In his first-ever missionary commissioning sermon, Larry Wynn, NAMB's new vice president for evangelism, drew the crowd's applause when he looked out over the pews of missionaries and told them that "you are the real heroes."
"You are sacrificing to go where God is calling you. You're leaving family, friends, familiar surroundings, your comfort zone, and the things you love, to go and make a difference. We're going to reach North America because of men and women like you," Wynn said.
Arnold and Teresa Wong were commissioned as Mission Service Corps (MSC) missionaries for church planting in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada. The Wongs formerly were International Mission Board missionaries in China.
"We'll be planting churches among the 60,000 Mandarin-speaking Chinese in the Richmond Hill area," Wong said, noting that "99.9 percent of them are non-Christians. They've never been exposed to the Gospel. It's a challenge to make them understand the Gospel. First, we have to be their friends because being from communist China, they're suspicious of other people. They have to trust us first. We have to win the right to share the Gospel."
Wong said the Mandarin Chinese to whom he'll be ministering -- highly educated professionals such as computer experts and accountants -- are basically amoral and don't understand the sacrificial, unconditional love of Christ and Christians.
Among those also commissioned was U.S. Navy chaplain Stephen Griffin, 30, and his wife Julie of Portsmouth, Va. Stationed at Norfolk Naval Station, Griffin soon will leave Julie and their two-month-old daughter Tierzah for active duty in Afghanistan where he will minister to U.S. Marines.
"Julie and I prayed and cried over my assignment but finally we just came to the conclusion that it's an opportunity God is putting out there for us. We just said, 'Roger that, God, we'll do it.' But we're sober about the difficulties." Julie and Tierzah will stay behind in Portsmouth during her husband's six-month deployment.
Kyle Yocum was commissioned as a NAMB US/C2 missionary based in Peoria, Ill., where the 26-year-old single will combine church planting and evangelism in an effort to plant a new collegiate church in the area, the home of Bradley University.
"I've been looking forward to being commissioned," Yocum said. "It's nice to talk to other missionaries who are going through the same things you are -- to know you're not out there by yourself. And it's wonderful to have people who don't even know you to pray for you. That's totally empowering and reassuring."
Edward and Donna Villarreal were commissioned as Nehemiah Church Planting missionaries in Salinas, Calif. They've planted His House Christian Fellowship, ministering to a hardcore group of unchurched bikers and gang members who come with their addictions, tattoos and body piercings.
"Because of the hard lives they've lived, they also come with hard hearts," Villarreal said. "Before we get them, they're heavy into clubbing and partying. They try to be family guys through the week but party all weekend.
"I started going after the men because if you can get them into a men's group, you can get their families," Villarreal said. He started by forming a house church that grew to 30 members -- baptizing new believers in the apartment complex's hot tub. The church now meets in another church's building for free. About 50 people attend His House Christian Fellowship on a typical Sunday.
Betty Barham Newsom was only one of the new 81 missionaries but she stood out. Revealing she was 81 years old, Newsom left the applauding congregation of 800 in both awe and surprise as one of the oldest MSC missionaries ever commissioned by NAMB.
Based in Brookhaven, Miss., Newsom drives a seven-county circuit in southwest Mississippi, mobilizing churches to get involved in and to support the WMU, the Cooperative Program, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and mission education.
"This is what I want to do because of my love for the Lord Jesus and His love for me," Newsom said in her sweet Mississippi drawl. "Last year in this area, I went to 44 different churches, large and small."
North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell thanked First Baptist Brandon for hosting the "Send North America" commissioning celebration and for the church's "weekly investments to plant churches across North America."
"We in the South think everywhere is like us," Ezell said. "In Florida, there is one church for every 6,800 people. But in New York, there's only one church for 59,000 people. In New Jersey, there's one church for 76,000 people. And in Canada, there's only one church for every 123,000 people."
Tommy Green, senior pastor of the 5,100-member Brandon church for the past 15 years, called First Baptist a church "committed to missions in terms of giving, going and praying."
"We're committed to the Cooperative Program and to Annie Armstrong. Just to be host for this service is an honor for our church -- and a chance for us to love on these folks and let them know how thankful we are and prayerfully excited about what God is doing in their lives," Green said.
Two NAMB missionary couples commissioned during the service -- Greg and Victoria Shawgo, US/C2 missionaries in Missoula, Mont., and Matt and Amber Peavyhouse, church planting missionaries in Hollywood, Fla., -- are former members of First Baptist Brandon.
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.
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