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FIRST PERSON: A time for humility & thanks

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Times like this call for humility and thanks.

While individuals, families and churches across the country are struggling with the realities of an economic downturn, we at the IMB (International Mission Board) are struggling, too.

We are dealing with the sobering reality of a shortfall in last year’s Lottie Moon offering — we did not make our $170 million goal. When the final total of $141 million was counted, it fell $9 million short of what we received each of the past two years.

This has a profound effect on the work of Southern Baptist missionaries overseas. Every dollar from the offering goes to support their efforts; none is ever used for administration or promotion.

Also, the Cooperative Program funds from which we derive the rest of their support have been down from last year. Imagine sitting in my chair, as IMB treasurer, and looking at these numbers and knowing what they are telling us.

We’ve had to take drastic measures. We’re not sending the number of missionaries to the field we normally do. It means that some who are called, gifted and ready cannot go. We have canceled or scaled back short-term missionary programs knowing the results from some present work will not be realized.

Once again, imagine sitting in our last board meeting and watching our president and the chairman of our board openly weep when the motion was presented to curtail appointments.

The money is simply not there.

In such times it is easy to embrace the darker side. The economy still stutters. Many of our fellow Southern Baptists are out of work and struggling. A sense of recovery feels lost in an uncertain future. The dollar is struggling around the world, which also has a tremendous effect on our budget.

But with all of the negative, I prefer to look at the brighter side.

In one of the worst economies in decades, Southern Baptists gave the third largest Lottie Moon offering in our history. The Cooperative Program remains one of the best tools anywhere to support missions at all levels. Even in hard times, Southern Baptists continue to produce more people who are called and committed to going onto international mission fields than we have yet found ways to fund. Most importantly, God is still on His throne and remains in control of all we do.

It’s a wonderful challenge to have.

Our funding is less, but on the grand scale of things … not that much less. When I look across America’s corporate landscape we look pretty good.

And then there is the larger body of the church. The special offering taken at the Pastors’ Conference during the annual Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville, the $100,000 gift from Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, the reports of additional offerings — large and small — from churches of all sizes across the convention, and the prayers and concerns expressed by so many speak well of our health as part of the body of Christ.

I am humbled by the care and concern of many and their willingness to dig deep rather than turn their backs when the well is shallow. I give thanks for who we are as this people called Southern Baptists and what the Lord has given me the great privilege of being a part of.

There is much to celebrate.

If there are concerns, it is for the long view. It is wonderful that we are willing to give to send folks to the field now. But the December Lottie Moon offering comes again soon. The question is: Will we continue to sustain them so they will be there next year, the year after that … 10 years from now?

Each dollar we receive will be used to further the cause of Christ in other lands. But these funds must be from the deeper dig and not at the expense of other Kingdom enterprises.

State and associational mission offerings and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions cannot be sacrificed or we are merely shuffling resources from one hand to another. While we at IMB are focused on the uttermost ends of the earth, we can’t ignore our Jerusalem, our Judea and Samaria. All parts of the body must be cared for.

Thank you, Southern Baptists, for being a people committed to the cause of Christ both here and around the world.

It truly is a time for humility and thanks.
David Steverson is IMB treasurer and vice president for finance. Before coming to Richmond, Va., he and his wife, Judy, served as missionaries for six years in Southeast Asia where he was business manager and treasurer.

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  • David Steverson