By Vicki Brown, Word&Way Associate Editor
St. Charles — Using several Scripture texts, International Mission Board president Jerry Rankin emphasized that Christians are called to bring light into a dark world, including West Africa.
The IMB and the Missouri Baptist Convention hosted a West African Summit at First Baptist Church, St. Charles, Nov. 1-3 to encourage Baptists in Missouri and surrounding states to pray for people groups in that region and to consider responding to the needs.
Individuals from approximately 100 churches attended the three-day event, some coming from as far away as Texas.
Rankin spoke on the summit's opening night.
"We realize the task of reaching the world is larger than any one church or even the IMB," said Randy Arnett, an IMB worker in West Africa.
Rankin echoed the sentiment, noting that regional leaders struggle during annual planning to determine which people groups would be reached that year and which would have to wait.
"By what criteria can we justify any of these people groups being denied access to the gospel?" Rankin asked his audience.
That question led IMB leaders to realize the world could not be reached with missionaries alone. The organization now actively seeks churches to partner with missionaries on the field to help meet strategy priorities.
In a question-and-answer format, Rick and Sandee Hedger shared how God had led them and Calvary Baptist Church, Neosho, where Hedger is pastor, to form a partnership to reach the Mandyak people in Senegal.
Sandee Hedger noted that every great movement of God started with a kneeling figure. On any given day of any given week, Calvary Baptist members are "on their knees, shedding tears" for the Mandyak, she said. "Prayer has become our church's DNA."
Rankin reminded summit participants that the Bible describes those in darkness as "alienated from God, without hope."
Fetishes, charms, superstition and fear add a "new dimension" to the darkness in West Africa, he said.
Rankin noted that when Southeast Asia was struck by a tsunami, secular reporters asked, "Where was God?"
They had the question wrong, the IMB president said. "God was asking, 'Where were we?' Why did we allow a quarter of a million people to die without the light?" Rankin asked.
He reminded listeners that God initiated the light. God gave it, not just to illuminate believers, but to illuminate others as well.
Jesus called His followers the light of the world. "Once you receive the light, there is a responsibility to share the light," Rankin said.
He reminded the audience about the 67 new missionaries commissioned as part of the Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting on Oct. 31. None of the new workers were appointed to West Africa.
Rankin challenged listeners to be open to the possibility that God might speak to them during the summit about becoming a light to West Africa.
"Yes, God wants you to witness to your community.... But it's too small a task to draw a circle around your church...when He has called us to reach to the ends of the earth," he said.
The summit included several breakout sessions that focused on specific people groups and ways individuals and churches could become involved.
West Africa also is the focus of the Southern Baptist Convention's Lottie Moon Christmas for International Missions this year. (12-05-06)