LOS ANGELES (BP)--In his first missionary commissioning sermon as the new president of the North American Mission Board, Kevin Ezell told 62 missionaries and chaplains to "stay focused and stay faithful" as they begin their new ministries throughout the United States and Canada.
About 700 people packed New Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, an African American congregation in south-central Los Angeles, for the Sunday, Oct. 17, commissioning service.
The church was founded 48 years ago by Lonnie Dawson, the only pastor the church has ever known, who currently is ill and was unable to attend the service.
"As a missionary-minded church, we are delighted to share in NAMB's missionary efforts for Kingdom-building," Dawson said in an advance statement. During his tenure, New Mount Calvary has grown from six members to more than 3,000.
In welcoming the standing-room only audience to the commissioning service, Sonja Dawson, the pastor's daughter, said, "When Dr. Dawson planted this church over 48 years ago, this day was only a dream. We could not have dreamed that our humble congregation would ever host such an auspicious occasion."
Ezell told the crowd, "There is no better church from which to talk about staying focused and faithful than New Mount Calvary, where Lonnie Dawson has done it for 48 years." Ezell, at 48, was an infant when Dawson planted the church on east El Segundo Boulevard.
Using Colossians 3 as his text, Ezell told the new missionaries and chaplains that "it's so easy in the world we live in to get distracted by the things that are not important. It's easy to fill your life with the good things while you push out the best things.
"The Apostle Paul told us to be on guard within and without. Missionaries, protect your time with the Lord, your families and your ministries -- in that order. Remember who you're doing this for as you begin your ministry. You're doing it for the Lord Jesus Christ. Start well and finish well. He did, up until the time He said, 'It is finished.'"
Ezell was named NAMB's new president on Sept. 14 by the Southern Baptist entity's 56-member board of trustees who attended the commissioning service at New Mount Calvary prior to their quarterly board meeting, also held in Los Angeles.
The 62 new NAMB missionaries and chaplains -- chaplains serving the military, corporations, the health care industry and law enforcement -- will be deployed in 15 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces. They join the ranks of 5,300 NAMB missionaries and chaplains already in service throughout North America.
Wendy Tsai, a native of Taiwan, was commissioned to serve in Canada's Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, along the southern gulf of the St. Lawrence River in southeastern Canada.
"I'll be ministering to the growing population of Chinese immigrants there," Tsai said. "We want to establish a Mandarin-speaking church for those Chinese immigrants who have never heard the Gospel. These people are lonely and need to learn English. If we can establish the church, they will love to come and we'll have the opportunity to reach them for Christ."
With 1,800-plus Chinese immigrant families -- averaging three members each -- in the Charlottetown area, Tsai said they come because it's cheaper to immigrate there than to Vancouver or Ontario.
The daughter of non-Christian parents, Tsai said her commissioning was a high point of her life because becoming a missionary has been her "vision and call" since she was 11 years old.
"God has made my vision come true through NAMB. I'll stay as long as God wants me to stay. I'll follow what He says."
Mike Jernigan, 40, a captain in the U.S. Army, was commissioned as a chaplain to continue serving in the 196th Ordnance Battalion DOD at Fort Bragg, N.C.
With one 34-month tour to Afghanistan already behind him, Jernigan ministers to some 300 soldiers in his battalion at Fort Bragg, some of whom will be deployed to Afghanistan in the months ahead.
"I feel pretty strongly that soldiers need to have meaning in their lives," said the closely cropped red-headed Jernigan, a native of Fayetteville, N.C. "I try to make them see that there's something beyond their years on this earth, that they need to know there's hope in Jesus Christ.
"Encouraging is a big part of what I do. I stress how they need strong relationships with fellow soldiers and with their families back home," said Jernigan, who is the father of three children with his wife Jennifer.
Newly commissioned missionary Ray Willis' mission field is draped by the mountains and blue skies of Billings, Mont., where he and wife Arlene serve. Willis is minister of evangelism and discipleship at Fellowship Baptist Church in Billings. His goal is to raise up a core team of people to evangelize and disciple new believers.
"As Baptists, we do a great job of putting church planters in the field and starting churches," Willis said. "But once the church is organized, the work is only beginning. We need to grow leadership in evangelism, music and in other key areas such as Sunday School.
"Pastors can get so busy administrating that the discipling is never completed," Willis said. "My heart and passion is to do something about that. It's why I get up every morning." A pastor for 42 years, Willis first came to Montana in 1977 after leading churches in Illinois and Arkansas.
Also attending and speaking at the commissioning service at New Mount Calvary were Fermin Whittaker, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention, and Debby Akerman, national president of the Woman's Missionary Union.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.
Copyright (c) 2010 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net