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COMMENTARY: Juneteenth - the mission

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This weekend is both Father’s Day and a special celebration called “Juneteenth.” Stores are selling associated celebratory products and, in some locations, fireworks. Radio and TV ads are becoming more prominent with a call to remember, and some government institutions are taking Monday off in observance of the holiday. The profitability of commercialization has prompted many businesses to market their wares, sometimes with cultural backlash for their tone-deafness to the reality of the event. Celebration of freedom requires more than color-coded ice cream and t-shirts.

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to free all slaves within Confederate states. It took two and a half years, though, for that news to reach slaves in Texas as US soldiers arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865. Immediately, a celebration began with praise to God, singing, and dancing. For anyone living with modern communication and media, the fact that it took over two years for the news to reach Texas is astonishing, but the simultaneous fact that slaves had been freed and were still living in subjection for that whole time is heartbreaking. The estimated 250,000 slaves had heard of the war, but they had not heard of the victory.  

Reminiscent of what it means to hear good news late is the story of Paul traveling on a mission trip through Ephesus in Acts 19. Paul met twelve Jewish guys who had turned from their sins and received baptism for repentance (Acts 19:4). But when he questioned them about their faith in Jesus and the concurrent reception of the Holy Spirit, they answered that they had never heard this news (Acts 19:2). Here were a group of guys who had entered into a spiritual war by recognizing their sins, but they had not heard how the gospel of Jesus had paid for their spiritual freedom and given them God the Spirit to indwell them with victory. Paul informed them and baptized them with a separate baptism to symbolize their faith in Jesus.

Recent statistics show that over two-thirds of the world’s population has nothing to do with Christianity, and almost a third have never even heard the name of Jesus. Many have turned to various religions to follow empty rituals and offer useless self-atonement. Many face spiritual battles with demonic forces who work to keep them in spiritual darkness. According to data from 2017, around 150,000 people die every day around the world (65 million each year). Statistically, that means over 100,000 people a day enter into hell, and almost 50,000 of them never even hear the good news that Jesus saves. As Southern Baptists, we have employed thousands of full-time missionaries to go into all the world, and hundreds of thousands of Southern Baptists go on short-term mission trips every year.  As we celebrate the earthly victories in our cultures and churches, let us also remember that many more still wait in darkness, oblivious to their potential freedom. Let us not be content with our missions t-shirts of past trips. May we not be tone-deaf to the billions of people for whom a gospel witness could break their spiritual chains, and may we be more on mission now than we ever have been.

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Buck Burch is the State Missions Catalyst for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.

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