Texans take diverse routes to missions
By Toby Druin
Texas Baptist young people–and those not so young–have an almost infinite variety of avenues of service if they want to get involved in overseas missions.
There is the traditional route of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board. Texas Baptists sent the first missionaries to Brazil, the William Bagbys, through the SBC, and thousands of additional Texans have served around the world as appointees of the board.
|Susan and Jeremy Taliaferro of Irving receive certificates of appointment from International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin during a Sept. 9 appointment service in Austin. The Taliaferros will serve in Western South America. Many Texas Baptists seeking missionary appointment continue to go through traditional agencies such as the Southern Baptist Convention or the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Many others, however, are choosing a variety of paths to the mission field not known to Texas Baptists in the past. (Bill Bangham/IMB Photo)|
In the last decade, some Texans also have gone overseas under appointment of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
But a growing number of Texans, particularly those interested in short terms of service, are bypassing these traditional avenues for other missionary-sending agencies or arranging for service in mission projects sponsored by their own or other churches.
As with other aspects of life, the Internet plays a key role in this changing mindset. An array of missionary-sending agencies lie only an e-mail away from anyone interested.
An increasing number of Baptist students are interested in mission service, especially short-term projects, said Joel Bratcher, director of Baptist Student Ministries at Texas A&M University in College Station. “We are seeing more and more groups all the time.”
The IMB and the CBF have reported increased interest in missions service among young adults today. This interest is fueling growth for both organizations.
But students interested in missions today, Bratcher said, have less of a denominational tie.
“That is not a negative toward the SBC International Mission Board,” he said. “These students don't know about or care about denominational politics. They are more interested in the main agenda of serving Christ and are willing to do it any way they can.”
A popular A&M campus Bible study program led by Greg Matte, a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, provides the catalyst for many students, Bratcher said. Begun 15 years ago by Matte and his roommate, Breakaway Ministries now attracts 4,000 to 5,000 students weekly to Reed Arena.
The ministry's main goal is to plug students into local churches and help them reach non-Christian friends, Bratcher said. But it also sponsors a missions fair each November in which about 30 organizations come to the arena, set up booths and talk to students about ministry opportunities. Many of these are missionary-sending groups.
Many of his BSM students have gone to China through such contacts, Bratcher said, and some are going back to teach English.
Brenda Sanders, who directs the student summer missions program for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, works with all the traditional Baptist agencies in placing students in missions assignments–the IMB, CBF, SBC North American Mission Board, the Baptist World Alliance and inside Texas with churches, associations and various ministries.
But students are as close to a missionary-sending agency as they are to the Internet, she noted, and many make their inquiries far and wide. She gets an occasional call from pastors about various agencies in which their young people are interested.
“We have had several student summer missionaries choosing not to go with the traditional agencies,” Sanders said. “And some have gone with International Schools of China, with whom we also are connected with the IMB, and one went with ChinaTESOL.com.”
Her office recruits student missionaries for such programs as the Texas Baptist River Ministry and for other denominational agencies, she noted, but it's not unusual to get calls from students about other groups. A popular book, “Operation World,” features 365 days of devotionals but also carries a list of missionary-sending agencies, she noted. Another resource popular with students is “Missions Handbook,” which is put together to assist with the selection of missions agencies.
The IMB has opened a variety of ways to make initial inquiries about mission service, including a designated telephone number, website, e-mail, traditional mail and visits by IMB staff members to seminary campuses, said IMB official Jim Riddell.
Missionary appointments and the numbers of people contacting the board about potential service have increased significantly over the last three years, but budget limitations have slowed long-term appointments this year, he reported. However, short-term programs such as International Service Corps, Journeyman and Masters, are growing dramatically, he added, and many short-term personnel return to seek long-term appointment.
The CBF also uses multiple avenues of connecting with people interested in missionary service, said missions co-coordinator Gary Baldridge.
Since the mid-1990s, about 90 to 120 people annually have been in CBF's process for long-term missionary appointment, he said.
Both Riddell and Baldridge said they encourage people to look at opportunities of service with their agencies, but if they can't match the person's desires, they said, they encourage them to look at other agencies.
“In many cases, the individuals already have other agencies in mind that they may consider if we are not able to help them out,” Riddell said.
Despite the expanding opportunities, most missions volunteers at Baylor University's Truett Seminary still are interested in service with either the IMB or the CBF, reported Mike Stroope, associate professor of Christian missions.
“But what I am seeing here, too, is that more than anything the students want to go with people rather than an organization,” he said. “They are finding people (in mission service) and connecting with them and who they are related to.”
That differs from his own experience more than two decades ago when he sought appointment with the IMB. “When I went out, I was going with the board, and I identified with our Baptist organization. Today, I don't know that these students are like that. They will ask me where they can go, meaning, 'Who can I go work with whom I can trust or that you trust?'”
Raising their own funds, rather than depending on a steady salary from a mission board, is not a problem with them, Stroope said.
“Money more and more seems not to be a problem; they see it not as raising money as much as support,” he said. “And if God wants them to go, he will provide the money. They see it as an adventure of faith with God providing. More and more are raising their own money or support, and it doesn't seem to be an issue. And more and more churches and individuals want to give to kids they know; they want to see where their money is going.”