IMBís Elliff challenges SBC messengers to carry gospel to ends of the earthcomment (0)
June 19, 2014
Touting the explosive growth of evangelical Christianity in Cuba as inspiration for Southern Baptists’ global missions effort, the International Mission Board’s president challenged messengers to the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to unite in “one sacred effort” to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Speaking to more than 5,200 Southern Baptist pastors, leaders and church members gathered at Baltimore’s convention center June 10, IMB President Tom Elliff said God used a trip to Cuba in late 2013 to radically touch his heart.
Elliff traveled to the small island nation, just 90 miles off Florida’s coast, to survey the church-planting movement that has swept the country during the past 20 years.
Elliff invited some of the Cuban pastors he met, such as Jose Enrique Perez, to speak to SBC messengers. At times, Elliff was brought to tears while acknowledging the sacrifices many Cuban believers such as Perez made to remain faithful to Christ during difficult periods in Cuba’s recent history.
During such challenging times, Perez said prayer was the church’s one sustaining effort.
“When these things happen, God takes control and He makes the changes,” Perez said. “It was like in the Book of Acts, before Pentecost; the church only had one program — praying together.”
Spontaneous spiritual awakening
By the early 1990s, Cuban Baptists began to see the results of that prayer. Through a spontaneous spiritual awakening that Perez believes can only be attributed to the movement of the Holy Spirit, new believers began flooding Cuba’s remaining traditional churches, which quickly reached capacity. Unable to obtain permission to construct new church buildings, Cuban Baptists remembered the house churches that sheltered them during the darkest days of the revolution. Soon, Perez said, house churches began to spring up across the country by the hundreds and thousands.
But as the Holy Spirit stirred Cubans’ hearts, Elliff said gathering the spiritual harvest meant hard work and unflinching obedience for the Cuban Christians who evangelized and discipled new believers.
Cuban pastor Daniel Gonzalez was a young man when God called him to share Christ on the Isle of Youth off Cuba’s southern coast. For five months Gonzalez slept on a park bench during weekend visits to the island as he began his ministry, sharing the gospel door-to-door. Today, as a result of the 10 years he labored there, more than 10 government-recognized churches and a network of more than 200 house churches are thriving, including a small seminary. Now working as a pastor in Havana, Gonzalez is part of Cuban Baptists’ “Urban 20–20 Project,” aimed at mobilizing traditional Baptist churches to start house church networks in each of Cuba’s 20 largest cities.
“Our heart is that by the year 2020, there won’t be one neighborhood in any of these 20 cities in Cuba that does not have Baptist churches,” he said.
“What we are able to see in Cuba is because you have been supporting us,” Gonzalez told those gathered in the convention hall. “You are our heroes. Please keep being strong.”
In his report to the convention, Elliff detailed the activities of Southern Baptist missionaries in 2013. But rather than highlight the total numbers of new believers and baptisms witnessed by Southern Baptists and their national partners, he divided the results by the number of missionaries to reflect the work of a single missionary. Elliff said the total numbers could be broken down to represent one missionary leading 49 people to faith in Jesus and walking with 24 of those believers as they expressed their faith through baptism.
These stats are taking place in countries that often oppose Christianity, Elliff noted.
In 2013, an “average” IMB missionary also:
Assisted in systematic, ongoing Bible training for 90 individuals and personally mentored five additional potential leaders;
Participated in training and encouraging six different churches and personally led in the planting and establishment of at least one new church;
Joined others in pointing 3,861 believers toward extended, formal theological training;
Welcomed to the field the 1,918 Southern Baptist churches and entities that have committed to embrace UUPGs (unengaged, unreached people groups) across the globe;
Witnessed the engagement of 120 UUPGs by Southern Baptists during the past three years and participated with other evangelical groups in engaging 919 previous UUPGs.
To learn more about IMB’s
“One Sacred Effort” emphasis, visit one.imbresources.org.
To learn more about Cuba’s church-planting movement, visit commissionstories.com. “Cuba’s Great Awakening: Church Planting Movement in Cuba” by IMB missionary Kurt Urbanek also will be available soon through IMB’s Resource Center or amazon.com.