News Articles

Dollar’s fall hits IMB missions hard

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Suppose the dollars in your next paycheck lost almost half their value. Would you be able to pay the bills –- much less buy anything extra?

That’s the discouraging reality some Southern Baptist missionaries face as the U.S. dollar continues its steep fall in value against overseas currencies. International Mission Board finance officials project Southern Baptists will need to meet their $165 million goal for the 2007 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions just to sustain ministry budgets funded by last year’s record $150 million offering.

If you bought an imported car or other foreign-made products this year, you’ve probably felt the pinch of the shrinking dollar. Imagine having to buy everything from overseas –- with money that keeps losing value. That is what American missionaries living abroad –- but supported by U.S. dollars -– have to do. When the dollar is strong against other currencies, missionaries have extra buying power. But the days of the reliably strong dollar are gone, at least for now.

“Unlike most U.S. exporters who benefit from a weak dollar that makes their goods cheaper on international markets, our export is our missionaries –- who are spending U.S. dollars,” said David Steverson, IMB treasurer and vice president for finance. “The costs for both the International Mission Board and each missionary have increased in direct proportion to the weakening of the dollar.”

Southern Baptists topped the 2006 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal of $150 million by nearly $200,000, delivering the largest gift in the offering’s 118-year history. It also marked an 8.9 percent increase over the 2005 offering of $137.9 million. The 2006 offering has funded more than half the International Mission Board’s total budget of $288.9 million budget for 2007. Ongoing Southern Baptist missions giving through the Cooperative Program is paying for much of the remainder. The majority of the IMB overseas budget goes to support more than 5,300 missionaries worldwide. What’s left pays for ministry budgets and capital expenses.


“We are grateful to Southern Baptists for the support they provide the International Mission Board and our personnel around the world,” said Steverson. “But the weak dollar has had a tremendous impact on the purchasing power of the dollars we are spending. As an example, in 2002 you could buy one Euro for one U.S. dollar. In January 2006, that same Euro was $1.17; in January 2007, it was $1.27 and today that same Euro will cost our personnel $1.45.

Not every missionary budget has been hit that hard. Also, IMB missionaries receive periodic cost-of-living increases (or decreases), depending on general inflation and the dollar’s value in the countries where they serve. But the weakness of the dollar is being felt to one degree or another worldwide.

“Nobody’s exempt,” reported Gary Stevens, leader of the IMB Financial Support Group.

Cost-of-living adjustments for missionaries are calculated based on the changing dollar cost of a typical “market basket of goods and services” –- i.e., basic family living expenses. During the first 10 months of 2007, Stevens said, overall cost-of-living increases for missionaries increased nearly $1.8 million to $15.5 million -– a jump of 13 percent over the same period last year.

Here’s an even more alarming statistic: In a typical year on 160 selected mission fields, dollar values change an average of 240 times -– with half reflecting rises in the dollar’s value against local currencies and half showing decreases. So far this year, rates have changed 400 times, with 387 of them hurting the dollar’s buying power.

“Missionaries continue to fall behind in buying power for at least a couple of months before their pay can be adjusted upward for the increasing living costs,” Stevens said.

At least there are adjustments for missionary living expenses. Mission operating budgets, which pay for actual ministries, have no such protection.

“There is no supplement to adjust those budgets for loss in value of the dollar,” Steverson said. “Our missionaries simply have fewer funds to work with.”

That means less money for evangelism, discipleship programs, church-starting –- the ministries missionaries are sent overseas to carry out in the first place.

Consider Northern Africa and the Middle East, one of the primary global centers of spiritual lostness. Currencies (and mission budgets) in many countries there are pegged to the Euro or the British pound. IMB workers in the region have lost about 35 percent of their buying power since 2003.

“Where it’s hitting us mostly is in the cost of housing,” explained John Brady, regional leader for Northern Africa and the Middle East. “We got one of the largest increases in our overseas budget this year, and every dime of it has gone toward housing. You may be paying the same rent for a place in terms of whatever the local currency is, but you’re paying more in dollars. So we’re having to ask people to look for other places to live, to find someplace cheaper. That slows them down as they readjust everything. Those are big energy and emotion eaters when you have to break your nest apart and set it up again in a foreign place.

“We didn’t get to increase our training. We didn’t get to increase our Bibles. We’re having to cut back on all sorts of things – not because Southern Baptists aren’t giving more, but because of the weakness of the dollar.”

Brady thanked Southern Baptists for “raising the bar” in Lottie Moon giving last year. He appealed to them to “keep moving it up” so missionaries can not only live overseas but minister more effectively.
To learn more about supporting missions though the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, visit imb.org/main/give or call (800) 999-3113.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges