NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An “extremely promising” outlook for the 2003 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering convinced trustees of the International Mission Board to send an additional 200 workers overseas this year.
During their April 26-28 meeting in Nashville, Tenn., board members also elected a new vice president for overseas operations, voted to consolidate eight of the board’s regions of work into four and appointed 76 new long-term missionaries for overseas service.
David Steverson, IMB vice president for finance, told the board that prospects for the 2003 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions look “extremely promising.”
With still more than a month to go before the books close, the offering stands at almost $127 million — about $19 million ahead of the previous year’s pace. Steverson said he believes the final total May 31 would exceed the base goal of $133 million.
Toward that end, the trustees adopted a recommendation from their finance committee to add $13 million to the 2004 budget, including an additional $5 million to send 200 long- and short-term missionaries who would not otherwise have been sent because of appointment restrictions imposed in 2003. Another $4 million in additional funds was allocated for capital expenditures such as missionary housing and vehicles.
The remaining $4 million was added to missionary support, a move made necessary because missionary attrition has been lower than expected this past year. It appears, Steverson said, that missionaries who were planning to retire, resign or complete terms decided to stay when they heard last year that new missionaries were being held up for lack of finances.
The trustees responded to the news with an enthusiastic round of applause and shouts of “Hallelujah!”
The IMB was forced to limit appointments and cut stateside staff in June 2003 because income from churches was not keeping pace with strong growth in the number of new missionaries coming forward for overseas service. Rankin had promised to loosen restrictions on appointments if Southern Baptists rose to the funding challenge.
Receipts for the offering appear to be running more than 18 percent ahead of the same period last year.
IMB trustees appointed 76 new long-term overseas workers in an April 27 service at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville. Rankin told new missionaries and the audience that “the world was not worthy” of the four IMB workers killed in Iraq almost six weeks earlier.
“That expression comes from Hebrews 11:38, toward the conclusion of that familiar chapter on the roll call of faith,” Rankin said. Like the heroes of faith, the world was not worthy of Larry and Jean Elliott, David McDonnall and Karen Watson because their lives were focused on something beyond this life, something of eternal significance, Rankin said.
“Those of whom the world is not worthy are those who put the risks and dangers of following Christ into eternal perspective,” Rankin said.
He challenged the new missionaries to imitate Abraham, who followed God even though he didn’t know where he was going, to be like Moses, who rejected the comforts and riches of Egypt to identify with his people, and to emulate the heroes of faith who refused to shun suffering and death because they valued God’s higher purpose even more than their own well-being.
GORDON FORT ELECTED
The trustees also elected R. Gordon Fort, regional leader for IMB work in the southern Africa region, to fill the position of vice president for overseas operations from which Avery Willis retired in February.
Fort’s name was brought to the full board as the unanimous recommendation of an eight-member search committee that worked for six months to select a candidate, said Jay Owens of Roanoke, Va., chairman of the board’s overseas committee. After two interviews with Fort, the committee was “thoroughly and completely satisfied” and agreed with President Rankin in nominating Fort for the position.
“God brings certain gifts into these positions for certain times,” Rankin said. “The task of selecting someone for this position really challenged us. Where do we go in the future? What is the need?
“We needed someone who would keep us focused and keep us on pace, someone who clearly reflected a heart for lostness, for completing our task of reaching all peoples,” Rankin said. “If we are going to continue to be used of God in moving forward, we needed someone who could nurture our missionaries, who has reflected a pattern of mentoring, of training our leadership spiritually, and of nurturing our families.
After a unanimous vote, Fort pledged to do his best to communicate with the board members as they exercised their “tremendous responsibility” as trustees. He expressed gratitude for the board’s other regional leaders, saying his seven years of working with them has been “the best season” of his life.
“There are many very qualified people who can do this job. There have been days that my wife, Leigh Ann, and I have wondered why God was calling us to this task,” Fort said. “We ask you to pray for us, that we would keep a balance in our lives and our relationship with God in perspective, for our relationship with our family, and for the days ahead as we wrap up 20 years of ministry on the field and come back to live and work in the United States.”
The board’s regional leaders, senior staff and trustee committee chairman surrounded the Forts while Owens voiced a prayer of dedication for the task before them.
During their April 27 plenary session, the trustees also adopted several recommendations intended to streamline and sharpen the focus of the IMB’s overseas structure:
— Electing Tom Williams, regional leader for the Western Pacific region, as the new regional leader for the Western Europe region. Williams replaces Eddie Cox, who recently resigned to join the board’s stateside staff as director of the International Prayer Strategies office.
— Voting to consolidate the board’s Western Pacific and Southeast Asia and Oceania regions into one Pacific Rim region. They also voted to elect Don Dent, the current leader in Southeast Asia and Oceania, to lead the combined region.
— Voting to consolidate the board’s Eastern Africa and Southern Africa regions into one Eastern and Southern Africa region. They also voted to elect Jon Sapp, the current leader in Eastern Africa, to lead the combined region.
Both consolidation ballots were taken on voice votes with a handful expressing opposition.
Trustee R.G. Wilson of Clinton, Okla., then brought a motion from the floor to consolidate four other regions into two, unifying the Middle America and Caribbean Basin regions, merging the Western South America and Eastern South America regions and transferring Venezuela and Colombia from the Middle America and Caribbean region to the new South America region.
Proposals to consolidate those regions had been discussed the previous day in three regional committees, although none of the committees had been asked to vote on them. The committees reported they had not yet come to a consensus about the proposals.
Trustee Chuck McAlister of Hot Springs, Ark., a member of the Eastern South America committee, voiced opposition to the motion to consolidate.
“We talked about those issues that were specifically relative to our region, and … we have some reservations,” he said. “I would ask that the trustees respect the process that we have established.”
The trustees voted for the additional consolidations on a show of hands by a margin of 43 to 29. Rankin said the question of who would lead the combined regions would be addressed during the board’s May meeting in Atlanta.
PRAYER COMMITTEE APPOINTED
After the vote, board members approved a motion by trustee Gary Crawford of Gainesville, Fla., to appoint a three- to five-person committee to promote “the private and collective practice of prayer among our trustees and staff during and between board meetings.” At the conclusion of the April 28 session, chairman Doug Sager appointed trustees Crawford, Lauren Law of Mount Holly, N.J., Juli Anne Callis of San Jose, Calif., John Adams of Humboldt, Tenn., and Charles Smith of Sturgis, Miss., to serve as that committee.
Reflecting concern about the close votes on the consolidation proposals, John Adams, chairman of the trustee orientation committee, brought a motion during the April 28 session to secure a third-party mediator who could assist trustees in identifying and resolving the differences between them.
The motion sparked a lengthy discussion, during which more than a dozen board members voiced varying perspectives on the subject.
One trustee said he believed there were hard feelings causing division between some board members. Several other trustees, however, said they didn’t believe the disagreements were serious and suggested that a biblical approach would call for individuals to make personal overtures to others to be sure hard feelings do not exist.
Others pointed out that disagreement, debate and even conflict are a normal part of group decision making. It is healthy, one said, to “argue in the spirit of Christ, vote your conscience, then get on board” with the body once a decision has been made.
‘PEOPLE OF INTEGRITY’
After a 40-minute dialogue, chairman Sager asked the orientation committee to withdraw their motion and allow the prayer committee he was appointing to address the concern.
Sager urged board members to hold a high standard for their conduct as trustees.
“We have to be people of integrity. We must not speak ill of our brother outside of his presence. We must not circulate things that are divisive. We must practice biblical integrity in going to individuals, and if we can operate on that basis, I really don’t think we need a mediator,” Sager said. “But if we operate with deceptions and untruths and accusations, we will not be able to accomplish the work of God the way He wants us to.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: READY TO LEAD.