RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Despite financial hardships caused by the economic downturn, Southern Baptists gave $141 million to support the work of missionaries through the 2008 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. But the total, which fell nearly $30 million short of the $170 million goal, is not enough to fund many of those who are ready to go.
The $30 million shortfall is equivalent to what it costs to support the work of approximately 667 international missionaries for a year. The final figure for the 2008 offering is $141,315,110.24, which is more than $9 million below of the record 2007 offering of $150.4 million.
“We are grateful that in these difficult economic times Southern Baptists displayed amazing generosity in giving $141 million to the 2008 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering,” said Jerry Rankin, International Mission Board president.
“When many families are hurting financially and churches are experiencing a decline in giving, faithfulness to the support of the International Mission Board reflects the high priority given to global missions and our responsibility to reach a lost world for Jesus Christ.”
The final offering results follow a May 19-20 IMB trustee meeting in Denver during which trustees approved the suspension of new appointments to the International Service Corps and Masters programs. They also approved reducing the number of new appointments to the career, apprentice, associate and journeyman programs.
New appointments will continue on a more selective basis, involving the most strategic assignments.
The IMB spends 71 percent of its total budget, including the Lottie Moon offering and a major portion of funds received from the Cooperative Program, on missionary support, encompassing salaries, housing, medical care and children’s education. It averages approximately $43,000 annually per missionary.
By the end of 2010, the IMB’s missionary force of 5,656 is expected to fall to a level “compatible with financial resources,” Rankin said. The reduction will occur through retirements and completion of service.
“We will not be able to replace short-term personnel completing their assignments and will have to restrict the number of new personnel that can be appointed,” he said.
Just a year ago, the IMB celebrated the offering hitting a historic mark. Cumulative gifts to the offering, which was initiated by the Woman’s Missionary Union in 1888, topped $3 billion.
“We are grateful for the sacrificial giving of Southern Baptists to missions,” said Wanda Lee, executive director-treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union. “This year’s giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering may be more sacrificial for some than ever before considering the level of unemployment and loss of income experienced by many in our churches. And yet, Christ’s command to go into all the world compels us to give in support of our missionaries during these challenging times.
“I believe if we keep our hearts focused on the mandate of the Great Commission, God will be faithful in providing the people and financial resources needed to reach a world desperately in need of the hope found in Christ,” Lee said.
In November 2008, 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. Now, though the number of Southern Baptists who want to go — and are qualified — keeps growing, there are not enough funds to support them.
With the growing number of job losses and the decline in financial markets, IMB treasurer David Steverson said the organization’s situation could have been far worse.
“When you consider the number of our constituency who have lost jobs and are directly affected by this economy,” Steverson said, “we are grateful that the offering experienced only a 6 percent decline,” which nevertheless is the largest dollar decrease in the history of the offering.
Over the years, the Lottie Moon offering has consistently reflected a heart for missions on the part of Southern Baptists. In the past 75 years, including this year, it has only been down four times. Totals since 2000 have been:
2008 — $141,315,110
2007 — $150,409,654
2006 — $150,250,000
2005 — $137,939,677
2004 — $133,886,222
2003 — $136,204,648
2002 — $115,015,216
2001 — $113,709,471
2000 — $113,175,192
Rankin said the stakes have never been higher for Southern Baptists to take the Gospel to a lost world.
“Never before have we seen such unprecedented response to the Gospel and opportunity to disciple the nations,” he said. “God is moving through global events to open opportunities to share the Gospel as never before.”
According to the 2008 IMB Annual Statistical Report, 565,967 people were baptized and 26,970 churches were started overseas through IMB missionaries and their Baptist partners. The Gospel also was shared among more than 1,190 people groups — 100 of these groups heard about Jesus for the first time.
“We need to realize that God has blessed Southern Baptists with numbers and resources to be His instrument to fulfill His mission to the ends of the earth,” Rankin said. “One day we will stand accountable to Him for how we have used our resources.
“It breaks my heart that God-called people want to go — and millions need to hear the Gospel message from them — yet we don’t have the funds to send them. I pray this situation will convict our hearts and challenge His people to do whatever it takes to get the Gospel to the whole world.”
Shawn Hendricks is a writer for the International Mission Board. To learn more about the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, visit imb.org/main/give.