Missions Hot Spots In Mississippi

– by Larry Geraldson, Director of Missions for the BMA of Mississippi (Published in the Mississippi Baptist – March Issue)

“And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” Rev 5:8-10

How do we define a “Hot Spot” when it comes to missions in Mississippi? Most often the determination of a good location to plant a church is not based on the propensity of people to accept the gospel, rather it is based on the percentage of unreached people in a specific area.

When referring to “people groups” missiologists differ on how they define the term. Some define “people groups” based on ethnicity, others, based on language. Still, others define them based on location. In Christendom, an unreached people group can refer to an ethnic group without an indigenous, self-propagating Christian church movement. Often we hear the term “Nations” used synonymous with “people groups,” primarily because Matt 28:19 says, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations…” You can see how we arrive at a definition of “people groups” based on ethnicity and location. But, this definition can inhibit us when setting goals for mission activity in the State of Mississippi.

A fixation on “Going…[to] all nations…” without a clear biblical understanding of the entirety of the “Great Commission” which includes our Lord’s instruction in Acts 1:8, “…and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” can result in a distorted or unbiblical view of missions, which results in poorly adapted missions goals.

A close look at Rev 5:9-10 reveals the redemptive plan upon which the commission was given, “…Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; ….” Rev 5:8-10

A measure of success in Missions cannot be based on just how many we send or how far we send them or how many we reach in far off locations, rather it must be measured on whether what we do is in accordance with the redemptive plan of our Lord and Savior, which is to redeem, by His blood, souls from every “…kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;…” His redemptive plan is in perfect harmony with the commission that He gave us. Any view that missions done ‘near’ is proportionally less important than missions done ‘far’ is just not biblical.

Here is a variation of an illustration that I read recently that might help explain the challenges churches face in trying to maintain a balanced and biblical approach to missions. Suppose there were two ships sinking at the same time, and you were in charge of a team of ten rescuers in two large boats. You arrive on the scene of the first sinking ship and find yourself surrounded by hundreds of screaming people, some going down before your eyes, and some fighting over scraps of debris, others ready to jump into the water from the sinking ship. Several hundred yards farther away, the very same thing is happening to the people on the other ship. Your heart breaks for the dying people. You long to save as many as you can, so you cry out to your two crews to give every ounce of energy to pull as many as possible from the water. There are five rescuers in both boats and they are working with all their might. They are saving many. Then someone cries out from the other ship, “Come help us!” What would love do? Would love leave its labor and go, if, in fact, it is fully engaged saving people right where it is? Love puts no higher value on distant souls than on nearer souls. In fact, love might well reason, that in the time it would take to row across the several hundred yards, a net loss of total souls saved would result. It might also reason that the energy of the rescuers would be depleted, which would possibly result in a smaller number of individuals being saved.

It might be easy, from a human perspective, to assume that this illustration would enlighten us as to the plan of God concerning missions. It might be that it sounds reasonable that we should stay where we are and only focus on those around us. But, biblically, the work of missions demands that we divide our forces and launch out in hope of reaching those that are ‘far,’ as well as, with equal resources and energy continue to reach those that are ‘near.’ The paradox to this illustration is that missions ‘near’ has almost all but been defined out of the word “missions” and replaced with the word “ministry.”

When we see the world as proportionally a large place and the world around us, as a small place, our efforts, both financially and physically will reflect our view. But, when we remember that our God is bigger than everything; that He gave his commission to many churches, not to just one church, we remember that the world ‘near’ and ‘far’ is proportionally the same to God and His commission contains no proportional expectations. The key word used by Jesus in Matt. 28:18-20 is, “All.” He says, “All power…”; “…all nations…”; “…all things…”; “…al –way…”. The word means each and every, the whole. Obviously, our Lord’s emphasis is equally on each and every person in the whole wide world without regard to ethnicity, language, or location.

Sadly, what appears to be our view of missions ‘near,’ seems to suggest that we feel confident that those who are drowning are sufficiently capable of reaching safe haven on their own. After all, there are plenty of available ships waiting to receive them and they just need to get on board. Therefore, our interest often shifts away from these perishing souls to those who are father away. The thought is often propagated that if we just put more ships in those father away waters, the people will enthusiastically climb aboard. All of these notions shape how we define missions, were we place our emphasis, and how we allocate our energy and resources.

A view that success in missions is measured by some hypothetical formula which produces an allocation of resources into a tiered proportion that expands and grows naturally in size and significance the farther away we go from our location is erroneous. That is, unless we can support biblically that God’s expectation of missions’ activity, given in the Great Commission, implies a tiered, proportional outcome. No such evidence is found in Revelation 5:8-10.

The measure of success in missions is not how much we give and do ‘far’ vs ‘near.’ Rather, whether we have equally expended our energy and resources to reach people “…of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;…” for this is what God has specifically instructed us to do. I know you agree with me, that a church should not boast when it is sending people and money around the world but is all but disengaged in reaching people around its own door steps. We must realize that obedience demands that every church must equally divide her resources and equally deploy her energy to do missions ‘near’ and ‘far.’

That word “kindred” in Revelation 5:9, is most often translated “tribe” and gives us the idea of a family connection or family unit.

I’ll never forget an experience I had during the Iraq war. I was traveling into an area that was very risky at best but I had a person traveling with me that told me not to worry. He told me he was the tribal leader of the town we were approaching. I must confess I was nervous because this town had a reputation of not being friendly. I expressed my concern to my friend, whose first name, by the way, just happened to be Osama but his last name was not Bin Laden. He continued to assure me that everything would be fine. Our first stop was a small store which displayed as its decor AK47’s , bandoleers of ammo, grenades and various other things one would expect to find in a small convenience store in some middle eastern towns. The look on the store owner’s face when I walked in made my stomach tighten. We stayed in the town for a few hours and just as Osama had predicted, everyone treated me with extreme, though reluctant, hospitality. He told me that His father was the former tribal leader of this town and when he died, Osama had assumed his role.

My experience taught me a tremendous lesson about relationships within a tribe. I witnessed to Osama and his brother-in-law. Just think of the impact to that entire tribe if just one of these guys came to Christ. The same is true today of each household. I may be guilty of reading into the scriptures but I can’t help but think that as it relates to this word “kindred,” our Lord intended for us to share the gospel with the hope of winning someone in every household. When Paul and Silas shared the gospel with the Philippian Jailor, it is clear they expected his conversion to influence the entire household. Acts 16: 31-33 “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.”

That said, I confess that it is difficult to persuade people that there are, in fact, “unreached” people in Mississippi who need to be reached with the gospel. Most Mississippians cannot fathom the thought that approximates that 1.4 million (some estimate the number to be more than 2 million) people in the State of Mississippi are unreached. It is hard to get them to wrap their minds around the fact that 67% of households in Mississippi do not have even one born again believer.

If a church is to measure her success in carrying out the Great Commission, I suggest that she measure that success on the basis of her obedience to carry out, in a balanced way the spread of the gospel and the making of disciples in every, “…kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;…”

I would define a “Missions Hot Spot in Mississippi” as a location where a large percentage of the households are unreached. Here a few Missions “Hot Spots” in Mississippi. This is based on the high percentage of households that are unreached.

Oxford – Approximately 70.72% of households are unreached
Hattiesburg – Approximately 71.12% of households are unreached
Ridgeland – Approximately 72.14% of households are unreached
North Jackson – Approximately 71.51% of households are unreached
Edwards – Approximately 71.27% of households are unreached
Carthage – Approximately 71.15% of households are unreached
Starkville – Approximately 73.75% of households are unreached

This information is specific to individual zip codes. If you would like to know the percentage of households which are unreached in your zip code area, email me at missions@bmams.org and I will send you the information. God help us to reach all the people of Mississippi with the gospel.

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