CHARLOTTE, NC — Last year, SIM found itself at the center of the Ebola crisis.
First, SIM’s ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, had become one of the leading facilities fighting to contain the outbreak and save those suffering from it.
Then, the organization brought home America’s second Ebola patient, SIM member Nancy Writebol, to Emory Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. Additional mission staff were later brought home, quarantined at the organization in a few RVs until they were medically cleared.
“You may have seen on the news that we have an RV park,” SIM USA President Bruce Johnson told a reception audience Jan. 30, eliciting chuckles. “And the RV park – yeah, I see some smiles out there – the RV park has actually become a model for how to do Ebola care right.”
SIM USA held the reception, called “Missions: Why Go?”, both as a neighborly gesture to local residents unfamiliar with the organization and as an opportunity for people interested in missions to explore how God might be calling them to serve, whether at home or abroad.
Writebol and her husband, David, were the keynote speakers, telling their story of service, illness, and celebrity with humility and humor to a rapt audience of well over 100 people. Johnson – an affable, jovial man – served as host, weaving jokes and stories throughout his discussion of SIM’s long history and long connection with hardship.
Johnson noted that SIM had repeatedly been complimented – even by journalists and government officials – for its handling of the crisis in America and Africa, and he spoke at length about the attention Ebola had attracted both to SIM and to God’s mission in general. Johnson and the Writebols were interviewed repeatedly by print and broadcast media from the US and other countries, with stories being translated into dozens of languages for millions of people around the world. Johnson’s cousin saw the Writebols appear on a talk show in Norway, and a Chinese news network made SIM widely known there.
“A year ago, if anyone would have predicted that they would be in the global news and literally be sharing their faith around the world…. well, it borders on the ridiculous,” Johnson said.
Likewise, SIM’s CFO and team leader for Ebola response was interviewed by Al Jazeera. The reporter asked about the origin of his last name and was surprised to learn it was Palestinian and that his first language growing up was Arabic. She told him that she had never met a Palestinian Christian.
“He had the opportunity, not only over Al Jazeera network, to talk about missionaries and how we go and our commitment to people, but he had an opportunity to talk to a person and to develop a relationship,” Johnson said.
Johnson also emphasized the diversity of SIM’s workers and leadership. Its 3,000 missionaries and workers serve in over 65 countries on six continents, but they actually come from over 70 countries. In each of those countries, both those sending and those receiving, SIM’s work and witness teach and remind people of God’s love and call to relationship with Him.
Johnson noted that one major reason for missions is that 86 percent of non-Christians don’t even have a relationship with a Christian. Without missionaries going across cultures to obey Christ’s commandment to make disciples, those people will never have the chance to hear about Christ and choose for themselves whether to believe and follow Him.
“‘Why go?’ For that 14%? No, it’s for the 86% who don’t have a relationship with a Christian, so that they might hear,” Johnson said, adding that another study showed that 75 percent of the world’s unreached people live in ten countries.
One of those is Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. Yet SIM’s original work there in 1893 led to Christians who formed their own denomination, Biblically based but authentically Nigerian. That church now has over seven million members, and more Nigerians go out as missionaries than SIM sends globally.
Among them is SIM’s own international director, Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko.
“He’s a son of the soil of Nigeria. And so, where we were planted, and where we began in Nigeria 121 years ago, today, our mission is being led by a Nigerian. The Nigerian church celebrates that fact and praises the Lord along with us,” Johnson said.
“SIM has people all over the world with many skills, many talents, many abilities,” Johnson said, adding that the work couldn’t continue without the prayer and financial supporters on which the Writebols and all other SIM missionaries depend.
“Those couple hundred people are just as much a part of God’s work as David and Nancy are, because God calls us in different ways to engage in His mission. His mission here in Charlotte or the surrounding area, or if it’s his mission in Liberia or Peru or India or China or Mongolia or wherever it may be. You know that 86 percent that I mentioned of non-believers that don’t know a Christian? Who in your life have you maybe not introduced yourself to, that just by introducing yourself and praying, ‘God, use me’?”
Additional articles and videos will appear here in the coming week, including an interview with Dave and Nancy Writebol.