COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP)–Trustees of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board adopted a $279.9 million budget for 2002 during a Nov. 12-14 meeting in Columbia, S.C. that saw the appointment of 118 new career missionaries — the largest group of long-term Southern Baptist workers ever appointed in a single service.
The trustees also heard exciting and challenging reports from overseas missions leaders, received word of a key leader’s decision to retire and were notified of a regional leader’s transfer to assume responsibilities left vacant by recent retirements.
The 2002 basic budget of $262.9 million represented a $9.7 million [3.89 percent] increase over 2001 and focuses 84.8 percent of its resources on overseas work. The budget depends on Southern Baptists meeting the $120 million goal for the 2001 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
The “2002 Fiscal Resources Strategy Plan” reflects the board’s best efforts to allocate resources to the strategies they feel God wants them to pursue, said IMB Executive Vice President John White.
“Our IMB vision — to lead Southern Baptists to be on mission with God to bring all the peoples of the world to saving faith in Jesus Christ — has been our guide,” White said. “This fiscal resources strategy plan sets the direction for where we’re going and what we hope God is going to accomplish through the allocation of these resources.”
The plans represents “our best effort to fund those items that will help us most effectively fulfill our ministry objectives,” he said.
The 2002 budget also incorporates a new “Lottie Moon Challenge” budget category, a $17-million item that brings the total 2002 budget to $279.9 million.
The new category was added because God is creating opportunities beyond the resources missionaries have available, White said. It is intended to challenge Southern Baptists to give in extraordinary ways to help missionaries take advantage of the unprecedented opportunities they are finding all over the world.
“The needs of our lost world are great,” he said. “We need to say to Southern Baptists that, above and beyond this budget, we have needs that are not being funded” by current levels of giving.
“As God opens windows of opportunity, needs arise,” he said. “We need to say to Southern Baptists, ‘Look what God is doing’ and show them the opportunities we have to go beyond what we think we can do to what only God can do.”
The highlight of the trustee meeting was the appointment of the largest group of Southern Baptist missionaries ever commissioned in a single service. Trustees voted to appoint a total of 124 new workers — including six missionary apprentices — during a Nov. 13 ceremony at First Baptist Church in Columbia.
An overflow crowd packed the 3,400-seat sanctuary for the event, which was held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. The service brought the total number of long-term Southern Baptist missionaries worldwide to 5,128.
The International Mission Board has seen an amazing increase in the number of Southern Baptists serving in short-term overseas assignments, but career missionaries remain the foundation of the board’s work, said IMB President Jerry Rankin.
“Seventy-five percent of our total missionary force is career missionaries,” Rankin said. “We are the only major missions agency that has not experienced a recent decline in long-term missionaries.”
On the contrary, the agency is appointing more long-term missionaries each year than ever before, Rankin said. The board expects to approve 392 long-term missionaries in 2001, only the fourth time in its 156-year history that more than 300 have been appointed in a single year and 54 more than next largest number, 338 in 1998.
Sam James, the board’s vice president for leadership development, told trustees he planned to retire in March.
“These 40 years have been far more rewarding than my mind could ever imagine,” James said. “It has been an exciting, challenging and rewarding life.
“But the time has come to accept the inevitability of retirement from service. It is now time to capture a new vision from the Lord to which I can give my age, experience and love for world missions.
“May God continue to bless the work of this board and protect you from trivialities that would distract you from focusing all your energies on the Lord Jesus and to see the lost peoples of this world through His eyes.”
A North Carolina native, James and his wife, Rachel, had served Southern Baptists since their 1962 appointment as missionaries to South Vietnam. 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 was elected to his current position in 1994.
Trustees also learned that Ron Wilson, the board’s regional leader for the Caribbean Basin, is leaving that position to join the board’s Overseas Leadership Team, assuming some of the responsibilities previously covered by Sam James and Bill Bullington, the board’s vice president for overseas services who recently was elected regional leader for West Africa.
Wilson, and his wife, Janice, have served as Southern Baptist missionaries in the Caribbean Basin since 1976. She worked in church and home outreach and he served in Christian education and publications prior to 1991, when he was elected to direct Southern Baptist work in the region.
God is at work in powerful ways in southern Asia, said one missionary, who recently completed a trip to study a people group that has seen the number of believers and churches explode over the past decade.
A decade ago, only 28 churches existed among an unreached people group of 30 million souls, he said, and those churches had not started any new congregations in 25 years.
After a strategy coordinator was appointed in 1989, however, God began to move and the number of churches has grown to about 2,000. Christians in that people group are reported to number 60,000.
God also is amazing workers in another part of Asia, said a regional leader.
In the past year, Southern Baptist missionaries and their co-workers in that region saw the number of baptisms jump 70 percent and the number of new churches almost triple.
Two people groups that have been completely untouched by the gospel now have believers and churches, he said. Another people group has seen 40,000 people come to Christ and more than 1,700 churches organized this year.
Yet while 32 new missionaries were appointed to the region this year, 75 strategy coordinators are needed to find ways to take the gospel to more completely unreached areas, he said. Only one of those positions has been filled.
“God has shown us He is ready to work in amazing ways,” he said. “What we need are committed, resourceful Southern Baptists who are willing to go to the edge for the gospel.”
Some of the testimonies were poignant, however.
One regional leader told of visiting a country in northern Africa where about 100 people have begun following Jesus in a country that has been entirely Muslim.
One of the new Christians asked him how many Christians there were in the United States. The man’s jaw dropped when the missionary told him there probably were 55 million or more.
After a moment of stunned silence, the man asked why, if there are so many Christians in the United States, none of them has ever come to his village to tell people about Jesus.
The missionary’s reply: “I don’t know. I’ll ask.”
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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