The 9-year-old appeared to be only 5. He could not talk and fell when he tried to walk. He wore talismans around his neck and waist, objects from the traditional healers and witch doctors unable to heal.
Just as with the woman recorded in the Gospels, God's saving grace provided the cure that prevailed. In Zimbabwe, that grace was offered by International Mission Board missionaries Gregg and Donna Fort, who led the family to Christ.
The Forts shared their story on the opening day of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting alongside other missionaries during the Executive Committee report, hailing the value of Southern Baptists giving through the Cooperative Program, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.
" wondered whether the God they now worshipped would be able to heal their son's body. When they brought him to us he still had the charms around his neck and around his waist. The father was told they needed to be removed because they represented the power and authority of our enemy Satan," Gregg Fort recounted. "We watched as he cut them off, built a fire and burned them. And then we gathered around his son ... and interceded before the God who is more than able and watched as, even though there were repeated attacks from the enemy, was restored to full health and given back to his family.
"We have witnessed our Father reconcile the lost to Himself. The miracle of new birth has been accompanied by the sick being healed, the demonized being delivered, new believers becoming the body of Christ, and community," Fort said. "Communities have been transformed and tribal groups have found their animosity toward each other changed into godly love and concern."
As missionaries told of other salvations on college campuses and in cities in the North American Mission Board's Send North America initiative, Executive Committee President Frank Page encouraged messengers to give tithes and offerings as the Lord commanded. Currently, the average Southern Baptist gives only about 2.3 percent of his income to the Lord, and the average CP gift from churches is just over 5 percent of undesignated receipts, Page said.
"If Southern Baptists were actually obeying God's call to tithe, which Jesus confirmed, and were to give 10 percent, at least, and if churches were to go back to the historical patterns of giving at least 10 percent to missions through the Cooperative Program," Page said, "friends, we would see a dramatic increase, a dramatic increase, so that we could send double, triple the number of missionaries that we now do. If Baptists were to give just 1 percent more, next year we'd see $100 million go to support our seminaries, our mission boards and all the ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention.
"I've got to tell you that possibility excites me."
Fort told missionaries a lack of giving could enable the spread of heresy by false teachers.
"As Christ was incarnated among us, incarnational missions is still by far the best way to carry the Gospel message of Jesus Christ into His world. As Southern Baptists, would you allow me to challenge us by the reality that in Zimbabwe, for instance, those who are proclaiming a false hope or a liberal theology are happily moving into areas that we vacate, are outspending us, promoting a religion without hope, with gods who cannot save," Fort said.
"Dare we turn over partially conquered ground to Mormons, to Jehovah's Witnesses, to Muslims? Dare we allow proponents of liberal theology to sneak in among our converts through Bible training programs and seminaries, to corrupt the very believers that we elect to bring to salvation in Christ?
"May the Father cause to burn within us a new fire, an insatiable desire, and an unquenchable determination to claim the nations for Him, and may He richly bless us as together we move to complete the task of reaching the remaining 3,400 people groups who have no witness and among whom there are no believers," Fort pleaded.
Fort is the son of the late Milton Giles Fort and Wanna Ann Fort, who served many years as medical missionaries in what is now Zimbabwe. The Woman's Missionary Union, at its 125th anniversary celebration, honored the Fort family for its 200-plus years of cumulative missionary service rendered by the parents and three of their five sons.
Keith and Paige Wieser, Baptist Collegiate Ministry missionaries who serve at Washington State University and the University of Idaho, thanked messengers for their support.
"Each year your prayer and your financial support significantly impact the lives of college students. Because of your support of missions there are freshmen in Pennsylvania and across New England that are hearing the Gospel for the first time," Keith Wieser said. "There are sophomores in Louisiana and in Georgia who are growing to be effective missionaries. There are juniors in Arizona and in Canada who are growing in their capacity to become leaders in our churches and church plants. There are seniors in Washington and in Minnesota who are being sent out, launched out with the Gospel to affect our cities and transform our cultures."
New church plants
Southern Baptists' financial gifts enabled Jeremy Westbrook to plant a successful church in Marysville, Ohio, Westbrook told messengers.
"Because of your investment, these past four years 123 people have been baptized to the glory of God," Westbrook said. "Southern Baptists, when we moved to plant a church in Marysville, you were there with us. And I'm happy to say that two months ago on Easter Sunday on our four-year anniversary of our church, over 500 people gathered together on Easter Sunday to worship our risen Savior Jesus Christ."
Living Hope Church purchased and renovated a new church campus, debt free, Westbrook said of his pastorate.
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' staff writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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