‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations …’
Leading others to go: A pastor’s missions journey
Special from International Mission Board
NEOSHO —Almost from the day Rick Hedger accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior, he thought God would call him to missions. Instead, God called him to lead others to go.
As part of that call, Hedger has led Calvary Baptist Church, Neosho, to accept the Acts 1:8 challenge and to play a strategic role in reaching West Africa with the Gospel.
With about 300 active members, Calvary will help an “engagement team” of missionaries in the International Mission Board’s (IMB) West Africa region reach the Mandyak people of Senegal, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.
When Hedger committed his life to ministry, the Missouri Baptist Convention was partnering with Iowa Baptists to reach the lost souls in that state. Hedger accompanied Missouri Baptists on three trips in as many years and was part of three church starts.
That taste of missions whetted his spiritual appetite for more.
Called to ministry, Hedger and his wife, Sandy, attended Mid-America Baptist Seminary in Memphis, Tenn., to prepare for a career Hedger thought would include missions in Nicaragua.
But God did not open that door. Instead, Hedger became a pastor and made additional short-term trips to other states and to Matamoras, Mexico.
In 1996, a group from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., invited Hedger to accompany them on a missions trip to Russia, where he taught church-planting skills.
Hedger could not get the pull to missions out of his head and heart.
A year later, he accepted the call to become Calvary Baptist’s pastor. Hedger’s son, Joshua, was a high school senior when the family moved to Neosho. He served in missions the following three summers – first with the association, then at the state level.
Feeling a little burned out as a college student and wanting a taste of international missions, Joshua decided to take a semester off from his studies. He found an International Mission Board volunteer request for a short-term worker to Senegal.
His call for prayer hooked the Calvary congregation into a missions mindset.
“While he was there, Calvary began praying,” Rick Hedger explained. “I had fresh e-mails, fresh information for the church every Sunday. As they began praying, the church became burdened.”
Later, Joshua and his dad were invited to assist with strategy planning for the West Africa region. Then four years ago, Rick led a team – including several church members – to prayerwalk and teach in Senegal.
“But after we returned, I wept for a month,” Hedger admitted. “I couldn’t talk about it with the church without weeping.”
Although he felt he needed to return to Senegal, a death in the family prevented him from doing so. “But I kept praying and kept the church praying” for needs in that country, the pastor said.
In 2004, IMB president Jerry Rankin spoke as part of an On Mission Celebration at Calvary.
“I wept through the service,” Hedger explained. “I kept saying, ‘God, send me. I’ll go anywhere.’”
The next day, Randy Arnett, the IMB’s regional representative for West Africa, invited Hedger to speak to the region’s missionaries in July 2005.
He met with the mission’s engagement team – a team assigned to discover unreached groups – to discuss Calvary’s involvement. The church chose to adopt the Mandyak people group after learning that missionaries had selected the people as a strategic group to receive the Gospel.
The pastor plans to accompany church members on trips planned for the year. Then he plans to train others to lead trips. He also will focus on the other Acts 1:8 projects the church has adopted and will concentrate on helping others hear God’s call.
“We had planned to go [as missionaries],” Hedger explained. “We were ready to start. But I heard God say, ‘You can go and reach a people, or you can raise up others and go and reach many peoples.’”
Since Hedger led his church to adopt a mission lifestyle, a daughter and a son have surrendered to missions. Church members – one a college student and the other in seminary – also made that choice.
A police officer and his wife, also members, have accepted a two-year volunteer assignment.
The church’s former minister of missions and his family have been appointed as missionaries. A veterinarian and his family have surrendered their lives to missions and currently are seeking appointment.
Hedger knows he played a role in each member’s call – and he can hardly wait to weep and pray and to place in front of the church each fresh prayer request.
To learn how your church can answer the Acts 1:8 challenge, go to ActsOne8.com. To connect to international missions, visit imb.org or call (800) 999-3113.