I suppose it's only natural that when most of us think about missions we typically imagine some far away, exotic place where different languages are spoken and the culture is literally foreign to us. The idea of participating in missions is generally associated with international travel away from our comfort zone.
However, a complete understanding of the missionary mandate from Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8) makes clear that missions is not done solely on a foreign soil. After all, the "nations" we are to make disciples of sometimes exist right next door, as well as across the globe.
Perhaps like no other place in the United States, this is clearly true of Florida. And it's for that reason that Florida Baptists include among their missionary enterprises ministry that is focused on reaching the Sunshine State with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At this time of year annually, Florida Baptists give special attention to the missionary needs of Florida through the Maguire State Mission Offering.
With the theme, "See the Florida Mission Field through the Eyes of Jesus," Matt. 9:35-36 is the focus passage for this year's effort: "And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing every infirmity. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them because they were scattered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."
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These verses vividly remind us of our obligation to follow the example of our Savior when we think about millions of Floridians who do not know Jesus Christ—and have compassion for them by introducing these sheep to the only Shepherd who can eternally save them.
The Florida Baptist Convention helpfully illustrates just how needy the Sunshine State mission field is, noting 12 reasons:
1. Florida is expected to become the third largest state in the U.S. in year 2011, behind Texas and California. Already Florida's population is 18 million.
2. Fifteen Florida counties—or 25 percent—are among the 100 fastest growing counties in the U.S.: Flagler, St. Lucie, Sumter, Lake, Lee, St. Johns, Hernando, Osceola, Pasco, Wakulla, Clay, Walton, Marion, Hendry, and Columbia.
3. 20,000 foreign-born refugees and immigrants move to Florida annually—more than any other state.
4. 4,500,000 foreign-born persons live in Florida.
5. 1,000 new residents move to Florida each day.
6. 401 church site grants have been disbursed to Florida Baptist churches through the Maguire State Mission Offering since 1975, totaling $10,189,318.
7. 20 interest-free loans have been disbursed to Florida Baptist churches through the Maguire State Mission Offering since 2003, totaling $1,162,000.
8. Every Sunday, 22 languages are spoken in Florida Baptist congregations. In contrast, children in South Florida schools speak in 160 languages at home.
9. 629 Florida Baptist churches, or 22 percent of all Florida Baptist churches, worship in a language other than English.
10. A total of 2,759 Florida Baptist congregations serve on mission in their communities.
11. An estimated 70 percent—or 12.6 million of the state's 18 million population—of the persons living in the state of Florida do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
12. An estimated 10 million persons—including undocumented and undercounted—live in three South Florida counties, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, yet Florida Baptists only compose 1.38 percent of that population; statewide, Florida Baptists compose 6.5 percent of the population.
The reality, then, is that the exotic place where foreign languages are spoken in a culture unfamiliar to us exists right here with us in the Sunshine State. And, as more and more people come to Florida, the missionary mandate gets just a little bit harder—that is, if we see Florida the way Jesus does, with compassion, knowing there among these those who are sheep without a Shepherd.
For weeks now Florida Baptist Witness has featured numerous stories and other information highlighting the Maguire Offering and the ministries that are benefited by Florida Baptists' support for the offering.
The goal for this year's Maguire State Mission Offering is $1,372,000. These funds are needed, above and beyond the Cooperative Program, to fund important ministries that will not happen without the offering. These ministries include funding for new churches; partnership missions with Baptists in West Virginia, Nevada and Indiana; jail, migrant, refugee resettlement, health-care, and disaster relief ministries; mission projects in Haiti, Cuba and Brazil; youth and children's camps and collegiate outreach; and funding for local associational mission projects.
The Florida Baptist Convention Public Relations Division has produced a wonderful array of resources to assist churches in observing the Maguire State Mission Offering, including teaching helps for mission studies for all ages. A wealth of information is available by checking out the Florida Baptist Convention Web site (www.flbaptist.org).
I hope that every Florida Baptist church will joyfully participate in this year's Maguire Offering and that Florida Baptists will indeed see our state through Jesus' eyes with compassion on those who are sheep without a Shepherd.