BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BNM) - The Bible describes the crowd around God's throne as containing people from every nation, every people, and all languages, not many nations and some people and most languages, said the International Mission Board's Paul Chitwood. Chitwood spoke at the International Mission Board's Monday night dinner during the Southern Baptist Convention's Pastors' Conference in Birmingham, Alabama, June 10. Chitwood is the missionary organization's president.
The dinner began with arrival music presented by a Swahili choir from Swahili Evangelical Refugee Fellowship of Atlanta, Clarkston, Georgia. The choir's performance reflected the church family's culture's energy, with melodies and movement notably different from various American Christian music styles. Afterward, Shawna Davis, a missionary serving in Nairobi, Kenya, welcomed attendees and shared her and her husband's story of serving in several countries.
Then, the roomful of attendees shared a banquet dinner around tables -- over 100 tables with 10 people seated at each one, including an IMB host. IMB reported 1,600 attended.
The evening's program began with a sequence of scenes accompanied by the natural sound of each scene. It was called, “Listen: The Sounds of Silence.” The scenes were places and crowds from different nations and cultures around the world. When the scenes faded off the screens on the stage, a Deaf missionary began to sign his testimony and story in American Sign Language. He explained how he became a missionary to Deaf people. He explained that he was being commissioned as a career missionary the next evening.
He also shared that there are 220 different sign languages among the world's Deaf people and emphasized how people want to hear the Gospel in their own language. Part of his story told how a project with Brentwood Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee, was helping to translate the Gospel into all of the world’s sign languages. Most of the world's Deaf people, he said, have never seen the Gospel signed in their own language.
Chitwood explained to the crowd that 2,100 languages have no Bible. Among them are 200 sign languages. At that point he described a project at the IMB's exhibit in the SBC Annual Meeting's Exhibit Hall where individuals could help the New Testament be translated into one of those languages by sponsoring a verse for $5.00. He said that a full New Testament translation would cost $39,000, and he hoped that a whole New Testament would be funded during the Annual Meeting.
After Chitwood spoke, missionaries shared the Gospel message in Mandarin, Russian, Fon (Benin) and Hausa (Africa). He also led a prayer time during which attendees prayed for new missionary appointees scattered among the audience. Finally, the Swahili choir led everyone in singing "Amazing Grace."
The program emphasized Chitwood's message and the IMB's theme: "Every Church, Every Nation."