EDITOR’S NOTE: Every penny given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is used to support more than 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries as they share the Gospel overseas. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. The 2010 emphasis is a celebration of what God has done in recent years, praising Him for allowing Southern Baptists to be a part of His work. Are we there yet? Not yet, but reaching those who remain untouched by the Gospel is a doable task. They will be the hardest to reach, requiring that we pray, go, partner and give as never before. The 2010 Week of Prayer for International Missions is Nov. 28-Dec. 5.
By Don Graham
PRAGUE (BP) — Never underestimate the difference one person can make.
Mark and Vesta Sauter came to the Czech Republic to start churches among the nation’s 50,000 Deaf. But the missionaries weren’t seeing a lot of interest until God brought them an unlikely volunteer — 90-year-old Lillian Beard.
Lillian was a pioneer for Deaf work among Southern Baptists and a life-long mentor to Vesta. The women shared a common bond; as hearing children of Deaf parents, both learned sign as their first language.
Despite protests from friends, Lillian was determined to go to the Czech Republic to help the Sauters, even if it killed her. Vesta arranged for Lillian to speak at a Deaf community center in Prague, where her testimony touched a particularly hard-hearted Deaf Czech named Anna Smolkova.
Anna was the matriarch of a large Deaf family that was well-connected within Deaf Czech circles. Vesta knew that her conversion could catalyze the Sauters’ efforts to plant the country’s first Deaf church, but so far Anna had been very resistant — even hostile — to the Gospel.
“She said, ‘I want to make very clear to you that I don’t want anyone in my family to follow this Jesus,’” Vesta remembers. “She was just a bitter, angry woman.”
But Anna had never met someone like Lillian.
“The Deaf people [in the community center] were shocked [that a 90-year-old had come from the U.S. to speak to them],” Anna says. “I was amazed at how beautiful [her countenance] was, how she radiated. Something touched me inside about her, and I went and I knelt down before her and said, ‘What is it? Why are you so beautiful? Why do you radiate?’ And she signed to me, ‘It’s the love of Jesus.’ That struck a chord in my heart and a conviction, and I couldn’t run from it.”
Anna gave her life to Christ and quickly became the Sauters’ church-planting partner. God used her influence to lead dozens of Deaf to Christ, including many of her own family. What’s more, there are now six Deaf churches scattered across the Czech Republic as a direct result of Anna’s efforts — and Lillian’s obedience to God’s call.
The Sauters also credit much of the success to Southern Baptists’ commitment to pray when their ministry was a focus for the 2001 Week of Prayer.
“If every Deaf believer in the Czech Republic could stand before you today, their first words would be ‘Thank you, Southern Baptists,’ for making possible the spreading of the Gospel through their families and their communities,” Vesta says. “Today, we have Deaf-led churches because Southern Baptists gave, because they prayed, and because they even came as volunteers.”
Today, 10 years after Lillian’s visit, Anna continues to share Christ among Deaf Czechs and speaks fondly of her American friend who led her to Jesus. Lillian died in June of 2010 at the age of 101. She was an active advocate for the Deaf and for her Savior. God has since broadened the scope of the Sauters’ work — they now lead IMB’s global efforts to reach the Deaf.
Don Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.