Oklahoma Baptists have a long history of sending missionaries through the International Mission Board (IMB). Throughout 2020, Oklahoma Southern Baptists will join with other Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches in celebrating the history of 175 years of mission-sending through the IMB. On a related note, Oklahoma Baptists have an additional reason to celebrate this year—their own missions anniversary.
Oklahoma Baptists can celebrate their partnership with IMB mission work for 110 years, sending Oklahomans overseas to serve since 1910. Luke Holmes, who hosts the SBC History Podcast and serves as pastor of Tishomingo, First, gave some insight about the early years of mission-sending in the state.
“Oklahoma made the decision to send missionaries as soon as Oklahoma Baptists came together to form one state convention,” Holmes said. “They had regularly sent ‘home missionaries’ but also devoted money, manpower and more to international missions. Men like T.C. Carelton, J.C. Stalcup, and A.G. Washburn promoted home and foreign missions across Oklahoma. The Woman’s Missionary Union in Oklahoma promoted foreign missions heavily across the state through women like Maude Abner and others.”
After forming a unified convention in a newly-formed state, Oklahoma Baptists set the standard that Gospel advancement, including mission-sending, was to be one of the core values. Stalcup, Oklahoma Baptists’ founding president, wrote in his first report to the convention in 1907 a message that will sound strikingly contemporary to Oklahoma Baptists.
“I seriously doubt whether there is a place in the whole world where our Baptist people are facing greater opportunities or more tremendous responsibilities than are now confronting us,” Stalcup wrote. “Now is the day of our opportunity. We MUST GO FORWARD (emphasis from the report) or suffer irretrievable loss. May the Lord give us wisdom to lay our plans wisely for the future; and may He lead us, as we shall join hands and hearts in the execution of these plans, until the year just beginning shall be made glorious by the salvation of thousands of our people, and the training of all of our forces for more aggressive and effective work in His Kingdom, at home and abroad.”
The next year in the 1908 annual meeting report, one of the first explicit challenges was given to Oklahoma Baptist churches to respond to God’s call to send missionaries. “No Baptist church, district association or state convention will remain strong and effective at home very long that does not look beyond her own borders,” the report stated.
Despite limited financial resources, the new convention of Oklahoma Baptists made mission-sending a priority.
“You have to remember that it was difficult to send missionaries then, as we needed all the help we could get back home,” Holmes said. “There was a great mission field in the new state, and it cost to send the best and brightest to foreign shores. But Oklahoma Baptists knew that the mission was worth it, and it caused them to get more people involved in the mission work at home. They had strong ministry in the state like the mining camps around McAlester and ethnic groups around the state. But missions remained a central focus, with the power radiating out from the center of the local church to across the street and across the world.”
The commission to go to the nations was made clear, and the calling to advance the Gospel received responses. The following are some of the first Oklahoma-affiliated missionaries to respond to the call to take the Gospel to unreached people, according to IMB records.
J.V. Dawes was born in Wisconsin and raised in Missouri. He attended and graduated from the Baptist Indian University (BIU) in Oklahoma, which qualified him as an Oklahoman. He married Laura Moore who also graduated from BIU. They were appointed in 1910 and are the first missionaries the IMB can identify with Oklahoma ties.
Grace Elliott appeared before the committee on June 11, 1919 and arrived in Yingtak in December 1919. She married Manly Whitfield Rankin in 1924. Rankin was born in Hong Kong, and Grace was actually born in Texas but was living in Oklahoma when she was appointed.
Edward Hansford Crouch was born in Duncan in 1892 and appointed to Brazil on June 14, 1923. He served with his wife Ura through 1947. Crouch was the first to be appointed who was actually born in Oklahoma.
John S. and Della Richardson were appointed to Nigeria in 1924. Born in Arkansas, John graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) in 1923. Della was born in Grant County in 1898 before statehood. Della was appointed under her maiden name—Della Black—and married John a few months later.
Rosalee Mills Appleby was appointed just six days before the Richardsons. A Mississippi native, Appleby went to OBU and Oklahoma State University. She was the first person to respond to the call to missions at Falls Creek Baptist Assembly. Oklahoma Baptist students will recognize Appleby as the namesake of the Appleby Society, a designation given to a registry of people who received their call to ministry at Falls Creek, maintained by the student ministry of Oklahoma Baptists.
“Appleby surrendered to ministry under the preaching of J.W. Jent at Falls Creek in 1917,” Holmes said. “After graduating from OBU, she was appointed to be an IMB missionary in Brazil in 1924 along with her husband David. While expecting their first child in 1925 her husband died in surgery in Brazil. Appleby chose to stay on the field in Brazil and worked with Brazilian Baptist Publishing House, writing Sunday School material, devotionals and more than 10 books. Her call to missions was stronger than the tragedy she endured in the loss of her husband. Her commitment and support from Oklahoma Baptists allowed her to stay in Brazil for decades.”
A new generation carries on the Oklahoma missions legacy
In a challenge similar to their 1908 convention counterparts, Oklahoma Baptist messengers to the convention approved a resolution in their 2019 annual meeting to increase the mobilization of new Oklahoma missionaries by 20 percent by the year 2025. The increase would mean 40 new missionaries by that year.
This month, Oklahoma Baptists celebrated the continuing legacy of mission-sending with a unique opportunity, experiencing firsthand the virtual appointment of two new missionary families who have responded to that challenge and will be serving with the IMB.
With the necessary cancellation of the SBC Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla., where the Sending Celebration was to take place, IMB moved the celebration to an online event on June 9. This was IMB’s first-ever virtual Sending Celebration.
Four appointees with connections to Oklahoma will be commissioned by the IMB:
Michael & Lydia Moses* (names changed for security) Affinity: Northern Africa & Middle East, and Andrew & Elizabeth Bailey* (names changed for security) Affinity: Northern Africa & Middle East.
The June 9 Sending Celebration was another opportunity for Oklahoma Baptists to hear stories of how God has called missionaries into His service. Event participants prayed over the newly-appointed missionaries as they prepared to make their homes overseas for the sake of the Gospel.