Some of you who read this blog may ask yourselves "How did a 'good Baptist boy like me' come to espouse the views on working with other evangelical groups and denominations (GCCs) that I have expressed?" I believe the following account gives a good bit of insight into the answer to that question…
Back in 1979, as a college freshman who had recently made a decision at summer camp to follow God’s call regarding missionary service, I was made aware of an organization called Operation Mobilization (OM) that sponsored summer mission campaigns in Western Europe (*and since that time, in other parts of the world as well). This idea seemed very appealing to me, and I went, together with a friend, on the OM summer campaign, he to work with Asian immigrants in the UK, and I in Austria.
I was impacted by a lot of things during that summer. It was exciting for me to meet, first from the United States and Canada, and next from all over the world, young people like myself who were interested in serving God in world missions. Although, they were all soundly evangelical, they were also from different denominations and church backgrounds.
The following summer, I decided to go back again on the OM summer campaign, and this time spent one month in Italy, and another month in England, travelling as OM International Coordinator George Verwer’s "go-fer." Several years later, after graduating from college (Baylor ’83) and one year at Mid-America Seminary, I figured out I was burned out on studies, and decided to go back again on the OM summer campaign (this time back in Austria), and eventually extended my stay with OM another two years, on board the mission ship, MV Doulos (’84 -’86).
My two years on board the Doulos was an experience I will never forget. During this time, I shared life together, in close living quarters, commune-style, with approximately 330 crew-members, all missionary volunteers, from more than 40 different countries.
During my two-year stint with the Doulos, I had the privilege of visiting 23 different countries in Europe and West Africa. I believe the fact that we came from different countries and church backgrounds added to the effectiveness of our witness. Although our common language, for the sake of communication, was English, the ministry of the Doulos was not a representation of any one particular culture, but rather the testimony of God’s power to transcend cultural barriers.
I was also impacted by the opportunity to visit churches, missionaries, and ministries along the way representing the entire panoply of evangelical life. I have especially fond memories of the times I shared, as part of the advance line-up team, in Lomé, Togo, West Africa, with the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board workers there, and their warm friendship and hospitality. At the same time, I was perplexed when one FMB missionary couple informed us they would not be able to work with an OM evangelistic team during the ship’s visit, due to policy restrictions on ministry cooperation with non-SBC groups. To this day, I am not sure whether or not that particular couple had a personally narrow interpretation of policy, but I had never run into that type of restriction from any of the other mission agencies and groups with which we had attempted to work.
I also had the opportunity to observe first-hand how the different cultures, in the different countries we visited (in my case, Northern Europe, Southern Europe, and West Africa), responded differently to the presentation of the Gospel message we gave. In general, the response was much more enthusastic to our evangelistic efforts in Africa than in Europe, and more so in Southern Europe than in Northern Europe. At the same time, it was difficult to avoid the impression that many who made public professions of faith during our ministry in West Africa were quite superficial in their motivation.
Every Thursday night, starting at 8 pm, on the Doulos, there was a ship-wide "night of prayer", with non-obligatory attendance lasting until 6 am the next morning. One of the many things that impacted me from two years of weekly "nights of prayer" were the presentations of and prayers for the ministries of organizations other than Operation Mobilization. The emphasis was on the advance of the Kingdom of God, and the work of God through many varied groups and organizations around the world was a valid subject of prayer.
I remember specifically praying for the ministry of Youth With A Mission (YWAM), and hearing the story of how when both OM and YWAM were praying to begin their first ship ministries, and when the deal for the original ship that YWAM was hoping to purchase fell through, YWAM gave all of the money that had been raised for the purchase of their ship to OM in order that they could purchase the MV Logos (the sister ship and predecessor of the Doulos).
While I was on OM, the OM policy on "tongues" was that, although OM team members come from different denominational backgrounds, with different beliefs and practices regarding spiritual gifts such as tongues, public exercise of "tongues" was not allowed, in order to avoid conflict on this issue. Although there may have been cases of which I was not aware, during my three summers and two years with OM, I never knew "tongues" to be a cause of problems or divisions in the ministry.
When you live on a ship for 2 years with 330 other people, you get to observe their life pretty close up. Although, it was never announced from what denominational background people came, in conversations along the way, you oftentimes find out. Certainly, the following observation lacks the rigor of any type of scientific investigation, but my general impression, based on observation of Christian character and testimony of people from charismatic (tongues-speaking) and non-charismatic (non-tongues-speaking) backgrounds on the ship, was that speaking in tongues was not a significant factor either way with regards to the Christian character and testimony of the various ship crew-members. I was equally impressed by the consistency of Christian character and testimony (and sometimes lack of consistency) exhibited by those known to speak in tongues (albeit privately) and those known to not speak in tongues.
One thing I might add to this, however, that has shaped my view of what I think of the validity of current tongues-speaking, is that I was strongly enough impressed by what I observed of the consistent Christian character and testimony of several who were known to speak in tongues that I still today find it very difficult to believe that these people were fabricating their supposed tongues-speaking experience. My personal study of the Word of God has led me to conclude that all of the spiritual gifts of New Testament times are still operative today. But my experience and interaction with other people who have claimed to practice these gifts has helped to confirm this conclusion in my mind.
I could go on a lot longer about my experiences with OM, and with the Doulos. Although God’s path for my life (after another four years with another interdenominational mission agency, Bible Christian Union—now merged with TEAM) has since led me back to my Southern Baptist roots, currently as a missionary with the IMB, I am immensely thankful for the wider perspective I believe my experience as a young man gave me of the Evangelical world at large, and the benefits of working together with the entire Body of Christ in the task of fulfilling the Great Commission.