By Kayla Rinker
RAYTOWN –This is something BIG.
Something so big, in fact, that Rick Hedger, partnership missions specialist for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), said it will likely fail without the power of God at the helm. He said it is for that reason why Missouri Baptists need to do it.
“We need to have real faith in God and then participate in the miracle that will start to happen right in front of us,” he said.
During its 175th annual meeting Oct. 27 in Raytown, Hedger represented the MBC when he signed a partnership agreement with the International Mission Board (IMB) to assist the Western Gateway Cluster of the Sub-Saharan African Affinity Group (the countries of Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cape Verde).
The mission is unlike any the MBC has ever embarked on.
Fifty-three million people live in the eight countries that make up the Western Gateway Cluster in Africa. The IMB does have missionaries in the area, but they are very few and are only positioned in the most heavily populated African cities.
“Just to put it in perspective, an area that contains 28 million people has only two missionary couples in the vicinity,” Hedger said. “If a people group has less than 100,000 people they will not get an IMB missionary just because there is greater need for those missionaries to be in the mega-people groups.”
Because of this, there are many people in the Cluster who have never even heard the name of Jesus. They live following what Hedger called a kind of “spiritism.” They have religious leaders who they offer sacrifices to in order to receive blessings from the “good spirits” and to keep the “bad spirits” away.
“Many also follow a kind of Folk Islam or Folk Catholicism which they use as a spiritual outer garment,” he said. “They will take a form of one of these belief systems and just drape it over their other sacrifices and ancestor worship. Because of this culture, it will take time to teach what it means to truly follow Jesus and only Jesus.”
Because the situation in the Western Gateway Cluster is so unlike any other partnership the MBC has ever committed to, a new mission strategy was needed.
Hedger’s plan, called the Engaging Church Model, provides Missouri churches with four different options of missions involvement in Africa. They include the Encouraging Church (prayer partner for IMB missionaries or unreached people group), the Exploring Church (meeting the needs of IMB missionaries or take a short mission trip), the Expanding Church (willing to send a team annually to expand the IMB missionaries’ influence) and the Engaging Church (become the missionary to a small people group who will not get an IMB missionary).
Several churches have already committed themselves to be an Engaging Church, including Calvary Baptist Church in Neosho, where Hedger once served as pastor.
“They go three or four times a year and they have done medical and educational ministries there and have even put someone in the field for four months to do Training Rural Trainers discipleship material,” he said. “People who are willing to go to a place like a West Africa will find rewards that they never dreamed they would find.”
By itself, the MBC’s Western Gateway Cluster partnership is a huge undertaking. When you add it to the other approved partnerships–Northern Illinois (which includes Chicago), Northern Ontario Canada, and El Salvador, the mission challenge for Missouri Baptists becomes even greater.
Hedger addressed Missouri Baptists during the annual meeting Oct. 27 in Raytown. He quoted Matthew 9:37-38 which says: “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Pray to the Lord of the harvest that he will send our laborers to his harvest field.’”
“If there are not enough missionaries going, are we asking?” Hedger said. “If we ask according to his will he hears us. Then where are they? We need to repent and change how we pray. We need to pray for the Lord to send out harvesters.”
He also told a story of faith, reminding the messengers of how quickly and easily people will accept the terms and conditions on Internet downloads and online computer agreements.
“We don’t even read the fine print and we go ahead and ‘accept’ the terms, trusting a stranger,” Hedger said. “But to have faith in God we better know all the details or we don’t want anything to do with it. Will you trust in Jesus? Will you not worry about the details? Will your answer be yes, Lord, yes?”