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IMB trustees approve $1 million for relief in Central America

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (BP)–International Mission Board trustees, meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Nov. 16-18, approved spending $1 million from the board’s operating reserves for special hurricane relief efforts in Central America.
Trustees also adopted the largest budget in IMB history, tabled until January a convention-requested discussion on the board’s policy on not appointing divorced people as missionaries, appointed 90 new missionaries — the largest such group ever — and heard a challenge from Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson to baptize 500,000 people overseas in 2000.
The IMB normally taps relief funds for responses to hurricane damage, but unprecedented disasters in Bangladesh, the Caribbean and Central America have nearly depleted those resources. Relief funds for disasters are separate from world hunger funds, which are used for hunger-related relief only.
Months of flooding in Bangladesh inundated three-quarters of the country, killed more than 1,500 people, left millions homeless and badly damaged the economy. Hurricane Georges killed 437 people in the Dominican Republic and Haiti in September. The October disaster in Central America killed at least 11,000 people, forced about 3 million from their homes and devastated agriculture and business in the region.
As of Nov. 12, the board’s disaster relief fund was down to $21,773.54 — woefully inadequate to the challenges ahead.
Trustees viewed an IMB-produced video focusing on the devastation in Honduras, which was particularly hard-hit by the disaster. On the video, IMB missionaries say the hurricane’s damage has created unprecedented needs but also unprecedented opportunity to share the gospel with the unsaved in the region.
The video was shown Nov. 17 at an appointment service for 90 new Southern Baptist missionaries — the largest ever appointed in a single service. The service was held in conjunction with the Florida Baptist Convention.
Trustees tabled until their January meeting a motion to reaffirm the board policy of not appointing divorced people as career or associate missionaries. Those wanting the delay said they needed more time to pray and study the matter before engaging in formal debate.
The tabled recommendation said, “In response to the request from the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in June 1998, that the IMB restudy its policy regarding the appointment of divorced persons, the Personnel Committee recommends that the board reaffirm its current policy of allowing divorced persons to serve only through its ISC program.” ISC provides short-term service opportunities usually ranging from four months to two years.
Trustees also approved the largest annual IMB budget ever. The 1999 budget of $229,961,000 includes a $19.2 million increase over 1998. IMB Vice President for Finance Carl Johnson said the increase is possible because Cooperative Program funds, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and board investments are also rising.
Trustees responded to the challenge from trustee chairman Bill Sutton of McAllen, Texas, to lead their churches in contributing to international missions by making a significant, sacrificial and personal gift to the Lottie Moon offering. With only a few of the 60 reports still out, Sutton said the total was more than $90,000.
The 1999 IMB budget increase includes $2 million to expand the board’s computer operations worldwide, capitalizing on the belief that the Internet and associated computer systems can be used to speed evangelism and the work of the international agency.
At previous meetings, the IMB changed its Richmond-oriented computer department into a global information services office and signaled plans to massively expand that aspect of its work. The board has hired Jerry Burkett, a career military officer with extensive experience in global information systems, to oversee the expansion. The effort is in the early stages and faces the challenges and complexities associated with going worldwide.
Also included in the new budget are salary increases for both missionaries and staff as well as proposed staff and missionary expansions.
Also during the trustee meeting, SBC President Paige Patterson challenged the IMB to set a goal of 500,000 baptisms outside the United States between October 1999 and September 2000. Patterson earlier also has challenged Southern Baptists to set a goal of 500,000 baptisms inside the United States during that time frame.
Patterson said IMB President Jerry Rankin had agreed to accept the challenge.
The goal of 1 million baptisms both inside the United States and around the world would establish a benchmark for the SBC in years to come, Patterson said.
Patterson also cautioned trustees about the growing interest in the year 2000. He reminded them the Bible says no one knows the time of Jesus’ second coming and those who are fixated on the change of the calendar are on shaky ground. He said the calendar may be off as much as five years.
“Jesus was probably born five years Before Christ [B.C.],” he said, citing historical problems with the calendar the world currently uses.
Patterson, an IMB trustee by virtue of his role as SBC president, challenged the IMB’s public relations and communications staffs to do everything possible to motivate SBC pastors to “call out the called.”
He also urged the entire SBC to capitalize on the transfer of wealth from America’s older generation to baby boomers and Generation X-ers.
“In the next 20 years, more dollars will change hands because of this transfer of wealth from one generation to the next, and we will either capitalize on that or have to stand before God someday and explain why we didn’t,” Patterson said.
He jokingly said it would take 300 years before the judgment seat of Christ for Southern Baptists to explain their failure to act now.
Patterson said the money could be used to go a long way toward winning the whole world to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
“I believe God has brought about this moment in history for us to capitalize on this for the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said.
His comments coincided with a trustee committee report showing the board’s development office is stepping up estate-planning efforts.
Near the close of the meeting, trustee chairman Sutton used his regularly scheduled chairman’s report to challenge trustees to take seriously their assignment as “servant-representatives” and work diligently to guide the board’s direction.
“We have a responsibility to our convention,” Sutton said. “We are their ‘servant-representatives.’ You are not here because this is your perk. You are here because your Southern Baptist colleagues believe you have the spiritual and practical gifts to lead the IMB to continue to be a mission board that intends to take the biblical gospel to the world — now.
“Though our methods may change, our mandate from God and our convention is still evangelism that results in churches,” he said. “I’m talking about New Testament Baptist churches. As a trustee, always view what we are doing or planning to do. Have that as your objective. Never allow the ‘honor of being a trustee’ to keep you from the focus of our responsibility.”
In other action, trustees:
— revised the board’s guidelines for terminating missionaries and staff, giving trustees more involvement in the process.
— adopted a new IMB Mission Service Corps program “to augment stateside IMB manpower resources by recruiting qualified, self-supporting volunteers” to work in Richmond, Va., the board’s headquarters city.
— appropriated from operating reserves $200,000 to fund the IMB’s share of promotion for the 75th anniversary of the Cooperative Program. Other agencies also are contributing to that fund.

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  • Louis Moore