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IMB OKs $23 million expansion of Missionary Learning Center

AUBURN, Ala. (BP)–International Mission Board trustees have approved an immediate $23 million expansion of its crowded Missionary Learning Center in Rockville, Va., to handle the rapidly escalating numbers of Southern Baptists coming forward for overseas missions service.

Approval for the expansion came during the trustees’ regularly scheduled meeting Jan. 10-12 at Auburn University Hotel and Conference Center in Auburn, Ala. It followed a seventh straight year of record missionary appointments to Southern Baptists’ overseas work.

Board officials said the need to quickly expand the overwhelmed training facility is so great they would immediately take the funds from the agency’s capital reserves. The unusually large expenditure is possible, they said, because stock market surges have multiplied undesignated funds bequeathed to the board.

IMB leaders hope individual Southern Baptists will step up and donate funds to replace the money being used for the emergency expansion, but the agency does not plan to launch a major fund-raising campaign at this time.

In addition to the $23 million for the MLC, trustees also voted to take another $5 million over the next three years from that “God-provided stock market dividend” and spend it on strategic field projects overseas. Board officials said linking the MLC expansion with the strategic field projects overseas symbolizes the dual approach in the use of missions funds.

The MLC expansion comes as the agency’s books showed a whopping 902 new missionaries were approved in 1999. It was the seventh straight year for record appointments and puts the board in sight of its Bold Mission Thrust goal of 5,000 missionaries by September 2000.

After the Jan. 10 appointment service, the board’s missionary total stood at 4,834, a record. The board counts all personnel appointed for two years or more as missionaries.

If current trends continue, IMB leaders say the IMB could reach 10,000 missionaries much faster than they ever expected.

“If the personnel growth trend of the last two years continues, we would have more than 17,000 missionaries by 2005,” IMB President Jerry Rankin told trustees. “If we flattened the trend to the last 10 years, included the plateaued, non-growth years of the early 1990s, we would still have more than 8,000 missionaries within five years.”

In addition to the growth in new missionaries, trustees heard glowing statistical reports showing a surge overseas in the numbers of baptisms, churches, members and preaching points recorded by Southern Baptist missionaries and their national co-workers.

The total number of churches overseas climbed from 47,224 in 1998 to 52,186 in 1999, an increase of 10.5 percent. New churches climbed from a previous record 4,251 to a new record of 4,748, an 11.7 percent increase. Likewise, membership increased from a record 4,489,172 in 1998 to 4,917,088, a healthy 9.5 percent increase.

Baptisms also set a new record of 363,703, or nearly 1,000 each day in 1999. Baptisms were up 4.3 percent over last year’s already strong mark of 348,635 and posted the highest number in IMB history.

Preaching points, a key indicator of future growth, climbed to a record 38,363, up 21.5 percent from last year’s record 31,567.

Year-end figures also show that more than 25,000 Southern Baptists served overseas in volunteer mission projects lasting anywhere from a few days to several months.

All the growth is one more indication that God is stirring Southern Baptists and the nations for a remarkable spiritual surge overseas, Rankin said.

“The only obstacle that can keep us from seizing the opportunity and finishing the task is regressive thinking that locks us into the past rather than responding to a God-given vision of the future,” he said. “It is a timid spirit and lack of boldness [that would keep us from taking] appropriate risks and trust God for the resources only he can provide. It is a lack of faith that would resort to conventional wisdom and fail to believe God for what we cannot see and follow where he would lead.

“And finally, it is a neglect of prayer, only through which we can discern the heart and mind of God and respond in obedience.”

In other actions announced during the board meeting:

— David Button, vice president for public relations and development, resigned to pursue business opportunities in Texas. He joined the IMB staff five years ago after serving as an SBC Executive Committee member. He has owned radio stations in New York, Texas and Hawaii.

— Wendy Norvelle, associate vice president for public relations, was named acting vice president for the office of public relations and development. The trustees’ OPRD committee will serve as the search committee to work with Rankin to select a new vice president.

— Trustees authorized a pilot project to create Great Commission Resource Centers in selected churches around the country to provide initial contacts and applications for people interested in missionary service, interview and nurture candidates, enlist and train volunteers, promote prayer strategies, distribute and promote IMB materials and resources and match congregations with unreached people groups.

— Trustees approved a new statement on “Solicitation of Fiscal Resources” that reinforces existing SBC and IMB policies forbidding individual missionaries from making “direct or even subtle solicitation of funds” from Southern Baptist churches. The statement says the board and its missionaries “promote the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Period!”

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  • Louis Moore