By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, B&R
When I was in high school at a missions meeting, I felt God’s call to foreign missions. The missionary who spoke actually pled for volunteers and said that we had more money available to send missionaries than we had candidates. He told heart-moving stories of those still waiting to hear the gospel for the first time. I was ready to go then even though I didn’t know what it took to get commissioned by our denomination as a foreign missionary. But I was to learn.
The Great Commission. Every Christian knows the Great Commission, and most could quote Matthew 28:19-20. Actually, the Great Commission appears in all Four Gospels and also in the Book of Acts (Acts 1:8). Jesus called 12 disciples and gave them what amounted to a seminary education over three years. He sent them out on a training mission and then taught them more. The word “disciple” means learner and the 12 did learn. Then they became apostles. The word “apostle” in the Greek means to send out. When I was a Royal Ambassador as a boy, I learned that an ambassador is one who represents the presence of his King in the courts of another. Beyond the first 12, Jesus commanded all of us to carry out the Great Commission.
Learning qualification for commissioning. I married Phyllis when I was just getting started in college. She also felt the call to foreign missions. Together, we went on record to say we were committed and preparing to do whatever it took to get commissioned to become foreign missionaries. Do you have any idea of what all was involved in our young lives and the preparation?
At that time, our Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (now International Mission Board) required the husband to have a college and seminary degree and two years of on-field training (which included daily commutes of 225 miles for me). They required the wife to have two years of education beyond college. Besides schooling and on-the-field experience, we would also need to get our total indebtedness down to $500. We would need to write our life’s autobiography, salvation experience, intimate details about how we learned about sexuality and other things, and tell about our sense of calling. We would have to identify something like 25 references to affirm our sense of calling and ability for it. We took eight full years to get just the schooling and on-the-field experience done. We had three sons, who needed to be younger than teens. All of us had to be in near-perfect health. Besides the physicals for the children, Phyllis and I also had to undergo exams by a psychiatrist. Then the personnel at the mission board would evaluate and decide whether to recommend us to the trustee board for appointment and commissioning.
Bottom line: We got rejected with the explanation that the problem was medical. As far as we knew nothing was wrong with us. And I’ve always said that I was the problem, and it was psychiatric. Could have been. Or maybe it was because I nearly worked myself to death to get appointed.
What to do when rejected? We had been praying from square one and felt we were in the heart of God’s will. Though we were disappointed, we prayed for God to show us what to write in the next step in his unfolding, amazing maze of grace. A church called us to become pastor and family. And while it wasn’t foreign missions, it was God’s calling. Instead of forgetting about foreign missions, I wrote an article The Commission published under the title, “The Unappointed.” And I told how we were continuing to support missions.
We spent over four happy years in the pastorate. During that time, I did more graduate work toward a degree in journalism and communication, and I also was invited to write Bible curriculum for The Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources). In God’s providence, I later was invited to become a curriculum editor in Nashville at the BSSB. For more than 22-and-a-half years, I had six upwardly mobile positions. During that time, Phyllis and I were involved in international book fairs in Moscow during Iron Curtain Days. We went on mission trips. And we actually got to do missions in a much broader sense than we had dreamed of when were working toward commissioning. But after 22 years, things changed in our denomination and I was downsized. The two who had to communicate that decision to me were my friends. I understood downsizing despite my performance reviews, goodwill in the publishing industry, and being age 55. But I admit I was shocked, grieved, disappointed, and without a clue of what God wanted me to write in life’s next chapter. Well, I shook hands with the two messengers, took over and had prayer for them, and left to go home and tell Phyllis the news.
No one can decommission those God has commissioned. This is 23 years later. But upon my downsizing, I read Ephesians 4:1 in the KJV Bible. It tells about God’s calling but uses the word “vocation” also. In the Greek, the word there for “vocation” is also “calling.” I learned anyone can take your vocation away from you, but no one can take God’s calling away from you. And sure enough, God’s amazing maze has boggled my mind and life and led Phyllis and me to stretch over much of the world in book fairs, mission trips, and in continued writing careers. There’s just too much to tell!
But I will say under God’s Great Commission that no one can decommission those God has commissioned. Oh, they can downsize, take away a geographical location, and do their utmost for His highest. But no one can decommission our commissioned missionaries!
My challenge supports both IMB and our missionaries. I am not the judge of those whose judgments have led them to decide that for money reasons we need to downsize our foreign mission force by some 800 missionaries. I am not the judge of bringing home veteran missionaries while appointing both new career missionaries and short-term missionaries. God knows, and IMB committed leaders undoubtedly are trying to carry out what they feel is God’s will. I have learned over the years that downsizing is never just about money. But that’s about a subject here I’m partially ignorant on and won’t say more on.
Rather, let me say that for all those who accept voluntary retirement incentives to come home, we need to pray and support them, and help them make the transition. Later, if the 800 or whatever number is reached voluntarily, I’ve heard consideration that the number will get reached by “those not able to retained.” In other words, voluntary is first; a mandate may be second. I don’t know.
I do know we have about 4,800 foreign missionaries who count on our prayers and support. And I do know that even if 800 of those come home, the 4,000 left will count on our prayers and support. Do you know what the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal is for 2015? It’s set at $175 million. The Woman’s Missionary Union and IMB jointly agree on a goal. No matter what feelings, opinions, or facts come out, we can do no less than pray and give at least $175 million to keep on holding the ropes for those who are down in the mines in foreign missions. I’ll do my part in the spirit of unity, love, and the same commitment I had as a teenage boy. Will you also?
— Copyright 2015 by Johnnie C. Godwin. Write the author: email@example.com