Southern Baptist churches and their 5,376 missionaries around the world are celebrating a monumental $136.2 million response to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. When the books on the 2003 offering closed May 31, the total stood at an astounding $136,204,648—an increase of almost $21.2 million (18.4 percent) over 2002. It is the largest dollar increase in the offering’s 115-year history.
“Because Southern Baptists gave so unselfishly to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, we are sending out more missionaries this year,” said International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin. “The result will be that more people groups will be engaged and more individuals will hear the gospel.
The IMB was forced to limit missionary appointments and cut stateside staff last year because income from churches was not keeping pace with the strong growth in number of new volunteers coming forward for overseas missions. After projections indicated the 2003 offering would surpass its $135 million goal, International Mission Board trustees voted in May to send 200 more long- and short-term missionaries than previously planned. Now following the close of the 2003 offering, the board can loosen restrictions on missionary appointments, Rankin said.
“Southern Baptists are shouting ‘Glory to God!’ over this marvelous response to the needs of a lost world,” Rankin stated. “God’s people feel His heartbreak over 1.6 billion people with little hope of even hearing about Jesus Christ. They were distressed that qualified missionaries were being held back for lack of finances. And they responded with a vision and passion only God’s Spirit can inspire.”
The Woman’s Missionary Union, which promotes and supports missions offerings in cooperation with the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board, also played a large role in offering’s successful outcome. “We are especially grateful to Woman’s Missionary Union for their whole-hearted partnership in encouraging Southern Baptists to step up to this tremendous challenge,” Rankin commented.
“God’s desire is for all the world’s peoples to know Him, and His spirit is moving in Southern Baptist churches to fulfill the Great Commission in their Jerusalems, Judeas, and Samarias – as well as to the ends of the earth.”
According to Gordon Fort, the IMB’s vice president for overseas operations, more than 510,000 believers were baptized by Southern Baptist missionaries and their national Baptist co-workers last year. “Our missionaries were able to engage 192 new people groups with the gospel,” Fort said.
“All the turmoil and uncertainty in the world is creating a spiritual hunger, and people are unusually responsive to the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Traditional barriers are falling, and God is opening doors that have been closed for centuries. The harvest is accelerating, and God is calling out more laborers to work in the fields.”
In 2003, the number of long-term missionary personnel rose above 4,000 for the first time, in spite of restrictions placed on appointments for financial reasons. The IMB ended the year with 5,370 missionaries in service. This year’s figures are expected to exceed previous totals significantly.