God continued to astonish Southern Baptist workers with phenomenal growth in overseas baptisms and church starts last year.
"God is at work and He is giving us the privilege of joining Him in astounding ways," said International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin in reporting missions gains during 2000.
Last year 6,520 new churches were established, an increase of 37.4 percent over the 1999 figure of 4,748. In addition, 451,301 people were baptized, an increase of 24.1 percent over 1999's 363,703.
But even with the jumps in statistics, Rankin warned against getting lost in the numbers.
"These are not just numbers or massive global reports," he said. "These are actual individuals who have been brought into the kingdom of God."
The exponential growth in baptisms and church starts is a relatively recent development for the International Mission Board, he added. Historically, the board has recorded incremental growth rates of 1 to 5 percent a year.
"For many years, we were satisfied with the incremental growth," Rankin said. "For baptisms to reflect a 24.1 percent increase this year is amazing.
"It just shows how big God is."
The astounding growth in baptisms and church starts is just one example of how God is blessing Southern Baptist work overseas. Other points of comparison include:
• Total members: 5.6 million members in churches with which IMB workers are affiliated, a 14.4 percent increase over the 4.9 million reported in 1999.
• Total churches: 60,988 congregations with which IMB workers are affiliated, a 16.7 percent increase over 1999's 52,186 churches.
• New outreach groups: 3,682 new outreach groups (formerly called preaching points) brought the total number of outreach groups to 38,294, a .2 percent decrease from the previous year's 38,363.
• Bible teaching: 3.15 million people involved in Bible teaching, a 15.3 percent increase from the 2.7 million reported in 1999.
• New believers in discipleship: a 62.6 percent increase was recorded, bringing the total number to 461,901 over 1999's 284,038.
• Leadership training: 30,366 people enrolled in non-residential programs, a 46 percent increase over 20,802 in 1999.
• International missionaries sent out by Baptist partners: 1,383, a 5.6 percent increase from 1,317 in 1999.
Another indicator of God's activity overseas is the overwhelming number of volunteers who went on mission last year. In 1975, when Southern Baptists set a goal of giving everyone in the world an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel by 2000, one objective was to multiply by ten times the number of volunteers serving overseas.
But God surpassed the visionaries' dreams.
Instead of sending the projected 10,000 volunteers in 2000, a total of 30,512 Southern Baptists participated in overseas missions projects through the International Mission Board last year.
The way God's work outstripped 1975's goals explains why Rankin doesn't like to project missions results.
"It is not within our ability to project how many new churches will be started, especially as church planting movements take it far beyond our level of involvement," Rankin said. "It would be an insult to God to presume to identify how many new believers would be won to faith in Christ and baptized."
Fresh Tears From A Bold Faith
Missionaries in Japan are rejoicing as God has continued to work following a Christian festival this past summer.
A former member of the Japanese Mafia known simply as Mr. Shinohara was the first man who came to faith in Christ, and since the festival he "has been telling everyone he knows that he believes in Jesus now," said Ron Reynolds, an International Mission Board missionary to Japan.
Two months after receiving Christ, Shinohara invited a prayerwalking group to a dinner he was having at his business, a local garage. His wife prayed to receive Jesus as her Savior after the dinner.
Shinohara's fourteen-year-old daughter also heard his testimony that night but was skeptical that there was anyone on whom she could truly rely. Missionaries shared with the girl that as a Christian she would never be forsaken, and she received Christ as well.
The next month, missionaries were invited to a dinner hosted by Shinohara's in-laws. He told the guests he has been reading the Bible, often crying over the stories.
"Even though Japanese Christians sometimes boldly witness to employees or friends, the real difficulty comes in speaking to their parents or older relatives," said Cindy Reynolds, Ron Reynolds' wife. "Tears came into Mr. Shinohara's eyes as he told about the love of Jesus - another thing that Japanese men aren't known to do — cry before others!"
In January, missionaries began holding weekly worship services in Shinohara's garage.
Barely 2 percent of Japanese profess to be Christian. Most Japanese claim to be both Shintoist and Buddhist. People who convert to Christianity risk social and familial persecution. Because Japanese often are slow to come to Christ, missionaries were excited to see a whole family make public professions of faith.
"The joy of seeing [this couple] tell others about their faith is something that has not been experienced often by our team members," Ron Reynolds said.
During the festival, Southern Baptists gave audiocassettes of the Jesus film and a response card to passersby.
Immediately following the festival, few response cards were received, missionaries said, but suddenly in the middle of September several postcards with comments desiring to know more about Christ came in.
Missionaries said they do not know why there was such a long delay in receiving the cards, but they praise God for the responses.
"We believe that through God's people praying, we are privileged to see the results of God working in the hearts of these Japanese people," one IMB missionary noted.
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