What appeared to local believers to be a physical resurrection from the dead among an unengaged, unreached people group in Southeast Asia has opened a door for Gospel witness and highlighted what International Mission Board President David Platt called "God's power to supernaturally save sinners."
Platt recounted the story -- which, though atypical in Western experience, bore similarities to biblical accounts of raising the dead -- during his report to the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee Sept. 19 in Nashville. The episode illustrates, he said, the spiritual fruit that has come as IMB missionaries have shared the Gospel with "biblical clarity, precision and consistency."
Relaying the account of an IMB worker, Platt said a Southeast Asian believer trained by Southern Baptist missionaries took some friends with him and began sharing the Gospel in a village "that was totally unreached with the Gospel until they got there." The villagers responded by listening, attending Bible studies and expressing the sentiment, "Maybe this is true."
As villagers became interested in Christianity, they brought idols, necklaces and amulets associated with the occult to the center of the village to be burned, Platt said. In a reversal, however, one day all the villagers began taking back their occult-related items.
The believers learned upon inquiring that the village leader had died and his people believed his demise was the work of evil spirits who were displeased at the setting aside of sacred objects.
Discouraged, the Christians went to express their condolences at a house where the man's body lay.
Standing over his body, they began praying "that God would show His mercy to the people in the village, that God would show His glory and His love to that people who were so close," Platt said.
"This Asian believer tells our missionary," Platt said, "that as they were praying there over the man, all of the sudden the man coughed. Everybody in the house got really still. And the man coughed again. People came rushing over, and the village leader started breathing. People started helping him up. Everybody's looking at these Asian believers like, 'What happened?'
"They decided this was as good a time as any to share the Gospel," Platt said. "So they shared the Gospel, and in the days to come, people started coming to faith in Christ and that village starting burning their idols."
Platt, acknowledging he doesn't know if the man was really dead, offered an evaluation.
"I do know [that] at villages like this, they know how to recognize death," he said. Yet "even if he wasn't dead, God sure chose an opportune moment for that guy to cough."
Regardless of the physiological particulars underlying the astonishing event, Platt said, God was at work drawing people to a saving relationship with Christ. The IMB president said he hopes believers from all walks of life will consider service on the international mission field, where they too can experience the Lord's power to save sinners.
As an example of how believers from various walks of life can travel the "limitless" paths to missionary service, Platt said a fully-funded IMB couple might be joined on the field by another couple in which the wife is employed locally as a teacher and another in which the husband is employed as an oil and gas executive. Together the three couples could strategically evangelize their city.
Students, retirees, professionals and others, Platt said, have opportunities to expand Southern Baptists' missionary force exponentially by using traditionally non-religious funding sources to get in position to share Jesus with the nations.
Regarding the apparent Southeast Asian resurrection, Platt concluded, "There are some things I don't know, but here's what I do know: We have the Good News of a God who has conquered death, who has power to say to the dead, 'Come to life.' So brothers and sisters, let's work together to see thousands upon thousands of Southern Baptists proclaiming that Good News to the ends of the earth."
David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP (bpnews.net) reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.