RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–It didn’t look like they would be going overseas anytime soon.
After selling their house, saying goodbye to friends and giving away their miniature collie Q-tip, Tim and Audrey Shepard* were told there wasn’t enough money to send them to the mission field — at least not until next year.
Because of reduced giving to the 2008 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and fallout from a tough economy, the International Mission Board put on hold some missionaries it had planned to send this year.
When word of the shortfall began to spread, pastors and other leaders launched a grassroots effort on behalf of overseas missions, and many Southern Baptists responded.
The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention was one of the first, presenting a check for $100,000 at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in June. Those who attended the Pastors’ Conference gave an additional $43,000. In August, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary students, faculty and staff took up a special offering of $60,000.
These along with other gifts from across the convention will result in 25 more missionaries — including the Shepards — being appointed this fall.
For the Shepards, the delay has been challenging, but God has provided. Both were able to keep their jobs — one as a middle school math teacher and the other a school psychologist — and their family was able to move into a condominium owned by Audrey’s sister.
“It’s fantastic!” Tim Shepard says. “Southern Baptists are so missions-minded — obviously those who are aware of the shortfall are trying to do something about it.”
Now the couple will be able to share Jesus among 24 minority groups — 18 of whom are untouched by the Gospel — in Asia. Without the Shepards, there would only be one other couple to work among more than a million people. The Shepards will help with ministry logistics, training national partners and following up with new believers and others who have expressed an interest in Christ.
After the IMB announced cutbacks this past spring, encouraging phone calls and e-mails started rolling in to the organization. Pastors and ministry leaders shared how their congregations had sacrificed a Sunday’s offering or collected special offerings for international missions.
While the mission board has not yet received all of the anticipated funds, the decision to appoint 25 additional personnel was based on reports sent in by pastors and denominational leaders.
“We are humbled and gratified when we hear about churches encouraging their people to dig deeper than ever and taking special offerings so that more people can go to spread the Good News,” IMB treasurer David Steverson said.
“While we rejoice in these special offerings … we must ensure to the best of our abilities that whoever is sent will be able to be sustained for the long term,” Steverson added. “We pray that those who gave a special gift this summer will give again during their church’s regular focus on international missions or Lottie Moon Christmas Offering campaign.”
Last year, giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering fell about $9 million short of the previous year’s offering and $29 million short of its goal. This year’s goal is set at $175 million. Continued support through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is crucial to continuing the work, Steverson said.
News of the shortfall challenged Michael Cloer, pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, N.C., to rethink his priorities. Even with Englewood in the midst of a $1.1 million building project, Cloer said he felt convicted to respond to the shortfall.
“The Lord impressed upon my heart to put His Kingdom first before our own needs here at Englewood,” Cloer said. “This is a no-brainer … we’ve got to do this.”
In response, the congregation set aside the fourth Sunday in August to give their entire offering to international missions. The church usually runs about 1,000 people in three worship services on Sunday mornings. That day the church collected $76,209 — an amount Cloer noted was above their usual weekly offering.
“It’s a tough time, but we believed and stepped out [in faith],” Cloer said. “We’ve been hit just like everybody else in the economy … and God has taken care of us.”
About an hour’s drive west at Cresset Baptist Church in Durham, the congregation of about 175 also decided to take a special offering for international missions. Instead of challenging everyone to “give large amounts,” pastor Jon Glass encouraged them to consider what would happen if every Southern Baptist gave $5. He then set a goal of $1,000.
When all the money was counted, the church had collected $4,700.
Glass, who started as pastor of Cresset in February, said the church’s response renewed his appreciation for the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which allow Southern Baptists to pool their resources.
“If every Southern Baptist who attends church on a Sunday were to give about $5, then it would make up for the shortfall,” Glass said. “We could continue to do so much work around the world.”
‘HOW COULD WE NOT?’
Teens at Super Summer evangelism and leadership camps in Missouri also joined in the effort, with campers sacrificing money they had planned to spend on T-shirts, pizza or CDs for international missions.
“There were audible gasps when I laid out the shortfall in giving,” said Matt Kearns, student ministry director for the Missouri Baptist Convention. “When I asked, ‘Would you all be interested in [giving to international missions]?’ they cheered.”
During the two weeks of camps, students gave more than $3,000 to international missions.
“There were piles and piles of dollar bills,” Kearns said.
Kearns and his ministry team of about 30 people then chipped in, raising the total to $6,000. He admits his team didn’t know about their part until he announced it onstage.
“Every one of them responded by giving … how could we not?”
*Names changed. Shawn Hendricks is a writer for the International Mission Board.