I arrived safely in St. Charles, MO at midday and attended the afternoon and evening sessions of the first day of the West Africa Summit at the FBC of St. Charles. The church has done an outstanding job of preparing to host this summit and the IMB has really put together a great program. Many missionaries from West Africa have just returned stateside in the last couple of days to be a part of the summit. The purpose of the summit as Dr. Rankin communicated it very clearly this evening is not to be a typical missions conference with reports from missionaries about what they're doing and the state of the work. The goal is to motivate churches to become directly involved in one of three areas of the work in West Africa--as an exploring church that participates in an occasional mission trip as they seek where God would have them invest their time and energy long-term, as a partnering church to work with an existing IMB church planting team to reach a unreached people group, or as an engaging church that assumes the direct responsibility for taking the gospel to an unreached people group that currently has no IMB or other evangelical work in place.
I've had a chance to visit briefly with Randy and Kathy Arnett whom we were appointed with back in 1986. Randy is currently the Regional Leader for the IMB over West Africa. I ate dinner with Larry and Lucy Driggers who were in language school with us in Costa Rica since they were headed for the only Spanish-speaking country in West Africa--Equitorial Guinea. The wife of another couple we were appointed with is also here, but I haven't seen her yet. I was pleasantly surprised to see Steve Nolen who served with us in Argentina before transferring to the 10/40 window for a number of years. He's living in the Atlanta area now, serving as a missions pastor and also helping promote Hispanic involvement in the 10/40 region.
A couple of disturbing statistics were shared by Randy this afternoon and echoed by Dr. Rankin this evening. The number of career missionaries to West Africa has decreased each year by an average of 10 missionary units from 1997 to 2006. At the appointment service last night at the MBC annual meeting in Cape Girardeau, 67 new missionaries were appointed. Not one of them is heading to West Africa. The focus of today's sessions by Randy and Dr. Rankin were on the lostness of West Africa. Clearly the need is overwhelming and the response by S. Baptist churches has been "underwhelming." Prayerfully, the Lord will use this summit to awaken an interest in that region on the part of many. The attendance is very good and the majority of folks appear to be from outside of Missouri.