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Hunt says take off the gloves, Rankin challenges Baptists to adjust priorities

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IMB suspends short-term assignments, reduces new appointments

5/21/2009

By Shawn Hendricks and Erich Bridges

DENVER, Colo. (BP)--In response to reduced giving during the current economic downturn, International Mission Board trustees approved suspending new appointments to the International Service Corps and Masters programs at their May 19-20 meeting in Denver, Colo.

The IMB also will reduce the number of new appointments to its career, apprentice and associate programs. New appointments will continue on a more selective basis, involving the most strategic assignments.

Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt, who spoke at the meeting, contended Southern Baptists will respond in this crisis.

“It is not acceptable in my heart that we can have missionaries in the pipeline and need to tell them we can’t send them,” he said. “I believe that the people of God will rise to the occasion.”

But he also noted: “We will have a significant reduction (of missionary appointments) in 2010 … unless Southern Baptists respond.”

This comes after a year when Southern Baptists sent out 1,088 new missionaries through the IMB, and at a time when the number of people responding to a call to international missions is high.

“Today, we have more candidates knocking on our door and downloading our applications than ever before,” said Paul Chitwood, IMB trustee chairman.

“Yet on this day when God has answered our prayers for workers for His harvest, lack of funding has forced us to temporarily suspend categories for service.”

Trustees had tears in their eyes as they approved the recommendations to suspend and reduce missionary sending.

SUSPENSION DETAILS

The suspension of new assignments to the ISC and Masters programs will take effect immediately and continue until further review in early 2010.

The ISC Program is designed for Southern Baptists age 21 and over who wish to serve two- or three-year terms abroad; the Masters Program is for people age 50 and over.

More than 800 ISC and Masters missionaries currently working overseas will continue their service.

Other short-term programs — the Journeyman Program and “2-plus-2” — will continue, but new appointments will be limited to the most strategic assignments.

The Journeyman Program sends 20-something, single college graduates overseas for two years. The “2-plus-2” Program involves two years of seminary study and two years of missionary service abroad.

These adjustments are vital since 70 percent of the organization’s budget and financial resources go toward the support of missionary personnel, said IMB officials.

RIDING OUT THE STORM

This past fall IMB trustees adopted a $319.8 million budget for 2009 — $10 million of which was earmarked to offset the rising cost of support for the missionaries already on the field.

The 2009 budget made no provision for an increase in the number of missionaries. Rising numbers of Southern Baptists have offered their lives for mission service in response to a call they sense from God. The number who want to go — and are qualified — keeps growing, but there are not enough funds to support them.

FALLING SHORT

The results for the 2008 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions are still being collected and will be released in a few weeks. However, early projections show that the offering is expected to fall short of the $150 million received in 2007.

Investment losses, a slight downturn in Southern Baptist Cooperative Program giving and harsh economic conditions also have taken a toll on IMB funding.

“The economic recession has had an impact on every facet of our nation, including Southern Baptists and our churches, and our overall income is not unaffected,” IMB treasurer David Steverson told the trustees.

“The overall economy contributed to a decrease in nearly every income category.”

Though significant adjustments will be necessary to meet future needs, Steverson remains optimistic.

“The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Cooperative Program have held up dramatically well when you consider everything happening in our economy,” he said.

“We must be about our Father’s business,” he added. “[God] has given us a task, a mission and we must remain faithful to what He has called us to do.”

HONORING REGIONAL LEADERS

Trustees recognized 11 regional leaders who have guided the work of the organization across the globe in recent years. Most will move into new roles under a reorganization taking effect in July.

“These field leaders have been a major factor in getting us to where we are today,” said Jerry Rankin, president of the IMB.

“Their vision and passion for the peoples of their region, their strategic thinking, influence and relationship skills … enabled them to serve the IMB and Southern Baptists effectively and advance God’s kingdom.”

In other business, trustees voted to cancel the July 10-11 trustee meeting in light of the economic situation. An official decision will be made in the coming days. The July 12 appointment service will still be held in Lebanon, Ohio.

And:

- appointed 101 new missionaries at Riverside Baptist Church in Denver.

- received a report that $2,110,310.96 in Hunger and General Relief Funds had been used for 82 projects. A total of $1,673,163.10 was released to support world hunger needs, $381,726.86 to support general relief needs and $55,421 to support four 2004 tsunami relief projects. Of these 82 projects, 50 supported community development ministries and 32 supported disaster relief efforts.

- elected officers for 2009-2010. Chairman: Paul Chitwood, Mount Washington, Ky.; first vice chairman, Simon Tsoi, Phoenix, Ariz.; second vice chairman, Steve Swofford, Rockwall, Texas; and secretary, Debbie Brunson, Jacksonville, Fla.

The next board meeting is planned for Sept. 15-16 in Jacksonville, Fla., where an appointment service is scheduled at First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Sept. 16.

Shawn Hendricks and Erich Bridges are writers with the International Mission Board.

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