PHOENIX -- International Mission Board trustees celebrated reports of dramatic advances overseas and allocated money to cover deficits caused by the rapid growth in missionary numbers that is outstripping financial contributions from the churches.
During a Jan. 24 meeting in Phoenix, trustees also appointed 52 new missionaries, memorialized the three workers recently killed in Yemen, appropriated $4 million for information technology upgrades and heard a sobering report about trends in volunteer service.
Leaps of more than 40 percent in the number of new churches, new outreach groups and new believers in discipleship training show that God is at work in amazing ways through Southern Baptist missionaries and their overseas Baptist partners, said Avery Willis, the IMB's senior vice president for overseas operations, and Scott Holste, IMB research director.
A total of 8,369 churches were organized in 2002, an increase of 42.5 percent over the previous year. The number of new outreach groups jumped to 9,862, an increase of 44.1 percent over 2001. And 369,069 new believers were enrolled in discipleship training, an increase of 40.8 percent over 2001.
Those dramatic increases were bolstered by positive growth in every one of the other 10 categories the IMB uses to measure overseas progress, including 421,436 baptisms, an increase of 8.7 percent.
The trustees also were told that in 2002 IMB personnel engaged 138 new unreached people groups, representing a total of nearly 360 million people. A total of 22 major urban centers unreached by the gospel also were engaged for the first time.
"We are thrilled to see God at work in such power," Willis said. "He is glorifying his name in all the world through missionaries who possess his passion for a lost world.
"Southern Baptists should be proud of their missionaries. They are pressing ahead, regardless of the cost, in spite of difficulties and dangers, determined that every people group will have an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ."
GOING AND GIVING
Trustees appropriated $4.2 million in new funds to cover over-budget expenses in 2002 caused by record growth in the number of Southern Baptists coming forward for missionary service.
Two years of record missionary appointments and lower resignation rates have forced the IMB to overspend budgeted amounts for missionary support, said David Steverson, IMB vice president for finance. In addition, poor returns on investment income have required the board to pull $50 million from operating reserves over the past two years.
While Southern Baptists continue to give more each year to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon international missions offering, incremental increases in giving have not kept up with the soaring growth of the missionary force.
In November, IMB President Jerry Rankin said that, for the first time, board leaders are having to consider restricting the flow of new missionaries to the field because Southern Baptist giving has not been growing as quickly as Southern Baptist going.
The record $113.7 million Southern Baptists gave to the Lottie Moon offering in 2001 fell short of the $120 million goal. The offering's basic goal in 2002 was $125 million, with a challenge goal of $10 million. Offering receipts would have to increase 18.7 percent ($21.3 million) to meet the need created by the surge of new missionaries.
On top of that, the budget provides for a net increase of only 150 new missionaries in 2003, but IMB leaders expect that number to be 400 or more.
"Is it time to panic? In a word: no," Steverson said. "God is still on his throne and he controls all the resources we could ever dream of. In times like these, we may need to look more to him and less to ourselves."
The IMB is "facing a great opportunity brilliantly disguised as an impossible situation," said finance committee chairman John Hatch of Lake Jackson, Texas.
"With literally thousands of missionaries in the pipeline seeking appointment, it's our heart's desire to send just as many as God will allow us to send," Hatch said. "It is important that we understand the challenge we are facing today."
52 NEW WORKERS
The only reason missionaries venture into a dangerous world with the gospel message is that God has called them, Rankin told 52 new workers in a Jan. 24 evening service at North Phoenix Baptist Church.
"You do not go because Southern Baptists enlisted you, your church selected you or the IMB has deployed you, but because God has called you," Rankin said. "You have no assurance of harvest and response. You are going to people who have hardened hearts and are blind to the truth, but they can never respond if they have never heard.
"Though you go to places of risk and danger, though you encounter trials, illness, misfortune and even threats, do not fear the people or their words, but trust in God. He is your strength, your refuge, your stronghold. You go in his power, his protection and his provision."
The new missionaries were called out of a wide diversity of backgrounds. The congregation heard testimonies from a building contractor, a flight attendant, a surgeon, an environmental scientist, a vice president of a chemical company and a truck driver.
The appointment service brought the total number of Southern Baptist missionaries under appointment to 5,441.
The trustees opened their business session by taking time to remember Martha Myers, Bill Koehn and Kathy Gariety -- the three workers murdered Dec. 30 at the Baptist hospital in Jibla, Yemen -- and 33 other active and emeritus missionaries who died in 2002.
"When lost Yemenis looked at Martha Myers, Bill Koehn and Kathy Gariety and all their Christian colleagues, what they saw supremely was Jesus," Randy Sprinkle, director of the IMB's prayer strategy office, said. Christian workers at the hospital "not only showed Jesus, but they faithfully shared Jesus and they were generous in sharing the Word."
Don Caswell, the fourth victim of the Jibla shootings, was asked recently what he wanted to say to Southern Baptists, and Sprinkle said his reply was in essence: "Keep praying and keep obeying."
Asking the trustees to stand in commitment to that challenge, Sprinkle prayed: "Lord Jesus, we celebrate the faithful trophies of grace who kept the faith and finished their course and have heard the words we all long to hear, 'Well done.'
"We celebrate that precious in your fatherly eyes, oh God, is the death of your saints. We today humbly bow as your people and remember with gratitude and joy the example they are to us. We commit, by your grace, to be more faithful than we've ever been before, with a humble, holy boldness. Help us, that we may keep praying and keep obeying, that your Kingdom may come quickly in all the earth."
Myers, Koehn and Gariety prepared the soil for a harvest, IMB President Rankin said.
"Tertullian was the one who said, centuries ago, 'The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.' I have no doubt that the impact of the deaths of Bill, Martha and Kathy will bear abundant fruit in which the witness of their lives was simply preparation for what God is preparing to do."
The trustees transferred $4 million from operating reserves for a package of important upgrades to the board's information technology group.
The transfer will provide critical upgrades to server security software and both overseas and stateside payroll programs, said Cheri Boggess, ITG associate vice president. It also will advance a program to manage contacts with churches and other partners, as well as develop the capability of using CDs and DVDs to conduct software training for missionaries and stateside staff.
Trustees also appropriated $1.26 million to renovate a 52,000-square-foot warehouse purchased in September. The purchase allows the board to move its distribution and reprographics operations out of rented facilities costing more than $100,000 a year.
The IMB saw a dramatic decrease in 2002 in the number of volunteers willing and able to serve in short-term overseas assignments, said Bill Cashion, director of the IMB's volunteer office.
A number of factors, including the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., led to a 50 percent decrease in the number of high school students participating in overseas projects, Cashion said.
Even though the number of medical volunteers was up about 33 percent and collegiate volunteers were up 14 percent, the drop in high school participation helped plunged the total for 2002 to 26,767. Almost 34,000 Southern Baptists served overseas in short-term projects in 2001.
Cashion recalled hearing a young missions mobilizer tell a conference of Baptist leaders: "If war is declared [in Iraq], many people in our churches will stand and salute our young men and women who answer the call of their country, but many of those same people will do all they can to discourage and prohibit our young men and women from answering God's call to go this year."
IN OTHER MATTERS
The trustee's mobilization committee honored Bill Morgan, founding director of the IMB's Global Priority Network, which challenges Southern Baptist churches to organize themselves for serious involvement in completing the Great Commission.
Morgan, a Mississippi native, organized the GPN initiative, which in four years has grown to include 1,060 Southern Baptist churches. He will retire at the end of January after 39 years of missionary service in Brazil and IMB headquarters.
Morgan presented plaques to trustees whose churches have recently joined the Global Priority Network: Bill Hickman of First Baptist Church in Ashford, Ala.; Paul Chitwood of First Baptist Church in Somerset, Ky.; and Lonnie Wascom of Immanuel Baptist Church in Hammond, La.
Trustees also adopted a resolution affirming Empowering Kingdom Growth, an initiative to mobilize Southern Baptist churches to new heights of outreach and ministry. The emphasis was adopted by messengers to the 2002 SBC annual meeting in St. Louis.
The resolution endorsed the Empowering Kingdom Growth vision "as a covenant between denominational leaders and churches" and promised to "support and embrace every effort to bring about the lordship and reign of Jesus Christ in our lives, homes, churches, communities and throughout North America."
It pledged to help churches, associations, state conventions and other denominational entities "in expanding God's Kingdom to the uttermost ends of the earth" and promised to "strengthen relationships with other likeminded Baptist bodies around the world to extend the impact of Empowering Kingdom Growth."
Trustees also responded to two motions referred from the St. Louis meeting that would have instructed the IMB to rescind policies requiring current missionaries to sign the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.
The board's response noted that Rankin's Baptist Faith and Message request was an administrative action, not a board policy. As a result, there is no policy to rescind.
The trustee resolution also reaffirmed Rankin's request "in recognition of our doctrinal accountability to the Southern Baptist Convention."
In personnel matters, the trustees approved the transfer of 14 missionary units (24 people) to new fields and longevity salary increases for four units (six people). They granted emeritus status to 27 units (49 people).
Trustees also voted to accept the resignations of 18 missionary units (36 people) and terminated four missionaries.
None of the resignations cited the request to affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message as a factor in the decision to resign.
The next meeting of the IMB trustees will be held March 13-15 in Knoxville, Tenn. A missionary appointment service is planned for 7 p.m., March 15, at First Baptist Church Concord.
By Mark Kelly