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IMB seeks improved relations with Southern Baptist Hispanics

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Between celebrating 70 retiring missionaries’ 1,882 years of combined service and appointing 76 new ones, International Mission Board trustees began grappling with how to involve more Hispanic Southern Baptists as missionaries and staff and how to improve relations with the Hispanic community in general.
The trustees — meeting May 24-26 in Richmond, Va. — also began initial discussions about the serious impact of the growing number of new missionaries on the board’s Rockville, Va., Missionary Learning Center.
The board also heard reports about a church-planting movement under way in Ukraine, once the breadbasket for the now-defunct Soviet Union, and about a plan to change the term “furlough” to “stateside assignment.”
The board’s committee on public relations and development met with key Hispanic leaders from Texas, Florida, California and New Mexico and proposed an ongoing dialogue to significantly upgrade the board’s relations with Southern Baptist Hispanics.
“Apparently we’ve had a gap in communications (with Hispanics), committee member Patrick T. Stewart of Illinois reported to the full board meeting. “We are excited about this contact and about the possibilities that lie ahead in our relationship with this group of Southern Baptists.”
During the committee meeting, it was noted that only 43 Hispanic Southern Baptists serve overseas while nearly 10 percent of Southern Baptist churches could be classified as predominantly Hispanic. If 10 percent of the IMB’s 4,500 missionaries were Hispanic, the number of Hispanic missionaries would be about 450.
“We see a huge opportunity that could have a huge impact,” Stewart said.
One of the Hispanic Baptist leaders who attended the trustee meeting agreed.
“I see a potential that could be phenomenal in mobilizing Hispanics who are called to be involved in missions,” said Gus Suarez, director of the missions ministries division of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. “Because of our background, most Hispanics have the potential of fitting into different cultures faster. I see a tremendous potential in reaching the world for Christ.
“I left the board meeting feeling that if the trustees were able to do something right away about recruiting Hispanics, they would do it,” he added. “It was a very good step in the right direction.”
The board recently appointed Jason Carlisle, who was reared in Uruguay by missionary parents and who served in Uruguay as a missionary, as the board’s liaison to the Hispanic Baptist community in the United States.
Trustees began addressing the issue of increased demand on the board’s Missionary Learning Center facilities in Rockville by appropriating $300,000 for schematic drawings of additional facilities planned for the facility.
A dramatic upsurge in new missionary appointments in recent years, particularly in 1998, has severely stressed the facility, MLC directors said. At one point in 1998, the large number of candidates, combined with a drought in Virginia, forced water rationing, including showers only every other day and severe restrictions on laundry.
Trustee chairman Bill Sutton said the total cost of an expansion could exceed $23 million, but told trustees the process of studying the matter had only begun and any dollar figure at this point is premature.
Board leaders say the large appointment service May 25 for 76 new career and associate missionaries emphasizes the growth trend. The 76 new missionaries more than replaced the 70 who received emeritus status May 23.
“If we continue to appoint in one of six career appointment services each year the approximate number of missionaries retiring for the entire year, we will see continuing radical growth in our missionary force,” IMB President Jerry Rankin said in his regularly scheduled report to the board.
An average of 100 new churches have been planted in the Ukraine each year for the past eight years, reported John Floyd, retiring regional leader for eastern and central Europe.
“In 1993, church membership totaled 106,500. In 1998, the total had climbed to 120,350,” he said. “There is a 12-to-1 baptism ratio in Ukraine. Yet the total numbers of baptisms, church membership, etc., were greatly affected by loss due to death and emigration.”
Floyd pointed out that during Soviet rule, Baptists in the Ukraine were forced to turn inward and concentrate on sustaining their own families. After the fall of communism, the IMB worked with Ukrainian Baptists to restore their evangelistic zeal, he said.
A report on changing the use of the term “furlough” to “stateside assignment” noted that having international missionaries in the United States “is an opportunity not only to report to Southern Baptists but also to mobilize them by enlisting prayer and ministry supporters, personnel and volunteers and by encouraging giving.
“The missionary is the most effective mobilizer,” the report said.
The report defines “stateside assignment” as “a designated length of absence from a specific overseas assignment.”
During the meeting, trustees re-elected Bill Sutton, pastor of First Baptist Church in McAllen, Texas, as chairman. They also re-elected Alan Day of Edmond, Okla., as first vice chairman, elected Steve McKown of Surprise, Ariz., as second vice chairman and re-elected Nancy Callahan of Warrensburg, Mo., as recording secretary.
In other action, trustees revised the board’s Mobilization Assistance Program to provide one-half the cost of an overseas volunteer mission trip, up to $1,000, for seminary students and ministers to college students. The fund also assists senior pastors, IMB trustees and directors of missions make their first overseas trip.

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  • Louis Moore