By Allen Palmeri
JEFFERSON CITY—Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Partnership Missions Specialist Rick Hedger went on a Nov. 11-17 mission trip to Africa that showed the MBC’s strong commitment to its new assignment to help reach the Western Gateway Cluster of the Sub-Saharan African Affinity Group.
The area includes 288 people groups that the International Mission Board (IMB) wants to reach. Only 16 are in direct contact with IMB personnel, which creates an opportunity for an “Engaging Church” like First Baptist, Arnold, which sent a four-person team to accompany Hedger, to actually become the missionary to a people group—in this case, the Konyagui, a tribe of about 19,000 people in rural Senegal.
“God is doing the work in Missouri Baptist churches—not only among churches but in individuals, calling them to serve as missionaries who will go and stay, but also calling out individuals who are willing to go and come and serve in that capacity and help reach peoples,” Hedger said.
When the IMB first developed its West Africa strategy, about 450 IMB missionaries were working with only 35 of the 1,612 people groups spread out over 22 countries. The dark sea of souls seemed endless—there were 289 million people to be reached. The focus needed to be sharper.
The current strategy, which the MBC will formally enter into on Jan. 1, is built around the need to take the Gospel to 55 million people in eight countries (Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cape Verde). At present, the IMB has missionaries in only three of those nations—Senegal, Guinea, and Mali.
Hedger has been in on the strategy from the very beginning. He was pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Neosho, in November 2005 when the church voted to go to Africa as an “Engaging Church.” It has evolved from being an experimental concept back then to an essential method of reaching people groups of fewer than 100,000.
“In a few short years, 2006 to 2009, the number of peoples being reached doubled,” Hedger said. “I think that is phenomenal.”
First Arnold is the first Missouri Baptist church since the signing of the partnership agreement in late October to vote to become an Engaging Church. A few other churches have since voted to go to Africa, Hedger said.
“There are other churches that are working in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and because of that I’ve even received some emails and phone calls that if there are any Missouri Baptist churches who felt called to go (there) they would help them get plugged into those areas,” he said. “There are national conventions in both of those countries, so there would actually be Baptist churches (there) that a local church could partner with. But if they’re going to be with our IMB missionaries for support, it would be in Senegal, Mali, or Guinea.”
Hedger said he was blessed on the November trip to learn about a church in a rural village with 39 believers—including 16 who have been baptized. They worship together once a week in a small building.
His journey to Senegal was a visible expression of the MBC’s theme for next year—“Moving Forward—In Christ—For Health—On Mission.”