Texas Baptist and Missions
Written by Jim Furgerson, Missions Ministry Team Leader
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusa- lem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 HCSB.
At the dawn of the 19th century, William Carey, the Baptist cobbler who launched the modern mission- ary movement, had a motto. His motto was, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” Might that become our motto for Trinity Baptist Church as we start the new year.
William Carey had a fascination for the world and an enormous talent for languages. As he worked at his cobbler’s bench, he studied Latin, Greek, and Hebrew as well as maps of the world. In May 1792, he preached a sermon on Isaiah 54: 2 KJV “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations….” That famous sermon included the words, “Expect great things from God… Attempt great things for God.”
In 1793, William Carey and his family left England for Calcutta, India where he would serve as a mis- sionary until his death. In 1812, Adoniram Judson, an American Missionary and a Baptist, joined the Carey’s mission in India. At Judson’s urging, American Baptists took over the support for Carey’s mission. Judson’s eff orts led to the foundation in 1814 of the first American Baptist Mission board, the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions, later commonly known as the Triennial Convention.
Most American Baptist denominations of today are directly or indirectly descended from this convention. Baptists had been in America since Roger Williams formed the First Baptist Church in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1638. The American frontier became the “ends of the earth.” On the frontier, Christians began to meet for Bible Study and Prayer. Out of these meetings Baptist, Methodist, Congregational, and Presbyterian churches were formed all across the American frontier.
Texas was part of the frontier, and in 1832 a Baptist Pastor, Daniel Parker, came to Texas from Illinois and applied for a land grant in the Austin Settlement. In a meeting with Stephen F. Austin, he learned that no Baptist Church could be legally formed in Texas. After some discussion it was determined that the key word was “Formed”, and if a church was already formed it could be imported into Texas. Parker returned to Lamote, Illinois and there on July 26, 1833 formed a church with seven members. He and the other church members traveled by wagon train to Texas in 1834. They settled in the Austin Settlement, but later they moved to Nacogdoches because of the Mexican threat.
Abner Smith actually formed the fi rst Baptist church in Texas on March 29, 1834. Th is church, “Th e Providence Church,” was on the Colorado River just below the present town of Bastrop and was an off shoot of the Parker Church. Parker, a “Primitive Baptist”, was anti-missions, but today nine Texas Baptist Churches have their roots in the original Parker church.
The first Missionary Baptist Church was formed in November, 1837 at Washington-on-the-Brazos. Z. N. Morrell found a few Baptists there, but not a church. The population of Washington-on-the-Brazos was growing, and there were a large number of idle soldiers who had been recently mustered out of the Texas army. Rowdiness, gambling and oversupply of intoxicating drink convinced the Baptists that they needed to bring the gospel to Washington. Under the leadership of Morrell, they formed a Missionary Baptist Church. In the following years it is said that Z. N. Morrell rode horseback more than 100,000 miles sharing the gospel all across South Texas.
In Texas, the mission zeal grew and in January 1881, Anne and her husband William “Buck” Bagsby sailed for Brazil. Thus, began the saga of the “Bagsby’s of Brazil,” which saw five generations of Bagsby’s (Texans) serve in Brazil. Ann Luther Bagsby, the daughter of Anne and Buck, captured the heart of Texas Baptists. Perhaps no other person did more to awaken Texans to the foreign-mission challenge.
Following World War II there was a swell in the ranks of Baptist Missionaries around the world. In 2000, there were more than 5,000 Baptist Missionaries serv- ing in more than 130 countries. It has been estimated that more than 2,000 of these Baptist Missionaries were from Texas.
Many of our great Baptist missionary heroes came from Texas. Keith Parks, Avery Willis, Marvin Leach in South East Asia; Jimmy Hooten, Gordon Fort, John Witte in Africa; Thurmon Bryant, Boyd O’Neal in Brazil; Bob Makechern in Korea; all were Texans. Just to name a few.
There’s something about the Baptist spirit that grows a missional heart. I think it is the love of the scriptures read in the light of an ever-changing world, and a deep love for people, especially those who are lost, and don’t know their way home. Pray that God will grow such a heart in each of us and in our congregation. For unless we are passionate about our mission for Christ in a broken world, all our proud talk about being Baptist doesn’t really matter.
The facts and ideas presented in this article originated in a variety of writings from the International Mission Board, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Wikipedia and McBeth’s book, “Texas Baptist.”