Last week our church had the privilege of hosting a missionary to Uganda. Abigail Tracy, 22, ministers to street children in a village outside of Kampala, Uganda. She and her colleagues have taken 16 children into their family home so far, and as funds allow and more workers come, they could take in as many as 60. Abby will head back to Uganda June 1, but for now she is in the States finishing her duties as International Coordinator for her organization, African Hearts.
She was able to come on Saturday and stay until Thursday, speaking seven times while she was here. She is an amazing young woman who has a clear focus on God’s plan for her life and who is steadfastly setting out to see that plan accomplished. She teared up several times as she talked of her love for “her” kids, and how much she misses them and can’t wait to see them in few weeks. Her passion and love for them and for God were obvious to anyone who had the privilege of speaking with her.
…leading up to her visit, and during the course of her time here, there were several comments and questions and concerns that, quite frankly, left a bitter taste in my mouth. You see, Abby Tracy is not Southern Baptist, and African Hearts is not a Southern Baptist organization. Therefore, there were some who thought that our Southern Baptist church should not even have her come speak at all. While she was here, during question and answer times, there were a few who had no questions at all about the children, the work, the needs, but instead asked only questions about the denominational involvement, the church affiliation, the pastor’s nationality.
May I submit that the Southern Baptists are not the only missionaries out there that need our prayers and support? May I submit that there are some excellent organizations that are doing much to further the kingdom that have no association whatsoever with the IMB? May I dare to submit that there are even non-Southern Baptist missionaries and organizations out there that are probably more biblical than our own mission board?
Please do not misunderstand. I am a Southern Baptist. I am of the opinion that the idea and theory behind our International Mission Board and the excellent support that is given to our missionaries through the Cooperative Program is wonderful. We as Southern Baptists support many godly men and women who are doing wonderful work in the countries around the globe, and we should by all means continue to pray for them and support them financially. But they are not the only ones out there!!!
During our “desert time” in Indiana, God was so good to allow us to be part of a church that we loved for the doctrine, the people, the practical application of the Word, and the attitude toward global missions. This was our first real taste of how a non-Southern Baptist church goes about supporting global missions. Faith Baptist Church has a surprisingly lengthy list of missionaries that they support, some of which have been sent out or commissioned by Faith. The church supports each one in varying amounts, but they support them individually. It’s up close and personal, not generically through a board. The church votes in each case whether to support a certain missionary or not, and once they are supporting them, they have teams for each missionary to keep the church updated on the work of that missionary. When the missionaries happen to be in the area, they often come by the church and share what God has been doing in their ministry. Many of them even grew up in that church and were then sent out by that church, so they are viewed as part of the family when they are on the field, having church members take trips to go and visit them. We were there only 18 months and we had the privilege of meeting personally several of these missionaries, even having one in our home that our kids were able to meet.
This kind of up-close-and-personal contact is often missing in Southern Baptist churches. Our missionaries are well cared for, but it’s not personal and individual. You might meet a missionary here and there at a missions fair or something, but usually you will never see or hear from them again. The next visiting missionary will be someone new. There is no continuity of contact with any one person, in most cases. We will read about the featured missionary in the bulletin inserts and missions magazines, and we will pray for the missionaries in the birthday calendar, but when do you ever think of them again? It’s just some name floating around that you are praying for or talking about, and you have no clue what that person’s work is or what their needs are.
Does God hear and use those prayers? Absolutely. Is it wrong to pray for missionaries on their birthday even though you’ve never heard of them and have no idea what they do? Absolutely not. But let me share with you something that our pastor said in his sermon last night: Prayer is a weapon. A general prayer along the lines of “God, help me today,” or “God, be with Mrs. Smith” is not wrong and is still a valid prayer. But how much more effectively the weapon of prayer is used when we aim it at specific targets, naming specific names and specific requests or needs. How much more effectively could we pray for our missionaries if we actually knew them personally, or at least continued hearing about them on a regular basis instead of just once in passing?
My children got to spend quite a bit of time with Abby, as we drove her around, had her in our home, and served as her “hosts” while she was here. They, in that special way children have, grew to love her even in such a short amount of time. They were able to ask her questions about her street children. They learned the names of the children, what they like to do, and even learned a praise song in their language. As we keep in touch with Abby, they will be able to continue praying for these kids. As we help her sell the necklaces that bring in the funds to run her ministry, they will be able to work for a cause that’s greater than themselves, all the while having a specific picture in their mind of who they are helping.
Many people in our church were excited to do these same things. Many people have expressed interest in buying a necklace to support these kids, and there has been talk of other ways that our church might continue to partner with Abby Tracy and African Hearts to reach the street children of one Ugandan city. The negative attitude against a non-Southern Baptist missionary was in no way representative of the whole, but it was there none-the-less, clear enough that Abby began asking lots of questions about why it even mattered whether she was Southern Baptist. All we could tell her was that, to us, it didn’t.
There is more bouncing around in my head that I would love to say on missions and Southern Baptists, but I’ll have mercy on my readers and save it for another post. Let me just end this one by saying:
To all my fellow Southern Baptists,
Be faithful to support missions. Be faithful to pray for missionaries. Do this through your local church, through the International Mission Board as you see fit. But please please please do not fall into the arrogant mindset that the IMB sends out the only worthy missionaries doing the only worthy work. When you hear of another ministry like African Hearts, embrace it. (Obviously, investigate any missionary or organization to ensure the soundness of the doctrine and methods to which they hold.) Take advantage of every opportunity that you have to keep biblically sound missionaries and ministries up close and personal in your life and in the lives of your children, whether they are Southern Baptist or not.