They sold everything. Appliances. Furniture. The car. The few things they kept were carefully packed into a small shipping container and prepared for overseas transport. Clothing was packed in suitcases, careful to stay under the airline’s fifty-pound limit.
God had commissioned them to a lifetime commitment to international missionary service,
inviting them to leave the luxuries of American life, to travel to a distant third-world county where life and language would be foreign. Heaven-sent, they bravely answered the call, trusting God with every detail.
God’s assignment: The west African country of Niger, located on the equator at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, where Satan holds a tight grip on the almost-exclusively Muslim population.
News outlets in Nigeria, just across Niger’s southern border, reported warring tribes kidnapping and killing Christians. American missionary work in Niger would be difficult and dangerous.
Almost ten years ago, South Georgia Baptist Church sent Austin and Lizzy Hicks as missionaries to Niger. God had called them. They were certain, and so were we. So, we gathered on a Sunday evening in December for a sacred ceremony, a commissioning service. We prayed together. We worshipped. We listened to their excited testimonies, filled with the expectation of God’s miraculous provision and direction. The crescendo of that memorable service came as the church gathered around the young missionaries, placing our hands upon their shoulders, praying … and committing to pray for as long as they remained on foreign soil. They were faithful to go, and when God called, they were faithful to return. (That’s a long story…)
Our twenty-first century church imitated what occurred in the first-century church at Antioch.
“Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off” (Acts 13:1–3).
Before their call to missionary service, they were teachers. “For a whole year (Saul and Barnabas) met with the church and taught large numbers” (Acts 11:26). They were disciple-makers, laboring in the Spirit’s power to implant the Gospel in the hearts of the congregation at Antioch. They taught the great commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39). And they taught the great commission: “At home and beyond your boarders, deliver the Good News, making disciples who will make more disciples!” (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19-20).
Saul and Barnabas packed their bags, and with the blessings and encouragement of their sending church, became missionaries to the uttermost reaches of the Roman world… missionaries sent to change the world.