Since April, the eyes of the world have been on Afghanistan, watching to see if the withdrawal of U.S. troops announced then would result in lingering stability, or in chaos and violence from a newly emboldened Taliban. And while things appeared stable for a while, as the September target for withdrawal approached, the Taliban quickly overran most of the country in just a few days proving what many had feared, that the elected government and even the well-equipped military were simply not prepared or willing to defend the freedoms and reforms secured over the past two decades.
Wherever one may land on the politics or international relations dynamics of the situation in Afghanistan, I think we may all agree on this observation, and perhaps even apply it to our own mission task here in Illinois: Even if there is help at the beginning, people eventually need to take responsibility for their own home and their own future.
The same is true here in Illinois. Years ago, pioneer pastors and church planting missionaries came to Illinois up the Mississippi River or overland through Kentucky to establish the first Baptist churches here. Eventually that network of churches was strengthened and expanded through the missionary efforts of churches and the coordination of the Home Mission Board.
Then in 1907, Baptist churches here formed their own network that we now call the Illinois Baptist State Association. And while we greatly appreciate and continue to benefit from the mission of others that brought the gospel and Baptist churches to Illinois, we are now responsible for our own home, and our own mission.
Events of the past decade or so have underscored this reality, that the mission of reaching Illinois with the gospel, and with the Baptist faith and message, belongs primarily to the mission-hearted churches here. Funding and support from national SBC entities has been reduced. National recessions, cultural decline and opposition, and most recently the Coronavirus pandemic had significant effects on both the health of Illinois churches and the impact of our statewide mission.
It is during challenging times like this that we must summon faith-filled courage and resolve to advance the mission of the gospel and not retreat in the face of opposition. That’s why we are challenging Illinois Baptist churches to support the Mission Illinois Offering with renewed strength this September.
In spite of the pandemic, Illinois Baptists planted 14 new churches last year, up from 11 the year before, and we welcomed 10 additional churches into affiliation with our Baptist family here. In spite of travel restrictions, 650 participants from 185 churches were mobilized through 57 IBSA-coordinated mission projects. And more than 4,700 church leaders received training through our network, while over 900 pastors participated in online events or cohorts for leadership development.
Some of the most significant work being done among churches as we emerge from the pandemic is in the area of church revitalization. Dozens of churches and local associations are now actively engaged through our IBSA network in a revitalization process. This is all part of the mission here in Illinois – strengthening leaders and churches so they can more effectively reach their own communities, and also go as missionaries and church planters to the unreached areas of our state and beyond.
I invite you to visit missionillinois.org and learn about our vital state mission here in Illinois. I invite you to give generously to the Mission Illinois Offering this year. Though we’ve had help from many beyond our borders over the years, and we are grateful, these challenging days call for us to step up to a new level of responsibility and sacrifice. It is our home, our mission.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.