By Allen Palmeri
JEFFERSON CITY—With a full summer of missions at hand, the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) is poised to live out the message on its business cards—Strategic Mission Partners—through the vision, drive, and energy of its Missions & Evangelism team leader, Rick Hedger.
He said the four partnerships with West Africa, Northern Ontario Canada, Northern Illinois and El Salvador are going well. This has been his focus since they were collectively launched and merged into one strategy last October. Canada and Illinois are brimming with hope, while Africa awaits the adventuresome. Finally, El Salvador is a bountiful vine that continues to bear fruit as the senior partner.
As the MBC’s second partnership missions specialist, Hedger is emphasizing all four components of Acts 1:8. That means missions work in Missouri—the hometown choice—is being equated with going to Senegal, Thunder Bay, or Chicago. For example, there are 20 Missouri missions opportunities listed on the partnership missions website.
“Partnership missions involves the complete Acts 1:8 strategy,” Hedger said. “In Judea of the State of Missouri, there are a lot of things that need to be done.”
Here is a look at the MBC’s missions endeavors:
Penetrating the vast spiritual darkness of this key portion of Africa is perhaps the toughest missions assignment the MBC has ever undertaken.
There are 55 million people spread out over eight countries (Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cape Verde) in the Western Gateway Cluster. If reached well for Christ, this area could become a staging ground for bold attempts to push up into the more Muslim north. But the need for Gospel workers right now is immense. Of the 188 people groups in the area, International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries are working with only 16. Many people groups under 100,000 are without a Gospel presence.
Hedger’s personal goal is for God to raise up 36 Missouri Baptist churches to be “engaging” churches in this area. An “engaging” church becomes the missionary to one of these smaller people groups. So far five Missouri Baptist churches are doing that. If 31 more congregations follow their lead in the months and years to come, Hedger said the change will be evident.
“That, in effect, will triple our IMB’s connectivity with the people groups of the Western Gateway Cluster,” he said. “I think that’s a challenging goal, but I think that’s a very reachable and realistic goal.”
Part of the challenge is cost. Hedger estimates that a short-term missionary bound for Africa will need to come up with $2,200-$2,500. Though the American economy still appears to be struggling, Hedger believes finances “need to be the least of your concerns” if you are called to go to this part of the world.
“I have always believed if it is God’s will, it is God’s responsibility to take care of the needs,” he said.
An “engaging” church ought to make at least four trips a year to its people group. The method is to stay in their villages and communicate Bible truths through storytelling.
First Baptist Church, Arnold, has already experienced some success with this strategy in southern Senegal. First Arnold will host a Western Gateway Cluster Summit on Sept. 9-11 to help sustain and build momentum for the overall effort.
“Maybe a whole village is going to open up because somebody went,” Hedger said. “Any MBC church could experience the same thing if they’re willing to go.”
Northern Ontario Canada
Missions work here has been “snowballing,” Hedger said, with “more and more churches wanting to come on board. Associations are wanting to come on board. I think we’re making great progress.”
The Canadian National Baptist Convention (CNBC) is hoping to see five platform churches planted in major cities, and one Missouri Baptist association has already begun the process of doing that in Sault Ste. Marie.
Twin Rivers Baptist Association in Wright City sent a vision team up there May 10-14, and Director of Missions Brent Campbell plans on returning with a team of maybe 8-10 in August. Missouri Baptist missionaries have already found a person of peace, a government official who is Presbyterian and who wants to see a Bible-believing church launched, and various housing developments have been identified for potential random acts of kindness and other service.
“We found people very receptive,” Campbell said.
Gary Smith, the CNBC overseer of the partnership, “has a long line of potential church planters in the pipeline waiting for the financing to come about to help them get plugged in and become church planters,” Hedger said. One potential match could be in Thunder Bay, where one Missouri Baptist has purchased 100 acres just south of the city as a business investment.
“If there are churches interested in adopting Thunder Bay and want to see this happen, please feel free to contact me,” Hedger said.
Several churches have indicated they will be headed to Northern Ontario in 2011. The Missouri Music Men also plan on touring the province. When Hedger speaks in July at the CNBC’s annual meeting, he hopes to encourage some of the 35-43 Canadian Baptist churches located in Southern Ontario to start teaming up with Missouri Baptist churches to help plant churches in the north.
The Northern Ontario Summit to help sustain and build momentum for the partnership will be held Oct. 30 at the Baptist Building.
Northern Illinois / Chicago
Missouri Baptists seem particularly eager to minister directly across their eastern border, which has only served to heighten Hedger’s anticipation.
“When a tsunami starts in the ocean, nobody sees it,” he said. “It’s down on the floor underneath, but there’s a lot of activity. I probably have the largest list of individuals wanting to be involved in a partnership wanting to be involved in Northern Illinois.
“It’s going to rise up like a tsunami and sweep in and really be able to help them.”
Some of the early work has been done in rural Illinois. Hedger mentioned that Sinnissippi Association under John Mattingly and Three Rivers Association under Dan Eddington have helped get Missouri Baptists into good areas to do missions. Many Missouri churches have been making their own arrangements, which leads Hedger to state for their benefit that he is here to help. And the next level of involvement may be right there for the taking.
“I am beginning to get phone calls for Chicago, which thrills my heart,” Hedger said. Two of these inquiries involve an African-American church that needs remodeling and a Japanese church that needs a partner.
The Northern Illinois / Chicago Summit to help sustain and build momentum for the partnership will be held Aug. 28 in the St. Louis area.
The partnership with the Central American nation is in its fourth year and is scheduled to end Dec. 31, 2011. By that time is it hoped that there will be at least 200 churches and missions in place.
“I have all the confidence in the world that the 200 will be reached, and it will be great to be able to report in our annual meeting of 2011 how close we are,” Hedger said.
When the partnership began, El Salvador had 44 churches. Missouri Baptists flooded the land with effective evangelism as God unleashed His Saving Power. Now there are 69 churches and 90 missions, with a new Bible Institute in place to train those new pastors.
“They have become more intentional in church planting,” Hedger said. “Part of their annual meeting (in January) was about starting churches in two of the northern regions, where they have not had churches planted. They set goals for themselves.”
Now comes the 100th anniversary celebration for the Association of Baptists in El Salvador (ABES). It promises to be a grand event.