NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The $2.5 million in Hurricane Katrina disaster relief funds allocated by International Mission Board trustees during their mid-September meeting in Pensacola, Fla., will go to help the ministries of Southern Baptist entities in devastated regions of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention voted unanimously Sept. 19 to briefly suspend a convention bylaw in order to allow one entity of the convention –- in this case the International Mission Board –- to make a financial contribution to other convention entities.
The IMB gift, appropriated from the mission board’s contingency reserve funds, will aid hurricane relief efforts being mounted by the North American Mission Board and the Baptist state conventions in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. A portion also will go to the heavily damaged New Orleans (La.) Baptist Theological Seminary for recovery and rebuilding.
Following the Executive Committee vote, EC chairman Rob Zinn, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif., acknowledged, “We’ve taken the bylaw and put it on hold for such a time as this. Entities giving to another entity just hasn’t happened.” He said the recommendation to suspend the bylaw came from Executive Committee officers.
IMB President Jerry Rankin said the allocation of contingency funds earmarked for international missions to a domestic crisis was “unique and unprecedented.” But the extent of Katrina’s destruction –- and particularly its impact on hundreds of Southern Baptist churches that have given faithfully to international missions –- called for extraordinary measures, Rankin said.
The convention requires the International Mission Board to hold contingency reserve funds for the safety and security of more than 5,000 missionaries serving in 184 countries. Rankin said that after the Sept. 11 attacks more than 100 missionary families were relocated for several months. In August, he visited 12 families in West Africa that had to be evacuated from Ivory Coast because of political disruption and the danger of violence in that country.
When the mission board had a financial shortfall and had to defer missionaries being appointed in 2003, Southern Baptists responded with an 18 percent increase in giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, giving more than $136 million to the Great Commission task.
Rankin said IMB leadership was impressed after Katrina’s destruction that “we should respond as a board to provide significant resources to meeting the overwhelming needs of this unprecedented tragedy. No one knows better than the International Mission Board and your missionary personnel of the faithfulness of Southern Baptists in responding to special needs.
“We’re all in this together. We all share responsibility for the needs of one another. We all share the responsibility of fulfilling the Great Commission by using every opportunity God gives us to touch a lost world.”
After the tsunami devastated several Asian nations last December, killing a quarter of a million people, Southern Baptists responded with more than $16 million in disaster relief funds the International Mission Board is using for ministry and rebuilding.
“Southern Baptists are committed to missions, and they stepped up,” Rankin said. “Missionaries were relocated and volunteer teams were deployed and today people are coming to faith in Jesus Christ in places where the Gospel had never before been known because of your faithfulness in response.
“Now we have an opportunity to respond. While [Katrina] is not an overseas contingency, it is one that impacts all of us, and we need to stand together as Southern Baptists and as SBC entities, just as they have responded in such a generous way to our needs.”
IMB trustee chairman Tom Hatley, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Rogers, Ark., added that natural disasters at home and abroad continue to open doors for the spread of the Gospel. The mission board took the lead in the tsunami’s aftermath, he said, but with Katrina the board’s job is to support.
“Our current role is to encourage, pray for and work with those churches and Southern Baptist causes struggling to get their feet back under them,” Hatley said. “We do this because a need must be met. We do it because of the witness it carries. We do this also because the best way to minister to those … faced with years of rebuilding is to have strong churches and Baptist ministries there to extend to them a helping hand and a spoken witness.”
Estimates put the number of Southern Baptist churches destroyed or damaged by Katrina at more than 900 in south Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
“As [the people] rebuild their homes, our churches [in the region] will help them rebuild their lives,” Hatley said. “May the $2.5 million we release from our emergency fund be multiplied and melded into the generosity of our churches and Baptist people until every church is stronger than it was before.”
David Steverson, IMB vice president for finance, told trustees he is convinced “Southern Baptists will come through as they always do and support the Lord’s work around the world through the International Mission Board” — even as they give for Katrina relief at home.
“In times of great stress, Southern Baptists respond,” Steverson said. “I’m proud to be part of a group of people that look at the needs of the world, whether it’s in New Orleans, La., in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, in Gulfport, Miss., or in Phuket, Thailand. We have been blessed by Southern Baptists’ generosity over the years and are pleased we can be a partner with our fellow Southern Baptists in their time of need.”