history right before our eyes
by James Forlines
Find out more about Free Will International Missions at www.fwbgo.com.
The story is told of a conversation between two pioneer farmers in LaRue County, Kentucky, in February of 1809. One of them had just returned from Louisville. He said to the other, “Didja hear thar’s a war agin over in the old country? Yep, Austria jes’ declared war on France. ‘Bout you? anythin’ happnin’ in yor necka da woods?” The other farmer responded, “Nope, ‘cept I heard Tom and Nancy had a boy child over at Sinkin’ Spring Farm. Naw…nothin’ much ever happens ‘round these parts.”
Neither of them realized the history of the world would be altered more by what happened in LaRue County in February 1809 than anything else that occurred that year. Thomas, father of the baby born on Sinking Spring Farm, was an uneducated carpenter and farmer. Mary, the mother, was illiterate. But that baby boy, named Abraham Lincoln, became one of the most influential presidents in American history. Most of the time, when history happens, it passes without anyone noticing.
When Free Will Baptist history is written, 2008 may very well go down as a banner year because of two separate occurrences within the same week. Though the events took place almost 1,000 miles apart, they both have the potential to incredibly impact the cause of world evangelism by Free Will Baptists.
On Tuesday afternoon, April 29, the International Missions Board met in Antioch, Tennessee, and voted to change the way the denomination funds global church-planting efforts through our International Missions agency. Later that week (May 1-3), the International Fellowship of Free Will Baptist Churches Missions Committee held its initial meeting in Miami, Florida. The significance of these events will not be fully realized for many years, perhaps not until eternity.
Global Evangelism Fund Created
Since the early 1960s, Free Will Baptists have primarily supported foreign missions by giving to specific missionary accounts. Funds given to a missionary not only paid personal expenses, but also financed the field ministries and projects with which they were involved. Free Will Baptist Foreign Missions (as it was known until 2004) was primarily a missionary-sending agency.
Missionaries went where there was no evangelical church of any kind. The work was hard. Results were steady, but slow. Individuals coming to faith in Christ had no Christian background. The children they raised were the first in the area to be raised in a Christian home. Trained national leaders were few. Of necessity, missionaries performed the lion’s share of ministry, outreach, and church planting. Therefore, funding missionary accounts was equivalent to funding the global effort.
In the past couple of decades, major transformations have influenced our work around the world. We live in the days our pioneer missionaries dreamed of and prayed to see. Almost six times as many national pastors and preachers (581) as missionaries are part of Free Will Baptist work. Additionally, 349 students in 12 Bible institutes and seminaries will soon join the ranks of ministry, winning souls and planting churches.
As the dynamics have changed, so has our operation as a Mission. We have grown from a missionary-sending agency into a Mission that facilitates church-planting movements around the world. The number of international churches and mission works has grown almost 300% with a 250% increase in attendance in the last 10 years.
As the Board monitored these developments, it became increasingly evident we needed to change the way we fund international missions efforts. Our financial stewardship needed to become more strategic.
At the International Missions Board meeting on April 29, 2008, the board voted to create the Global Evangelism Fund. On July 23, 2008, delegates to the National Association of Free Will Baptists in Charleston, West Virginia, overwhelmingly endorsed the Board’s decision. Beginning January 1, 2010, this will be the primary means of funding international missions efforts for Free Will Baptists.
The GEF will fund the personal costs of every Free Will Baptist missionary around the world. It will also continue to fund church-planting efforts and ministries in countries without a missionary presence. Strategically, FWBIM will be able to respond quickly to changing dynamics (political, financial, or security-related) to continue the forward advance around the world.
Our Board, staff, and missionary leadership will strategically use Free Will Baptist financial and personnel resources to maximize our impact and increase our effectiveness. For the past several years, we have looked at opportunities to work in North Africa and East Asia. These truly are exciting days. The Global Evangelism Fund will substantially help advance the Kingdom through our witness.
International Missions Agency
The December 2007/January 2008 issue of ONE Magazine reported on the International Fellowship meeting in Nantes, France. Free Will Baptist delegates from around the world gathered for the triennial meeting. Much of the discussion centered on how Free Will Baptists outside North America could serve as Free Will Baptist missionaries around the world.
A committee was formed, and a sense of excitement permeated the room as delegates gathered to lay hands on and pray for those chosen. As I witnessed this historic occasion, I thought back to 1935 when Free Will Baptists sent Laura Belle Barnard to India. She was our only missionary. It was a small beginning. But look what great things the power of God has wrought in the years to follow. Could it be that what began in Nantes, France, will be just the beginning of a powerful global movement of Free Will Baptists expanding the Kingdom?
The International Fellowship Missions Committee met at the Ebenezer FWB Church in Miami, Florida. Ironically, Cuban Free Will Baptists who fled Castro’s regime initially formed this church.
God is working in powerful ways among Free Will Baptists around the world. Missionaries are emerging from countries to which we sent missionaries decades ago. The passion for missions is rekindled. In years to come, by God’s grace, we will see Free Will Baptist international missionaries from Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. In many ways, they are uniquely suited to carry the gospel to some of the most unreached areas of our world. The future is encouraging and bright.
So, when someone asks, “Anything happening in your neck of the woods?” you can respond, “This is the LORD’S doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.” n
About the Writer: James Forlines has served as general director of International Missions since January 1999.