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IMB leaders urge Southern Baptists to ‘stay focused on the mission’

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Southern Baptists sent 1,155 new missionaries overseas during 2001, a “phenomenal 28 percent increase” over the previous high — 902 new workers — two years ago, Jerry Rankin told International Mission Board trustees during a Jan. 21-23 meeting in Birmingham, Ala.

Those new workers brought the total number of long-term missionaries on the field to more than 5,100, Rankin said. That number included 361 career and associate missionaries, the most ever appointed in one year.

Rankin also offered encouraging news in reporting on the total of volunteers working in missions.

Though many short-term volunteers canceled their overseas projects after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the total number of volunteers for 2001 still exceeded the 31,000 that served in overseas missions projects in 2000, Rankin said.

The 33,700 IMB volunteers serving overseas during 2001 almost doubled the 17,423 recorded four years ago, said Bill Cashion, the IMB’s human needs consultant. Youth and collegiate volunteers made up 22 percent of the total number.

Volunteers who did not let Sept. 11 deter them from overseas service were motivated by their passion for a lost world, said Avery Willis, the board’s senior vice president of overseas operations.

“This is not the time to not go. This is the time to advance,” Willis said. “By the grace of God, we need Southern Baptists to step up to the plate and say, ‘We’re going to take the cross right to the heart of the lostness of this world.”

The challenge for the IMB in 2002 is to stay focused, Rankin told the trustees.

“It’s not a matter of constantly creating a new vision or strategic thrust and keeping people off balance by constant change,” Rankin said. “We must recognize that God is the author of our vision to lead Southern Baptists to be on mission with God to bring all the people of the world to a saving faith with Jesus Christ.

“As we are constantly confronted with day-to-day issues, it is easy to be diverted and lose perspective on what is driving us,” he said. “There is a tendency to be manipulated by denominational politics, public opinion or the latest fad in missions strategy.

“But we must never forget that what it is all about is the lostness of the world and a passion for God’s glory among the nations,” Rankin said.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Southern Baptists have “a unique opportunity to impact the disillusioned Muslim world and break down that last stronghold of resistance to global evangelism,” Rankin said.

The turmoil following the attacks has created “a new and renewed interest on the part of Muslims in knowing what [Christians] are all about,” Willis said. “We feel like this is the time not only in Central Asia but all over the Muslim world.”

In response, the board will be launching an ambitious multi-year project called “Beyond the Wall,” designed to give every Muslim the opportunity to know “the truth of Jesus Christ in a culturally relevant manner,” said Clyde Meador, associate vice president in overseas operations.

Among other things, Beyond the Wall will intensify and coordinate existing efforts among Muslims and create new audio and video resources built around chronological Bible storying material, Meador said. The hope is that overcoming Muslim misconceptions about Christian faith will help spark church-planting movements among people groups in the Muslim world.

A highlight of the meeting was the appointment of 63 new overseas workers during a Jan. 22 service at Shades Mountain Baptist Church. Nearly 3,000 people defied cold, rainy weather to pay tribute to the appointees.

Reading from Colossians 1, Rankin challenged the new missionaries to catch the apostle Paul’s passion for missions.

“Paul’s passion was to present every man complete in Christ, because he knew Jesus was the only hope people had of being reconciled to God,” Rankin said. He warned them that they will be overwhelmed by the masses of people they see in congested cities.

“It will be easy to succumb to the temptation to say, ‘We’ll witness to as many as possible and hope some of them will be saved,'” he said. “I pray that you will go with the passion that all of them will know Jesus Christ.”

In other business during the three-day meeting:

— Milton Steck, chairman of the finance committee, announced the receipt of gifts to the IMB from three estates totaling $610,812.64. Steck also said the IMB received a gift of stock to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering totaling approximately $1.8 million.

— Sam James, the IMB’s vice president for leadership development since 1994, and his wife, Rachel, were honored for 40 years of missionary service. The Jameses were appointed as missionaries to South Vietnam in 1962. She served as a nurse and church and home outreach worker and he was an evangelist, church planter, pastor and seminary leader until the communist takeover in 1975. Since then, he has developed and directed the board’s missionary training program and served as a regional director for East Asia and vice president for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. He will retire in March.

— Trustees heard a report that renovations of the board’s Richmond, Va., headquarters and expansion of its Missionary Learning Center in Rockville, Va., are all but completed. The renovation and expansion projects were designed to help the agency cope with the rapidly growing numbers of Southern Baptists coming forward for overseas missions service.

— Trustees approved a recommendation to streamline the appointment process for missionary apprentices by formally appointing them at the beginning of their terms and then changing their status to career or associate after the successful completion of their apprenticeships.

— Trustees responded to a request from a messenger to the 2001 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting to review the agency’s policy on appointing divorced people as career missionaries. Trustees voted to affirm their existing policy of declining to appoint career missionaries who are divorced, noting that channels of missionary service already exist for people with divorce in their backgrounds.
Greg Heyman is a staff writer for the Alabama Baptist. Mark Kelly also contributed to this report. The International Mission Board (www.imb.org) is a Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program (www.cpmissions.net) and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (www.imb.org/ime/LMCO).

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  • Greg Heyman