Originally published in the Midwestern Magazine, Issue 42
My 13-year-old daughter and I took an adventure last summer. We canoed for seven days in the Boundary Waters, a wilderness area of over 1 million acres that extends for 150 miles along the border between the United States and Canada. The area is protected and only open for hiking, paddling, and tent camping; no boat motors or vehicles are allowed. You can go for days without seeing another human being.
It was my daughter’s first trip that deep in the wilderness, and it was fascinating to watch her. She’s a typical teenager, connected to her phone and her friends. With no cell service or friends—dads do not qualify as friends—I could tell she was getting a little bored around camp by the second day.
Everything changed when she found a box of 500 matchsticks in one of our gear bags. For the next five days, nothing in camp was safe. When she wasn’t burning something, she was content to simply sit and strike matches against the side of the box, one after another, watching them spark into a flame and burn themselves out, 500 hundred times.
You have probably done it. You strike a match, see the spark explode into flame, feel the heat, and watch it burn. It really is fascinating. What begins as a spark can light a stove and produce a hot meal, light a campfire to keep you warm, light a fuse, or, as my wife reminded me when I told her about our daughter and the 500 matches, burn down a house.
All of this is in the power of one spark.
A Light in the Darkness
For those of us who know Christ, thinking about the vast lostness around the world is astounding. When I was in the wilderness with my daughter, we were completely alone. Yet, I knew all along that, indeed, I was in the presence of the Creator of that wilderness. I have faith in His provision and trust in him for my eternal outcome, should anything ever go awry on an adventurous expedition.
Yet, those who are lost do not have such faith or trust in the One True God. The physical loneliness of the wilderness exemplifies what they must feel each day as they try to navigate this world without hope. Today, 155,473 people will die lost among the nations—precious souls who have given no indication that they have believed the gospel and trusted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Many simply have never heard the gospel—the good news of salvation in Jesus—spoken in their heart language in a way they can understand it.
While we may think of unreached people hidden in remote areas, much like where we were camping, the reality is that lostness is all around us. In London, where 300 different languages are spoken, it is estimated that 97% of individuals in their twenties are not believers and have never even met a follower of Jesus. Unreached people live in global cities as well as in the hardest-to-reach corners of the world.
Southern Baptists love the lost among the nations, and we want them to hear the gospel and be saved. Each Southern Baptist who answers God’s call to take the gospel to the lost is like the spark of a match in a dark wilderness, a bearer of hope in a spiritual wilderness, a light in the darkness.
And, we have every reason to praise God: his Spirit is moving in unprecedented ways around the world! The number of people groups not yet engaged with the gospel continues to decline. Nations that have benefited from Southern Baptists’ mission efforts have been reached with the gospel, and many are now sending out their own international missionaries. Even under the rule of governments absolutely hostile to Christianity, churches are multiplying by the thousands.
The Big Difference
The International Mission Board exists to fulfill the Revelation 7:9 vision that every nation, every tribe, every people, and every language will worship before the throne of God. But it is not our vision; this is the vision the Lord has given for his Church. This vision is what drives the ministry and mission of the Church to this very day. It will continue to drive the ministry and mission of the Church until the Lord Jesus comes to claim His Church. The vision is why, at the IMB, more than 91% of IMB missionary teams were actively involved in engaging unreached people groups in 2020. The vision is what we must look toward, what we give our lives to, and—if called upon—it is what we must give our lives for.
When we look closer at Revelation 7:9, we see that the multitude worshipping God will not be comprised of a crowd from some nations, many tribes, most peoples, and several languages. Rather, God promises in his Word that the multitude worshipping him will include representatives from every nation, all tribes, all peoples, and all languages.
That is a big difference, and that is where you and I come in.
For you see, the great, innumerable multitude could already be comprised of representatives from some nations, many tribes, most peoples, and several languages. If that is the vision, we can all stay home and wait for heaven. But the Lord’s vision is all-inclusive, comprised of people of every nation—all tribes, all peoples, and all languages.
His vision—the vision of heaven where all tears have been wiped away and there is no more death or sorrow or pain—is one where the Father is praised in every language he has placed on the tongues of men, and his beloved Son is worshipped by those who owe him everything. Praise the Lord we will be there in heaven, alongside those who, in far reaches of the world, have heard his Good News.
But not everyone has heard—yet.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? How are they to hear without someone preaching? How are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rm 10:14-15)
Feed the Flame
Imagine if my daughter had lit one match, and then used that match to light up the entire box at once. The power of that one match would have been exponentially greater in the darkness of the wilderness. That is how we, as Southern Baptists, approach our Great Commission task. We are committed to a collaborative approach to missions which pools our resources for greater impact in the Kingdom.
For such a collective effort to be successful, many must work together as one. We—all believers—must commit to seeing the stark statistics of lostness decline. More missionaries must be sent to the edges of lostness so that more people can hear the Good News. More people must be challenged to answer God’s call for them to go. More generous gifts must be given to support those who are going. Undergirding it all, more believers must commit to lay a foundation of faithful, fervent prayer for the nations, and for those who go.
We all have a part of the mission. You can be a light in the darkness.
The omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent God of the universe, who is merciful, loving, and kind, is deserving of praise in every language he has placed on the tongues of men and women. He is worthy to be worshipped by all peoples, tribes, and nations.
Are you willing to ask the Lord how he might use your life in fulfilling the Revelation 7:9 vision? You and I know that the vision will be fulfilled; the great privilege we have is to be part of it.
Paul Chitwood | President of the International Mission Board
*For more information on how you can partner with the International Mission Board, visit www.imb.org
“Imagine if my daughter had lit one match, and then used that match to light up the entire box at once. The power of that one match would have been exponentially greater in the darkness of the wilderness.”