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Baptists defy economy, terror attacks in record international missions gifts

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–In spite of economic turmoil and massive donations to help victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Southern Baptists increased their gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering by $532,804 in 2001.

Missions leaders expressed heartfelt appreciation for the commitment Southern Baptists continue to show for the challenge of bringing all the world’s people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

“We are grateful that God continues to prove his faithfulness through the generosity of Southern Baptists,” said Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board. “In spite of economic challenge, Southern Baptist churches have reflected their heart for missions and commitment for fulfilling the Great Commission.”

Southern Baptists always respond to a Great Commission challenge, said Wanda Lee, executive director of Woman’s Missionary Union.

“We are pleased with the response to the 2001 LMCO in light of all that has happened since Sept. 11,” Lee said. “When giving to other charitable causes and worthy ministries was down, giving to missions remained a priority among our churches.

“These results reinforce the truth that when our focus in the local church is centered on God’s call to share the gospel with a lost world, our members respond through committed praying and sacrificial giving. WMU continues to challenge the church to radical involvement in missions through both of these avenues.”

The $113,707,996 given by the churches was the largest international missions offering ever, said David Steverson, the International Mission Board’s vice president for finance. Though it fell short of the $120 million goal, the offering marked a .47 percent increase over 2000.

“While this increase is the smallest in recent years, we are overjoyed, considering all the events of this past year,” Steverson said. “After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the American economy and stock market really struggled in the fourth quarter of 2001. Americans gave the Red Cross almost $1 billion during that period. All that, while Southern Baptists were being asked to step up to the greatest challenge in missions giving they had ever faced.

“Many nonprofit organizations saw their incomes fall significantly this past year. We rejoice that the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is not only up, but the IMB’s total income also continues to be fairly steady.”

The agency had budgeted the entire $120 million goal for 2002, Steverson noted. The board now will drop the $3 million capital needs portion of that budget and find ways to offset the remaining $3.3 million planned for its overseas operating budget.

Unlike many other denominational missions agencies, the IMB is faced with the challenge of raising financial support for a rapidly increasing missionary force, Steverson said. While other such agencies have seen overseas personnel numbers declining, Southern Baptists are posting larger numbers of new missionaries each year.

In 2001, the IMB passed the 5,000 mark for overseas workers serving two years or longer and now is nudging the 5,300 mark, he said. And the agency is on a track to reach the 8,000 level by 2010.

The cost of supporting a rapidly growing missionary force is outstripping growth in financial support, Steverson said.

IMB budgets are always balanced and based strictly on receipts through the SBC’s Cooperative Program, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and smaller amounts of miscellaneous income, he said. Those income sources, however, are not growing at as fast a rate as the cost of supporting a growing overseas workforce.

Steverson is confident in God’s sovereignty.

“I am convinced God has a reason why he is choosing to grow the IMB in such a marvelous way,” he said. “And I am convinced he will provide the resources needed to support the rapid rise in the number of missionaries being sent out.”

For his part, Rankin knows Southern Baptists will respond to God’s call to give as readily as they are responding to his call to go.

“It would be tragic if we ever had to cut back on the flow of God-called missionaries being appointed to carry the gospel literally to the ends of the earth,” he said. “I am confident that Southern Baptists will make whatever sacrifice is necessary to keep missions the priority and provide the resources to enable us to be obedient to the unprecedented opportunities for outreach and harvest around the world today.”

Every dollar given to the Lottie Moon offering is used exclusively for missionaries and their ministries. None of it is spent for stateside administration or promotion.

Southern Baptists gave almost $113.2 million to the Lottie Moon offering in 2000. That represented an $8 million (7.3 percent) increase and the second-largest dollar increase since the offering’s inception in 1888.

For Christmas 2002, WMU and the International Mission Board have set a $125 million goal for the offering.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: GIFTS OF LOVE.

The International Mission Board is a Southern Baptist Convention agency supported by the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
— “That All Peoples May Know Him”: http://imb.org/ime.
— Who was Lottie Moon? http://www.imb.org/ime/lmco/bio%5Fshort.htm.
— Letters from Lottie Moon: http://www.imb.org/ime/lmco/letters.htm.
— See where God is moving throughout the world: http://www.imb.org/video.

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  • Mark Kelly