Missions Conference 2019
Sunday, July 14th, we walked into the sanctuary to find flags hanging from the ceiling and a large banner spread above the pulpit that read: "Facing a Task Unfinished." 2019's Mission Conference had begun. Our church has always had a mind for missions with numerous missionaries faithfully receiving needed financial support from our generous congregation for years. That being said, sometimes it can be difficult to encourage people to give for a cause they'll never see, that's part of why our Missions Conference exists, to show us folks back home where, and to whom, our donations are going. This year, our church hosted six missionaries who filled four days with good teaching and uplifting accounts of the work of the Spirit outside, and inside, our country.
Sunday morning's featured missionaries were Philip and Lori Bassham explaining their work in Thailand. With a Bangkok church location in the midst of carnality, their initial visitors included workers from nearby brothels and gambling halls who, for their curiosity, received the Gospel message. Philip's rather enthusiastic lesson that morning was from Hebrews 11 on the importance of faith and the difference between passive faith, and active faith. He presented the Bible's example of Noah, who worked diligently for 120 years building the ark amid the mocking of his neighbors. Noah spent all those years not simply trying to be good, but seeking to please the Lord, making him a prime example of active faith.
Sunday night the message was delivered by Barry Williams. Once a missionary to Scotland, he now represents BEMA, the Baptist Evangelistic Missionary Association, and their work to garner support for other missionaries. These days, Barry travels around the United States, speaking with churches on behalf of the many missionaries who receive direct funding from BEMA. Barry's message was delivered from Matthew 28:18-20, the Great Commission. Never one to sugar-coat things, Barry showed us the needs arising within the missionary sector. Funding shortages, and a necessity for more convicted individuals willing to go, threaten the spread of the Gospel to those that have never heard it. Barry urged each of us to do whatever we're able to help those in the field.
Opening on Monday night was Mark Tolson, missionary to China since 2009 with his wife Natasha. China is a very difficult mission field on account of government interference, Mark himself mentioned having tithes and offerings confiscated by police. Missionaries are often detained for questioning by police and expelled from the country with orders to never return. Church planting in the city of Dalian, things started small for the Tolsons with Bible studies for college students, until God made a space available for what is now Grace Baptist Church. Mark's message was from Numbers 16:41-50. The Bible tells about Moses and Aaron who, as God's wrath was poured out on the people of Israel, made an atonement for them. Moses ordered Aaron to take incense and burn it in the midst of the people, God had just released a deadly plague. Aaron's swift, decisive actions saved many as he "stood between the dead and the living," and Mark drew parallels from the story for us. He urged us to act quickly like Aaron and take the Gospel to everyone we can before God's judgement falls upon them.
Following Mark, Barry first showed the state of his mission field of 20 years, Scotland. Paisley, where he used to live, reminds me of our own Bluff City. Years ago it was also covered in churches; but nowadays, many of those magnificent structures have been abandoned or repurposed. With that in mind, Barry issued us a warning as church closures in the U.S. rise. 2 Chronicles 7:14 outlines what it takes for a people to return to Christ and verses 19-22 show what will happen if they do not. The sorrow in Barry's heart for his adopted home of Scotland made itself evident as he set the prophetic words of verse 22 before us: "They abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers . . ."
Tuesday night began with Doug Cook. Doug and his wife Michelle were actually at the church the week before, and Doug explained the work he's currently engaged in. Providing a remedy for the sickness of church closures Barry spoke of, Doug travels the U.S. and ministers to churches without pastors. His work seeks to rebuild church families by reaching out to churches on the edge, pulling them back, and helping them establish lasting leadership under true biblical knowledge and virtues. Preaching from Hebrews 2:1, Doug emphasized the dangers of slipping into sin and provided a simple deterrent: Christian influence. Spend time with your brothers and sisters in the faith, lean on each other as accountability partners, and seek to be often in the Word.
Barry returned to the pulpit that night with a message based on Matthew 5:6, one of the Beatitudes, which elevates those who hunger after, or crave, righteousness and the things of God. Presenting verses of Christians young in the faith being fed the "milk" of Biblical knowledge, Barry urged us to desire that knowledge, like a starving man desires food, so that we might grow and mature. God's Word makes us strong, makes us examples of it, teachers of it, leaders in it, so that we ourselves can give it confidently to our new generation.
Wednesday night's presentations began with a word, and a clever illusion, from our hometown favorite, Joseph (J.T.) Patrick. Starting off, J.T. turned water to wine before our eyes. Merely a trick in this case, he likened Jesus's first miracle to the great commission: Jesus provided the wine, the word, and gave it to the servants, the missionaries, to deliver to the people. Having spent time ministering to youths in Ecuador, J.T. hopes to continue this work while in Costa Rica.
Following him was Lauren Grant. A fresh face in full-time missions, Lauren spoke about her road to the mission field and how God created the connections she needed to get there. Still in the early phases, Lauren is slated to minister in Peru under veterans David and Katie Gardner, spreading the Gospel message to girls and single women like herself.
Barry Williams took the podium for the final time, delivering a message from Jeremiah 17:5-8. A striking passage, the words of God are delivered unto Judah by the title prophet announcing curses on the vain and blessings on the humble. Spinning the passage to teach a lesson on church involvement, Barry first showed the vain man who relies only on himself. This man, Barry explained, is like a tumbleweed with no good roots. One day he's here, another he's there, wholly unreliable and focused too much on the negative. The Humble man however, places his trust in the Lord and puts down strong roots by the water so he never fears the hard times. He went on to encourage us to be those humble people, gripping firmly the Gospel, for they are the ones churches are built on.
With another Missions Conference behind us, a big "thank you" goes out to all the missionaries that were able to visit with us. For more news from other missionaries who couldn't make it this year, don't forget to check out the missionary bulletin board down the hall from the Sanctuary. You can always find letters from missionaries posted here with a handy map opposite. Afterwords, don't forget to grab some prayer cards from the foyer. I honestly don't think I'd be capable of doing what they do, my place in the kingdom lies elsewhere, but it's a sad truth that there simply isn't enough of these amazing people. Here's hoping that, God willing, our church is able to raise up more missionaries out of our young people, or maybe even our not so young people, to go where God most wants them. Keep in mind, Christians, that even if you can't give yourself over to the field, you still have a part in missions through charity, prayers and well-wishes. If you'd like to donate or just send words of encouragement, the contact information for each of our missionary speakers this year is available below. Looking forward to 2020, God bless.
Philip & Lori Bassham
Vision Baptist Church
PO Box 442
Alpharetta, GA 30009
Barry & Denise Williams
4744 Winchester Pike
Columbus, Ohio 43232
Mark & Natasha Tolson
Vision Baptist Church
PO Box 442
Apharetta, GA 30009
Doug & Michelle Cook
Baptist Missions to Forgotten Peoples Inc.
P.O. Box 37043
Jacksonville, FL 32236
P.O. Box 8585
Harrisburg, PA 17105
Vision Baptist Church
PO Box 442
Alpharetta, GA 30009