ATLANTA, Ga. — “The Judsons,” a conference to celebrate 200 years of Baptist missions and the journey of the first Baptist missionaries, Ann and Adoniram Judson, kicked off Thursday night at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Ga.
McAfee School of Theology partnered with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, American Baptist Historical Society, the Baptist History and Heritage Society, Baptist Women in Ministry and the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board to produce the three-day event featuring missions experts and practitioners from across Baptist life.
“We planned this event to honor the 200th anniversary of a couple of kids in their 20s who had the courage to follow their beliefs, and had the entrepreneurship to start the mother of all Baptist mission societies in America,” said Loyd Allen, professor of church history at McAfee and one of the event’s conveners. “They had the courage to go to a very different place and stay there, producing fruit that could be passed down to our time.”
The event began with an address about the Judsons’ duty to go “to the Distant, Benighted Heathen,” from Bill Leonard, a prominent Baptist historian and the James and Marilyn Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies and Church History at Wake Forest University Divinity School in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“Nineteenth century Christianity was moving toward a belief that Christian religion must confront non-Christian religions in the world, and they had the technology — meaning the transportation — to do so,” Leonard said. “The Judsons’ religious pilgrimage began with the insistence that personal conversion was the norm for faith in the church. … Both became founders of and martyrs to a modern Protestant cause to evangelize the world.”
The second day of the conference focused on the Judsons and congregational involvement in missions and also education. Pam Durso, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, opened the Friday morning session with a word of welcome and theology student Rachel Sherron read a letter written by Adoniram Judson.
Rob Nash, professor of missions and world religions at McAfee and former coordinator of CBF Global Missions, gave the morning presentation on the Judsons’ mission to Burma in the 19th century and its relevancy to U.S. Baptists in the 21st century.
“We live in a context in which radically different possibilities can emerge from the same foundational methodologies employed by [Luther] Rice to initially sustain an American Baptist global mission,” said Nash. “In 1814, Baptists came together in a network of support for the ministries of a band of Baptist missionaries in Burma and India. It was that sole cause that motivated them and to which they devoted their energies and passions.”
Nash noted that there is much excitement and energy for global mission engagement among Baptists and argued that only the period of the Judsons from 1810-1830 rivals the current spiritual energy and passion for global mission engagement.
“It is now possible for any Baptist individual or church who has a missionary passion to somehow focus that passion on a particular ministry and location and create a network of support around it,” Nash said. “In 2013, we need to find a way to nurture and support the various global networks that are emerging. … We need to somehow find a way to pull more people, churches and non-profits into these networks and to provide them with the resources they need to affect global transformation.”
“In 1814 delegates from various missionary societies gathered to coordinate their efforts in sending and supporting missionaries. In time, the mechanisms they created would transform the world by carrying the Christian faith into every corner of it. In 2014, our challenge is to build on their legacy by supporting, sustaining and nurturing, not simply missionaries now, but rather a much more powerful force, represented in emerging networks of Baptists that, if properly galvanized, can transform the world in even more substantive ways.”
CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter also led a workshop on congregational involvement in missions engagement, highlighting CBF’s mission community networks and other resources for sustainable missions in the 21st century. Paynter presented the audience with a model for developing a congregational portfolio to assess the passions of the church, as well as a more accurate view of the financial and human resources the church has used for missions.
“We have something very important to say. We as churches and religious organizations need to speak up for our sustainable model of service,” Paynter said. “This is in our DNA now. It’s not about us as a congregation. It’s about God’s work in the world.”
The conference concludes Saturday with a morning session on the Judsons and women’s issues in Burma with presentations by Pamela Smoot, assistant professor of Africana studies at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill., and Molly T. Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kan.