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IMB missions history now an ‘electronic reality’

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Helen Falls wanted to be a missionary, but World War II prevented her service. On the same day she received a letter from the International Mission Board declining her application, she also got a letter from the Baptist State Convention of Maryland, which read, “‘In the event the overseas missions door closes to you, would you consider working the home field?'”
She’s been working the “home field” ever since.
Her latest venture? Using a tape recorder, and sometimes a magnifying glass, she read aloud 2,671 legal-size pages of the official minutes of the International Mission Board. From the gavel’s first fall at the 1845 meeting, which established the Southern Baptist Convention and the International Mission Board, to the board’s last trustee meeting of 1913, Falls worked almost 2,000 hours making tapes of the hand- written minutes for transcription.
Board minutes have been typed since 1914. IMB personnel have entered those minutes into the database.
The hard-working retiree worked four to five hours, one day a week for more than eight years on the project.
“That’s about as much time per day you can give a chore like this,” she said. “Sometimes the handwriting looked like chickens had been walking around in mud.”
Falls worked on the project because of her appreciation for missions history. But as a former seminary professor she also saw the importance of the minutes as an educational tool. Falls retired from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 1982 after 37 years of service as professor of missions and dean of women.
The entire project was completed Feb. 6, said IMB archivist Edie Jeter. The minutes are now available on the Internet for a trial period, she added.
“This is a phenomenal resource for Southern Baptist missions professors and students almost beyond compare,” said Keith Eitel, missions professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.
“Now that the board’s minutes are an electronic reality, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them utilized by missiologists not only in the SBC but around the world.”
Eitel already has a doctoral seminar under way in which students “will capture the living memories of the movers and shakers that have made Southern Baptist missions history since World War II,” he said. “Students can just dial in, key word search and come up with significant baseline data to develop their projects.”
That will make Falls happy, because it points to another reason she was involved in the project.
“So much of my background is missions. And I wanted to do something that will help others have an appreciation of Southern Baptist international missions,” she said. “It’s truly been a rewarding experience, and I believe I’ve made a lasting contribution to my own history and heritage.”
People interested in the electronic minutes of the International Mission Board may access the information at http://basisweb.imb.org:8080.

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  • Norman Miller