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where do we go from here?

by James Forlines, general director, Free Will Baptists International Missions. To learn more, visit

I WAS AWAKENED BY THE PHONE. It was September 19, 2002. Neil Gilliland, our director of member care, called to inform me of an attempted military coup in Ivory Coast, West Africa. Seventeen Free Will Baptist missionaries and children were caught in the midst of the chaos. The next week passed in a tension-filled blur as the coup escalated into civil war.

In the end, virtually all missions agencies evacuated the country. This was the first time since 1961 (Cuba) that Free Will Baptists had been forced to discontinue missionary presence on one of our fields.

After another brief evacuation in 2004 and military forces divided only by United Nations peacekeepers, continued missionary activity is tenuous at best. The country that once boasted our largest missionary force (37 in 1987) now has only seven assigned missionaries. So, where do we go from here?

What happened in Ivory Coast is indicative of the rapidly changing landscape of our world.  Sociological shifts, demographic changes, emerging political realities, and conflicting belief systems have combined with breakneck advances in technology and communications. Nothing stays the same for long.

In the midst of all of these changes, how do we reach our world for Christ? Where do we go from here?

Free Will Baptists are poised to make an eternal difference in our world as never before. There are two main reasons for this—maturing fields and strategic partnerships.

Maturing Fields

When FWB began working in Ivory Coast in the 1950s there were virtually no believers among the Lobi, Koulango, and Agni tribes. Our missionaries were pioneers. Their courageous efforts, through the power of the Holy Spirit, birthed a church.

Once the church emerged, missionaries adopted the role of parents. They taught, served, and discipled until leadership and trustworthiness budded.

As the work continued, more and more responsibility was transferred to indigenous church leadership. The missionary role changed to that of a partner. Missionaries and national leadership worked side by side.

Today, the growth and maintenance of the Cote d’Ivorian church is the complete responsibility of the national congregation. The role of the missionary has shifted to participant. Missionaries serve in the background, supportive of the dreams and vision of the national church. The transfer is complete.

The most exciting thing in the maturing process is the rising potential. Just as God has worked in our hearts to send missionaries, so the impetus for missionary outreach is now transferred to them. No longer are they only receiving the benefits of the missionary vision of others, they join in the missionary vision themselves.

This is happening on several of our fields. Cuban FWBs have sent their own missionaries to Spain, Panama, and the United States. India FWBs seized the opportunity to plant churches in Nepal long before we knew laws had changed to permit it. The 10 FWB churches in Nepal are praying for opportunities in the closed country of Bhutan. Free Will Baptists in Brazil, France, Panama, and Uruguay have joined missionary activities as well. The potential is staggering.

The Great Commission was not only given to Christians in the United States. It was given to the Church around the world. Over the next 10 years I believe we will see a significant missionary movement from our maturing fields.

Strategic Partnerships

Pioneer missions work is essential where there is not an existing church. The pioneer, parent, partner, participant model is difficult work and sometimes takes a generation or two to complete. In some areas of the world, unreached people can hear the gospel by different methods. Let’s consider Russia and Central Asia as an example.

In the late 1800s missionaries brought the evangelical message of the gospel to Russia. These missionaries had a background as Arminian Baptists (like Free Will Baptists). Churches were planted and much growth occurred. Unfortunately, communism was devastating to the Church as many believers were martyred and tens of thousands were exiled to the southernmost part of the Soviet Union.

Stalin and other leaders tried to extinguish the Church. Two important truths, however, became apparent: (1) the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church; and (2) the Lord delights in using such efforts as a means to advance the Church. Both truths are exemplified in the former Soviet Union.

The church in Russia remains strong! Also, the remnant of those exiled are now living in the midst of some of the most unreached peoples in the world—Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan. Only a few years ago the Baptist Union of Central Asia had 300 churches in these five countries. They adopted a vision to plant another 300 churches in five years.

How did they do? They exceeded their goal, planting over 400 new churches.

In the model of these strategic partnerships we come in at the participant level. A strong indigenous church already exists. These churches are nearly identical in doctrine with Free Will Baptists. Through strategic partnerships we can provide exponential advancement for the Kingdom.

So, where do we go from here?

  1. We facilitate church-planting movements in our maturing fields.

  2. We partner with like-minded groups in unreached areas of the world to create church-planting movements there.

  3. We continue to pioneer church-planting efforts in resistant countries and among unreached people groups.

That is the purpose of Free Will Baptist International Missions. We plant churches overseas. Just 10 years ago we had 240 churches and mission works on our Free Will Baptist fields. Now there are 743. Attendance, which was just short of 8,000 per week, has grown to over 28,000.

The world is rapidly changing. And, though our message has not changed, our methods and approaches have adapted to the new realities. We are poised to make an eternal difference like never before.

Many individuals and churches have partnered with us. As we look at the future the potential is greater than ever. What could be done for the Kingdom if more individuals and churches choose to participate? Contact us to find out how you individually, or your church collectively, can partner to plant churches overseas.

James Forlines has served as General Director of FWB International Missions since January 1999.

FWB International Missions
P.O. Box 5002
Antioch, TN  37011-5002

(877) 767-7736


©2005 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists