U.S. churches must choose between missions, death

by Mike Creswell
  • IMB strategist Joe Dillon, middle, talks with leaders about the need to be on mission with God.

  • Chris Allen, student and staff worker at Southeastern Seminary, shared his testimony during the conference at Corinth Baptist.

Monday, March 11, 2013 | 1 year old

Baptists must turn back to God and get on mission with Him soon or they will die.

That was the stark message presented by missions leader Joe Dillon to hundreds who attended a three-day missions conference at Corinth Baptist Church in Elizabeth City in late February.

People are coming to Christ in record numbers around the world, but not so much in North America, said Dillon, a church strategist who relates to churches across the southeast for the International Mission Board.

The "Engage Your World Celebration" was sponsored for the second year by Corinth's Baptist Men and Woman's Missionary Union in cooperation with Chowan Baptist Association. The gathering included exhibits from local, state and national ministries, including Chowan Association, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, NC Baptist Men and Woman's Missionary Union.

Other exhibitors included the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Camp Cale, Campus Crusade for Christ, Word of Life and missionaries assigned to Ukraine and Thailand.

While Dillon challenged Baptists to look up and out, Mrs. Rosalie Hunt urged Baptists to look back and recognize the legacy of missions history represented by early missionaries like Adoniram Judson.

"If you are a Baptist, what a legacy you have!" Hunt said, noting that 2013 is the 200th anniversary of Baptist missions in the United States, since Adoniram and Ann Judson went to Burma (now Myanmar) two centuries ago.

Hunt is a former missionary to China who still travels widely and now serves the national Woman's Missionary Union (WMU) Foundation as vice-chair of the board of directors and as national recording secretary for WMU.

"We're seeing this explosive movement of the gospel that cannot be explained, apart from the fact that the Holy Spirit is pouring Himself out," leading many thousands of people to accept Christ as Savior, said Dillon, who earlier served as a Southern Baptist missionary in Chile.

He told of one Asian country where a few years ago missionaries rejoiced if even one Muslim came to Christ in a year. But recently a Southern Baptist missionary told Dillon he has baptized personally 1,000 Muslims who have turned to Christ over the past two years, an unprecedented development.

Rapid church growth in Asia has resulted in two nations there sending more missionaries beyond their borders than do American churches. Indeed, Dillon said, the churches in America have been declining in their missionary sending capacity each year of the past 20 years and now is in third place among missionary-sending nations.

Even during the Great Depression, when unemployment stood at 35 percent, American churches gave proportionately three times to international missions what churches of today give, Dillon said. During those earlier hard times churches would forgo buying coal to heat their buildings so that the money could instead be used to keep missionaries on the field.

Dillon said most U.S. churches are so turned inward they have forgotten the need to sacrificially support missions. Indeed, he said, most American churches are not even engaging their own culture, much less cultures overseas.

Many churches today are resisting radical discipleship to join with God in reaching the nations, just as the first-century Jews rejected the gospel, as described in Acts 13. In that major transition point, Paul moved on to begin sharing the gospel with Gentiles.

Current studies show Connecticut's population is already less than two percent Christian, which means that numerically the state could qualify as an "unreached people group."

Studies also show that in 15 years Atlanta's population could be less than 2 percent Christian as well, Dillon warned.

He challenged a men's gathering to pursue personal holiness and work to reach their family members for Christ.

In several messages and a dramatic monologue punctuated with precise dates, names and places, Rosalie Hunt told how the woman who grew up to be Ann Judson was born in 1798 and was saved at age 16 in Massachusetts. After meeting Adoniram Judson they were married two months later and set sail on Feb. 19, 1812, for the Far East as the first international missionaries sent out from America.

Ann Judson was a pioneer linguist, evangelist, teacher and translator; she was called the Woman of the Century in 19th century America. After Ann died, Judson next married Sarah, who also died prematurely. His third wife was Emily.

"Our missionary foremothers changed this nation and they changed the world," said Hunt, noting that today Myanmar has one of the largest Baptist populations in the world.

During her Sunday morning message Hunt displayed a piece of brick from the ruins of the Burmese prison where Judson was locked up for two years and narrowly missed being executed.

Ronnie Wyatt, pastor of Ramoth Gilead Baptist Church in Elizabeth City, told how he went on a vision trip to New York in 2012 through the Baptist State Convention's Great Commissions Partnerships office. Ronnie and his wife went to New York City, then on up to Syracuse in upstate New York, where they saw the Butternut Street/Shower Park neighborhood, home for about 25,000 people.

The only evidence of Christianity there, Wyatt said, is an abandoned Roman Catholic church building and a charismatic church building with a "for sale" sign on it. "You can see Buddha statues the size of a house, but there's no church," Wyatt said.

Now the Wyatts are headed to Syracuse soon as North American missionaries to plant a church in that neighborhood. Wyatt told how they have divided the neighborhood into sections and are seeking prayer partners who will pray specifically for each section of the neighborhood.

Chris Allen, a student and staff worker at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary at Wake Forest, presented his dramatic testimony of how he wound up homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol before he turned to Christ for salvation and deliverance.

Lead organizer of the conference was Lee Johnson, Corinth's director of outreach and discipleship. Pastor David Turner said the church holds such celebrations to engage Baptists and others in praying, giving and going to accomplish the command of Jesus to take the gospel to all the world.