a training program to disciple leaders in the Turkmen church. Now, churches there are growing again, even thriving under severe persecution, Shokrat said.
Messengers also heard another story from the former Soviet Union, that of Genady Krechin, a former businessman formerly with ties to the Russian mafia. Genady first heard the story of Jesus from a Russian believer and gave his life to Christ. Now, in partnership with IMB missionaries Brad and Lori Stamey and Crestview Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C., Genady pastors a small house church in Moscow.
Thanks to the help of local believers like Genady and Shokrat, Rankin reported that in 2006 Southern Baptist missionaries and their partners baptized more than 475,000 new believers, planted some 23,000 churches and discipled more than 500,000 Christians.
Rankin also praised Southern Baptists for enabling God-called missionaries to go by giving the largest Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in history, a goal-breaking $150,178,098.
"Because of your faithfulness in giving," Rankin said, "784 new missionaries were appointed and sent out to the ends of the earth."
Many of those missionaries were responsible for breaking ground on work among 104 "unengaged" people groups last year, peoples among whom no evangelicals previously were working to share the Gospel.
"I thank you, not on behalf of the International Mission Board, not on behalf of your missionaries around the world, but I thank you on behalf of the millions of lost people that will hear the story of Jesus for the first time because you gave and God-called missionaries can be sent in increasing numbers," Rankin said.
"We are told in Romans 10:13 that whoever believes in the name of Jesus, whoever responds in faith to the story of Jesus, can be saved. But then we are confronted with the question, 'How can they call on Him of whom they have not believed; and how can they believe on Him of whom they have not heard; and how can they hear the story of Jesus except we be sent?'
"A lost world is waiting. Multitudes are dying. ... We've been equipped with all we need to reach the lost world. It's a story, just a simple story. It's a story of how Jesus touched your life and saved you. ... A world is waiting for someone, perhaps you, to say, 'I'll be the one. I'll go and join others and tell the story of Jesus.'"
Tom Eliff, senior vice president of spiritual nurture, closed the IMB's program with a special invitation and altar call to greater missions commitment, telling Southern Baptists they have an opportunity either to lead the way or fall into the shadows.
"God has a yoke for you in terms of world missions that perfectly fits you," Eliff said. "Are you willing to consider what else God might have for you?
"Some of you know this is going to be one of the most transforming moments of your entire life. Others know that you're going to go back to your church ... and suddenly it's going to be catapulted into the farthest regions of the world."
Messengers answering Eliff's invitation left behind a sea of empty chairs as they stood or kneeled before the convention center's 75-foot-wide stage. Nearly 100 signed cards committing themselves to exploring the possibility of serving overseas as a Southern Baptist missionary. Eliff prayed over their calling.
"Oh, Father, we sense that we are running out of time. How can we put our heart around the billions of people who desperately need to know you?
"God, I pray You hold our feet to fire ... I pray You won't let us rest until we are right in the yoke You have for us. ... We rejoice to see those who will come to know You in these next years because of what You, by Your grace and goodness, have done in this moment. And forever we will walk and talk on the streets of glory with those to whom you've call us to tell the story."