Jason and Karla Johnson have a cool story. Literally. I met this new North American missionary couple last fall at NAMB's missionary commissioning celebration in Texas. Natives of Texas, the Johnsons obediently followed God's call to Duck Lake, a community located in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. A First Nations (the Canadian designation for Native American) community, there was no Southern Baptist church in Duck Lake. Indeed, there are only about a dozen Southern Baptist churches in the entire province of Saskatchewan, and those are small congregations. The Johnsons had first visited the community as part of a short-term mission trip with First Baptist Church, Odessa, Texas, where Jason was missions pastor. On the plane coming home from their last trip there, Karla looked at Jason and said, "God's calling us to be missionaries here, isn't He?" Jason simply said, "Yes, I believe He is."
Fast forward a few months later, and as Mission Service Corps church planting missionaries, Jason, Karla, and their three daughters, Tori (12), Tess (9), and Annie (6), were facing the reality of their first winter in Duck Lake — quite a difference from the mild Texas winters they had known! The challenges of the significant climate change, though, created a cool opportunity for outreach. Turning the proverbial lemon into lemonade has come in the form of turning their frozen backyard into an ice skating rink. It started out as a fun project that would benefit their girls, but they've found that skating on frozen water helps break the ice with others in their community. The skating rink is one of several unusual building blocks in the creation of the church plant known as The Church at Duck Lake.
Living obediently in God's call to go wherever and do whatever to make Him known — that is the heartbeat of every missionary. Hearing their stories of how God is working excites us and compels us to a higher level of praying, going, and giving. Throughout its rich history, our Southern Baptist Convention has united around missions, and the impact of investments our members have made individually and collectively can never be adequately measured.
Within the SBC today, many are calling for higher accountability and greater stewardship of how our SBC entities are allocating and using resources entrusted to them. As we step forward into the future, NAMB takes that call seriously, and we are confident that our best days are ahead. As we go through needed but oftentimes painful evaluation and change, our goal is to be obedient to the task of the Great Commission by getting more missionaries and resources to the field. We want to make certain that all funds entrusted to us through the Cooperative Program, Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, and other means are used wisely and strategically. Doing so is one way we can show our appreciation to our Southern Baptist family.
Even as we celebrate the past thirteen years of accomplishments through NAMB's efforts — celebrations that have not come without challenges — there are moments in the lives of individuals and organizations that call for dramatic change from what has been to exhibiting remarkable courage in moving toward what can be. In 2010, Southern Baptists faced such a moment. In June, messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Orlando approved the Great Commission Task Force recommendations calling on our denomination to dramatically reprioritize budgets, personnel, and other resources in order to better focus on taking the Gospel to those who have not heard. If we are to accomplish that goal, it will require a more focused approach, a leaner infrastructure, and a commitment to accountability and partnership that we have not seen before.
I was elected as the North American Mission Board's new president to lead our entity through these times of enormous opportunity and change. I believe it is truly a time of historic significance for NAMB and for Southern Baptists. In order to succeed in the task of impacting lostness in North America, we must be committed to narrowing the focus of what NAMB is trying to achieve. For too long, NAMB has been asked to be all things to all people in the name of North American missions. That might have been a good strategy for making everyone feel included, but it was a poor strategy for trying to be the best missions entity in North America.
As a leader, especially as the leader of the North American Mission Board, I'm stepping confidently but carefully, seeking God's leadership every step of the way. Since hitting the ground running in this new role for me, I've been reading everything I can get my hands on, listening to everybody I possibly can listen to. And I'm not alone in recognizing that NAMB has to narrow its focus. State convention leaders have been great to work with, and we've been very intentional to make sure key partners are at the table as we develop a strategic plan. I really think the best way is the way we're doing that — getting everyone around the table and saying, "Hey, how can we do this together?" Because we absolutely are going to do it together. We will press forward, and we will press forward together.
Of course, many want us to hurry up and make the plan known. I share that eagerness! Yet, we must seek God's leadership and go forward with our eyes on His way and not try to get ahead of Him or ask Him to try to catch up with us. There is a process we are following, and we are asking for patience — even with ourselves. We are going to do this in a very methodical way, and we're going to implement in phases.
NAMB will continue to do its work through missionaries. I believe Southern Baptists have some of the finest missionaries in the world. We will improve recruiting, training, and accountability to ensure we have the strongest missionary force possible. NAMB will also continue to work through partnerships. Our state convention partners are a crucial component to addressing lostness in North America and no serious Southern Baptist effort to start churches and strategically evangelize our continent can be carried out without the partnership of state Southern Baptist conventions.
The task ahead of us-to focus, realign strategy, adjust staffing, and implement a new plan for reaching North America for Christ — will be filled with potential pitfalls and distractions. Setting aside certain ministries and activities in order to increase effectiveness and impact will require strong determination and commitment. Approaching our work in new ways in search of greater outcomes will require a period of adjustment. But I believe we can succeed if we will allow Jesus to be our focus, the Gospel to be our unifying cause, and the lostness of North America to be our urgent reminder that time is slipping away.
We want to encourage and undergird missionaries such as the Johnsons with the support they need to evangelize people in their communities and grow them in Christ. We want to be cheerleaders for churches to embrace church planting and champion everything that is done to build and grow God's Kingdom. To make that happen, we must pray passionately and consistently that God will move people to be obedient to share the Gospel. A 2010 survey of SBC churches found that 23 percent are involved in some way in church planting. But we need many more churches involved and we are praying and working to that end.
God is calling Southern Baptists to take even bigger steps with confidence, and those steps will take us far into the future. My prayer is that we will one day look back and see this time as the beginning of a new era for Southern Baptists when God worked mightily among us and through us to reach our nation and world for Christ.
Meet Annie Armstrong
Annie Walker Armstrong was born on July 11, 1850, in Baltimore, Maryland. She came from a long line of prominent Baptists, including her great-great-grandfather Henry Satre who helped establish the first Baptist church in Maryland.
She became a Christian at 19, after which she was baptized by Richard Fuller, the third president of the Southern Baptist Convention, at the Seventh Baptist Church of Baltimore. She left Seventh Church with 117 others, joined Eutaw Place Baptist Church at its organization, February 20, 1871, and taught the infant class there for at least thirty years.
She led in framing the constitution of Woman's Missionary Union, which made the organization an auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention instead of an independent body with power to collect and administer its own money and send out its own missionaries. Never discouraged, "Miss Annie" wrote, spoke, and planned indefatigably. In 1899, while corresponding secretary of the Woman's Missionary Union, she was absent from the Mission Rooms, which served as the Woman's Missionary Union office, for nearly two weeks due to sickness, and it was the first time this had occurred in eleven years. The clerk made daily visits to the home-and the work continued. She refused to accept a salary from 1900 until her resignation in 1906, when the union voted that the corresponding secretary must be paid.
Providing for her own travel expenses until 1901, Miss Armstrong traveled great distances — 3,300 miles in twenty-one days, visiting nineteen places, and making twenty-six addresses. Besides writing leaflets for the Woman's Missionary Union, Miss Armstrong, at the request of the editors, started a young people's Scripture department in Kind Words, a "Folks and Facts" column, and two departments in The Teacher. She was a frequent contributor to the two mission publications, Foreign Mission Journal and Our Home Field. In 1888, after conference with Henry Allen Tupper, secretary of the Foreign Mission Board, Miss Armstrong wrote by hand letters to all the societies, asking them to contribute to the first Christmas offering, which resulted in $2,833.49 for Lottie Moon in China. She led the Woman's Missionary Union to enlarge its efforts in providing organizations for Black Baptist women and children, and in publishing literature for them.
As memorials to Miss Armstrong, Woman's Missionary Union voted in 1907 to give $5,000 to a Home Mission Board mountain school and $5,000 to a hospital in China. The Annie Walker Armstrong building, erected at Burnsville, North Carolina, was dedicated in 1908 in appreciation of her service. More permanent memorials are the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions and the structure of the Woman's Missionary Union, which she led in establishing.
She died on December 20, 1938, the year the WMU celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.
Primary source: The Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives
Annie Armstrong Easter Offering Fast Facts
Why Give to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering?
To support your North American missionary team in their efforts to reach for Christ an estimated 259 million North Americans who do not have a personal relationship with Him; that's three out of four people.
National Goal for 2011: $70 million
Received in 2010: $54.3 million
Amount of AAEO used to support missionaries and their work:
100% - One hundred percent directly supports NAMB missionaries and their ministries. The Woman's Missionary Union (WMU) holds the trademark to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and specifies what the money can and cannot be used for. There is high accountability in making sure that all funds are only used to support NAMB missionaries and their ministries.
Number of NAMB Missionaries:
NAMB missionaries number 5,096, which reflects three categories of service:
• 1,415 appointed personnel
• 2,065 approved personnel
• 1,616 Mission Service Corps personnel
Total 2011 NAMB budget: $121,500,000
Amount of NAMB budget that comes from AAEO: 47%
Amount of NAMB budget that comes from Cooperative Program: 35%
Year Offering Started by WMU: 1895
Amount given in 1895: $5,000+
Received in 2010: $54.3 million
What are ways AAEO-supported missionaries use those funds?
• Start new churches
• Evangelize students on college campuses
• Serve the physical and spiritual needs of people through evangelism ministries
• Serve in Baptist associations as associational missionary or mission staff
Kevin Ezell is president of the North American Mission Board.