News Articles

African American IMB involvement, divorce policy addressed by trustees

HOUSTON (BP)–Southern Baptist International Mission Board trustees voted to more aggressively pursue African American involvement in missionary efforts, declined to change the board’s current policy on divorced people serving overseas and received a report showing that the rate of missionary retirements and resignations remains low.
The actions came Jan. 26-27 during a regularly scheduled board meeting in Houston.
The decision to pursue more African American involvement grew out of a realization that African American missions involvement is not increasing as fast as Hispanic and Asian Southern Baptist involvement. The number of African American IMB missionaries stands at 16, the highest this century. Whereas African American SBC churches are beginning to sponsor volunteer mission trips overseas, the rate remains low compared to other groups.
Trustees approved a relationship with Shalom, a ministry that, among other things, mobilizes African American Southern Baptists to be on mission with God around the world.
Shalom founder and leader Julian Dangerfield said the organization “is not a black organization but those are the doors that God is opening to us.”
Dangerfield, an African American layman who lives in Dale City, Va., a suburb of Washington, said several years ago God moved him to help churches become more aware of the Great Commission mandate to carry the gospel throughout the world. He said his own awareness began with a volunteer mission trip to Uganda.
Gary Frost, a former SBC second vice president and former president of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio, and David Cornelius of the board’s African American church relations department are both on the Shalom board.
The vote on the divorce issue was a response to a request made at the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Salt Lake City for the IMB to study its current policy on appointing divorced people. That policy allows people who have been divorced to serve only as International Service Corps personnel for periods of two years or less.
Though discussion on the floor itself was rather limited, Oklahoma trustee Alan Day said the divorce issue created “the potential for divisiveness like I’ve not seen on the board.” Day has been a trustee five years.
A motion to cut off debate on the divorce issue passed 32-24, then trustees voted 46-12 to affirm the present policy. Later, those who opposed the reaffirmation asked that the issue be brought back to the floor so they could vote with the majority and make it unanimous. The final recorded vote showed a unanimous endorsement of the current policy.
Trustees agreed without a vote to revisit the issue at a later time.
A report on missionary attrition showed that in 1998 resignations and deaths amounted to 4 percent of the missionary force. This is the lowest number in four years and is in line with rates throughout the 1990s.
The report, presented annually to trustees, helped answer questions about whether the board’s “New Directions” philosophy of taking the gospel to the whole world through aggressive church planting was creating an exodus of missionaries from the more traditional mission fields.
The report, coupled with previously announced statistics for 1998 that show a significant net increase of 322 missionaries on the field, seemed to dispel any concerns about missionary unrest.
In 1998, the IMB appointed a record 885 new missionaries — up nearly 40 percent from previous years — bringing the year-end total of missionaries in service to 4,570.
In his report to the trustees, IMB President Jerry Rankin said, if the growth rate seen last year continues, the agency will likely meet the Bold Mission Thrust goal of 5,000 missionaries by the fall of 2000.
“I want to emphasize that we are not being driven to reach an arbitrary goal of 5,000 missionaries, as our objective is to be obedient in sending out and supporting those whom God is calling, whatever the number may be,” Rankin told trustees. “However, it is readily apparent that if we have the same net growth over these next two years, or even approximate the current trend, we will readily exceed 5,000 missionaries under appointment by the end of 2000.”
The Bold Mission Thrust goal was set in the mid-1970s. The missionary count was part of a larger plan for denominational advancement.
Rankin noted more than 13,000 individuals have been appointed in the 154-year history of the SBC. More than half of those have been appointed since the mid-1970s and more than one-third of the 13,000 are actively serving today.
“Parallel with personnel growth has been evidence of God at work as never before around the world,” Rankin said.
Citing recent statistics showing explosive growth in the number of baptisms, churches and preaching points overseas, Rankin said, “It is not our organization or strategies that are responsible for this; God is at work and we are challenged to focus our strategies and adapt our organization so that we can effectively participate in what God is doing.”
In other action, trustees:
— elected veteran IMB missionary and administrator Lloyd Atkinson as vice president for the office of mission personnel.
— heard a report from Jim Fergurson, executive director of Texas Baptist Men, about an unidentified woman in Texas who sent two necklaces, worth about $200 each, to his office and asked that they be sold to raise funds for IMB relief work with hurricane victims in Honduras.

    About the Author

  • Louis Moore