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Coleman’s development efforts to bring missions untold dollars

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–If one way to value a man’s work is measuring the legacy he leaves, then David Coleman’s contributions to the Southern Baptist International Mission Board are significant.
Coleman, 55, was recognized for 29 years of service with the board as he retired in October to take the reins of a multi-faceted urban mission in Atlanta.
“We’re going to Atlanta to take up a God-sized task,” Coleman says. “We don’t have the personal resources to meet the need. But God has always met our needs.”
His friends say that’s one thing that sets him apart: At an age when others kick back, he’s just gearing up to start anew and trusting God for the results. Such a fresh approach is one of his trademarks.
As a missionary, Coleman helped lead Zimbabwe Baptists to take over ministries started by his missionary colleagues. Today the Zimbabwe Baptist Convention continues to assume more and more responsibility and continues to grow in size and strength. In 1996, Zimbabwe Baptists reported 5,284 baptisms and 24 new churches.
In the States, as the board’s director of development the past eight years, Coleman translated his love and belief in Southern Baptist missions into a desire to see others contribute. He hit Southern Baptists in one of the places it helps the most — the pocketbook.
“This hasn’t been what you might call ‘traditional’ ministry, but it has helped to advance the cause of Christ around the world,” says David Button, the board’s vice president for public relations and development. “That’s this board’s primary objective, and I don’t know of anyone who has been any more committed to it than David.”
Fighting the inertia of Southern Baptist tradition, Coleman worked in recent years to offer Southern Baptists more ways to give directly to field needs. In 1992, he began working with churches to help them tailor special mission offerings to specific needs on the field.
The annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and contributions from churches to Southern Baptists’ unified giving plan, the Cooperative Program, historically have underwritten the board’s overseas work. But in the 1990s, many Southern Baptists — like Americans in general — are responding better to a more personal hands-on approach to giving, Coleman says.
“David combined competence in his field of fund-raising and a clear understanding of the missionary task,” says Don R. Kammerdiener, the board’s executive vice president. Untold dollars he raised have yet to be seen; they will come through gifts from the estates of future donors after they die.
When increases in giving to the board through its primary channels temporarily lost steam a few years ago, Coleman and others worked to create a strategic giving plan — allowing donors to give to specific needs on the field. The “Solutions” program for the first time publicly encouraged individuals or groups to earmark money to pay for missionary projects.
“We saw what was happening on the field,” Coleman recalls. Giving was inadequate to fully fund all the proposed capital needs, such as vehicles and buildings. “Plus, donor mentality was such that they wanted to find more direct ways to give.”
One idea he advocated was allowing donors to use credit cards. “I was almost laughed out of a meeting when I first mentioned this,” he says. “But the first gift we processed with a credit card was for $25,000.” The donor used his card to gain frequent flyer points with an airline.
A recognized leader among colleagues on the field, Coleman and his wife, Linda, were invited to attend a ceremony as heads of states converged in the country to affirm England’s last hurrah in Zimbabwe — when Prince Charles in 1980 signed papers recognizing Zimbabwe’s independence from colonial rule.
The Colemans were among those who had continued to work in the country — then Rhodesia — as it fought for independence. At one point after war broke out in 1973, the number of missionaries in the country shrank from 75 to 25.
Coleman saw his role as business manager and treasurer on the field as primarily a support to help free other missionaries to work, but he also invested himself in establishing churches that still meet today. His wife stayed active in women’s work and was elected the first woman chairman of the organization of missionaries in Zimbabwe.

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  • Marty Croll