RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Trustees of the International Mission Board unanimously elected a vice president for mobilization, learned projects aiding victims of the 2004 South Asia tsunami will be completed within 12 months and heard appeals from leaders for Southern Baptists to ramp up efforts to spread the Gospel around the world.
The IMB also honored 54 retiring Southern Baptist missionaries July 16 in its annual emeritus recognition service as part of the trustee meeting, held July 16-19, at the Missionary Learning Center in Rockville, Va.
In board action, trustees unanimously approved the selection of Ken Winter as vice president of the Office of Mobilization. In his new role, Winter will provide vision and leadership to the IMB in communicating with and mobilizing Southern Baptists and partners to be strategically involved in overseas missions. Wendy Norvelle, mobilization’s associate vice president, served as interim vice president during the 18-month period since Larry Cox resigned in January 2005 to become director of WinShape International in Rome, Ga.
A 38-year resident of West Palm Beach, Fla., Winter had an extensive business background, serving as a chief financial and management officer, before God called him to become associate pastor of administration at First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach and later as associate pastor for global missions at that church. He served First Baptist for nearly 12 years, 1992-2003, before resigning following a missions trip to Cuba. Although he told trustees he wasn’t clear where God was leading him at that time, he knew the Lord had another place of service for him, and he left the church to seek the Lord’s will.
In early 2004, he joined the IMB staff as director and lead strategist for work among strategically mobilized Southern Baptist churches. In that assignment, he worked directly with churches to help them find their role in overseas missions. In November 2005, he was tapped to work with IMB president Jerry Rankin as his executive assistant.
Rankin told the trustees he didn’t want to give up such a capable assistant, but he quickly noted Winter’s leadership experience and relationship skills made him the right person to lead the IMB’s mobilization efforts.
“We’ve looked both internally [to fill the vice president slot], and … we’ve looked at external candidates. Ken brings the benefits of both,” Rankin said. “He has years of experience in building relationships. He knows people all over the Southern Baptist Convention and they know him. His credibility and influence is amazing, and he has a remarkable pilgrimage with God.
“He knows churches, their perspective and how to relate to them,” Rankin added. “Yet, he’s been with us long enough to know our organization and to win the support of our staff and build relationships with them. The response to [the possibility of his selection] has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Winter’s wife, LaVonne, serves as director of women’s ministry at Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, where the Winters are members. They have two children: Justin, 19 years old, and Lorél, 17. Winter has written two books: “Lessons Learned in the Wilderness — The Journey Begins” and “Lessons Learned in the Wilderness — The Wandering Years.”
The Southern Baptist international director of world hunger and relief ministries told trustees that of the $16.8 million Southern Baptists have given to relief efforts in southern Asia following the December 2004 tsunami, more than $12 million has been used in relief projects in that region. He said the remainder of those funds would be expended over the next 12 months.
“These funds have provided field personnel an opportunity to do a lot of things they would not have been able to do otherwise,” the director said of Southern Baptists’ giving. “In a year and a half’s time there’s been a lot of physical progress. People have gotten a hold of their lives. Rebuilding has taken place throughout the area.
“But the thing I noticed most was the spiritual changes in the lives of people. Because of the ministry of those from the West — most of them faith-based organizations — those persons affected by the tsunami now have a new perspective on who Westerners are, who Christians are,” he added. “Christian workers in the region say they are not getting any pressure from the religious establishment.”
The hunger and relief director told trustees a remarkable story about a group of 20 businessmen in the affected area who gave him an envelope containing $850 — about a week’s pay — because they wanted to do something to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina that hit the U.S. Gulf Coast last August.
“They had seen the news [of the hurricane] and the compassionate caring — the unconditional love — of all these Westerners, primarily Christians, coming in to provide relief for their people,” he said. “They wanted to do something to help” those devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
“God is doing some special things in the lives of people throughout the tsunami stricken area and it’s manifested in this one act. That’s what [ministry is] all about. The greatest joy comes when God surprises you,” he said.
The IMB held its annual emeritus recognition service July 16, honoring 54 retiring Southern Baptist missionaries — many of whom spent 30 years or more on the mission field — for their commitment to spreading the Gospel. Together, their combined experience totals 1,476 years of service.
“This is a very elite group,” Rankin told the audience, pointing out many others with the same call and passion for missions would like to have served until retirement but were unable to do so. “We may make the presumption that you made it all the way to retirement because you had it easier than they did — no, that would be a misperception.
“I suspect you’re here because you learned a long time ago that the key to victory is praising the Lord and thanking Him. Yes, you’ve experienced hardship and adversity,” he added. “You’ve gone through those times of fruitless ministry and doubt about your calling and God’s faithfulness. But you kept laying on the altar a sacrifice of praise to God, thanking Him for the privilege of being there, serving Him and touching a lost world.”
Many of the missionaries spoke about those hardships — including persecution — but told stories of God’s protection during those difficult times of ministry.
SOUTHERN BAPTISTS CHALLENGED
Both Rankin and Gordon Fort, IMB vice president of overseas operations, challenged Southern Baptists to remain focused on efforts to reach a lost world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Rankin said he always asks new missionaries if they believe the good news of the Gospel is able to penetrate hearts that have been hardened over generations.
“I keep asking that question until I hear a resounding ‘yes’ because we have no business sending [missionaries] out if they don’t believe the power of God and the Gospel of Christ can penetrate that darkness,” Rankin said. “We must stay focused on the task.”
Rankin said he remains focused on the IMB strategy of reaching unreached people groups with the Gospel, to send missionaries God has called out and to mobilize churches to get the Gospel to all peoples of the world.
“God is going to hold us accountable for failing to reap the harvest in places where the doors are open and hearts are soft. The Gospel is good news but only if you’ve heard it and received it,” he said. “May we be devoted to the task and not allow anything to distract us from what God has called us to do.”
Fort told trustees it is “amazing” to work with people in the field who have such a passion for a lost world and such a desire to see those who have never had an opportunity to hear the Gospel come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
He said he witnessed at the Southern Baptist Convention, held in Greensboro, N.C., in June “a fresh spark that was ignited, refocusing our convention on the historic reason for why we exist — the sake of preaching the Gospel to every nation, every tribe, every language — and we get to be a part of that.”
Fort said the only question facing Southern Baptists today regarding international missions is: Will they step up to do all they can do?
“It’s not a matter of ‘maybe’ or ‘Can we?’ or ‘Is it possible?’” he said. “It’s only a question of whether we’re willing to step up and do what we can do. God has given us the resources — the people, the organizational structure.”
Fort highlighted unprecedented opportunity before Southern Baptists today to be a part of God’s work around the world.
“We’re seeing advances on every front,” he said. “In my lifetime, I fully expect that the trustee meeting will come when we’ll gather and we’ll say, ‘As far as we know, we have a witness among every language, every tribe, every people, every nation.’ And I pray it comes sooner than later.”
Board chairman John Floyd announced in the plenary session July 18 that he would “take no part in discussions, express no opinions, make no requests and relinquish the chair” during board action on policies that may impact financial benefits he and his wife may receive from the IMB. The Floyds served as missionaries in the Philippines, and later he directed the board’s work in Europe.
Floyd said the benefits he and his wife currently receive from the IMB in their “emeritus” missionary status include a $10,000 life insurance policy and a $127 monthly cash allowance each to help cover health insurance costs not covered by Medicare.
He said the IMB’s legal counsel confirmed that receipt of those benefits does not disqualify a former missionary, who receives benefits on the basis of prior service, from serving as a trustee under SBC Bylaw 15(f). Some press reports raised that conflict-of-interest issue after Floyd was elected chairman during the May meeting in Albuquerque, N.M.
In a report from the Mission Personnel Committee, chairman Paul Chitwood reported an ad hoc committee charged with revisiting the new policy on private prayer language and baptism guidelines had been divided into two subcommittees to deal with each of the measures approved by trustees last November.
Chitwood said the two subcommittees will come together after their studies and will formulate a report for the personnel committee. He said IMB staff from the Office of Missions Personnel, as well as Rankin, will be involved in the process to provide input to both subcommittees.
“We’re also asking for input from seminary professors, seminary presidents and other leading theologians throughout the convention,” Chitwood said. “We’re putting together a very objective and deliberate study and we will be updating [trustees] as we move through that process.”
The next IMB trustee meeting will be Sept. 11-13 in Spartanburg, S.C., with a missionary appointment service at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 13, at First Baptist Church in North Spartanburg.