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IMB trustees focus on West Africa; ratify Tom Elliff as senior VP

PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP)–Against the backdrop of relief efforts from Hurricane Katrina, trustees of the International Mission Board met Sept. 13-14 in Pensacola, Fla., to learn how missionaries seek to reach West Africa’s unreached people groups, appoint 86 new missionaries and ratify the selection of Tom Elliff as senior vice president for spiritual nurture and church relations.

The board of trustees assigned an additional $5,886,222 for special needs overseas from Lottie Moon Christmas Offering receipts given above the $128 million budgeted for 2005. Trustees allocated $2,636,222 for additional missionary expense, $2 million for work in 11 regions overseas, $750,000 for training and $500,000 to fund work in West Africa.

Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa and finance committee chairman, told trustees in the opening devotion that Hurricane Katrina “has been called our tsunami with devastation like we have never seen. But it’s just another way of God communicating something to us. Do we handle it in faith or fear, in panic or peace?”

He said storms are situational, relational and emotional. He also said storms are inevitable and called them “irrational”-they make no sense.

“Storms are also impartial,” Whitten said. “Believers can’t say, ‘Because I’m a believer, I won’t go through storms.’ We’re going to go through storms.”

Whitten reminded trustees of three things to remember when going through a storm. First, God is close. Second, you can rest in His care. Finally, God’s in control.

“In storms, sometimes God doesn’t lift the burden, He lifts you,” Whitten said. “What’s over our head is still under His feet. These storms we are going through, God is letting us see it internationally (the tsunami) and nationally (Hurricane Katrina). You can rejoice that God is a God who is in control.”


In his report, IMB President Jerry Rankin told trustees he traveled three weeks in West Africa during August and visited more than half the missionaries in the region. Rankin said he has had an increasing burden for West Africa as the region perennially tops other regions in missionary resignations and rounds out the bottom of missionary appointments.

The region contains about 1,400 people groups in 22 countries. Almost 40 percent of the people claim to be Christians, but they are primarily limited to a few major people groups. However, Baptist partners in the region represent a significant potential for engaging the lost. A formidable challenge is that 75 percent of the unreached people groups have a population of 15,000 or less.

The IMB West Africa region concentrates missionaries on 55 people groups that missions strategists say are the key to reaching others. Five missionary units assigned to the “engagement team” are designing a strategy to reach the rest of the unengaged people groups with no expectation IMB personnel will be assigned to them. One of the keys to reaching West Africa is mobilizing Southern Baptist churches to be part of the task.


A capacity crowd filled the sanctuary of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Pensacola to witness the appointment of 86 new missionaries. Rankin told the appointees they had one thing in common: “A passion to be obedient to God’s call to reach a lost world for Jesus Christ.”

Rankin said when lost and searching people see that kind of passion — and the power that goes with it — in the lives of missionaries, unbelievers will reach out to the Jesus they see demonstrated in the missionaries.

“It’s not your strategies, it’s not your gifting,” he told them. “It’s the power of God’s Spirit in your life.”

IMB trustee Chairman Tom Hatley said the numbers of missionaries must increase if Southern Baptists are to reach their goal of reaching the world with the gospel. However, he said, “to have significant increases this year and next while a large number of our churches are focused on stateside needs (from Hurricane Katrina) is neither practical nor realistic.

Hatley said natural disasters, such as last December’s tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, open doors of opportunity to spread the gospel.

“This time (with Katrina) we have the supporting role; with the tsunami, we had a leading role,” Hatley said. “Our role (in Katrina) is to encourage, pray for and work with those churches and Southern Baptists who are struggling to get their feet back under them.

“We do this because a need must be met, because of the witness it carries, and because the best way to minister to those in the general population 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.

“As the people in these devastated areas rebuild their homes, our churches in south Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama will help them rebuild their lives.

“But we serve a Master who specializes in such miracles. Therefore, we will press on with an aggressive posture trusting Jesus to show Himself mighty to save. After all, He specializes in using storms. They are a contrast to His calm and secure presence.”


In other action, trustees unanimously ratified the selection of Tom Elliff, long-time pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla. He will continue in the pastorate of the Oklahoma church until Oct. 23, and begin his new role as IMB senior vice president for spiritual nurture and church relations on Nov. 1.

Elliff, 61, served two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1996-1998; president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference, 1990; and chairman of the Southern Baptist Council on Family Life. The Elliffs were appointed as missionaries to Zimbabwe in 1981, but their missionary career was cut short by an automobile accident resulting in severe injuries to their daughter.

In his new role, Elliff will teach and nurture missionary families and encourage their spiritual growth; teach ecclesiology and Baptist doctrine to new missionaries in training; and promote missions involvement among Southern Baptist pastors and churches.

In addition, he will help train and equip overseas Baptist leaders, advise in IMB mobilization efforts and mentor the board’s administrative leadership team.

“I appreciate your overwhelming affirmation of this recommendation in a poll vote last month and your cooperation in handling this sensitively and confidentially to enable Tom to share this decision with his church in an appropriate way,” Rankin told the trustees.

“Because the role will entail travel throughout the country and overseas, Tom and Jeannie will maintain their home base in Oklahoma City but spend adequate time in Richmond to fulfill responsibilities here. They have a vision for continuing other areas of ministry in which God is leading them, such as writing and Kingdom Family Conferences. However, because of their position, they will be seen as representing the IMB in all their ministries and activities.”

Elliff told the board that he and his wife “are excited about this. We cannot imagine doing anything more important with our lives between now and when God calls us home than investing our lives in the very people who are our heroes, and investing ourselves in the lives of people who are themselves giving their lives for other people.

“We do know this is right. We’re excited about it. Pray for us as God brings to pass the vision that we have in our hearts…. Pray for us as we begin to flesh out the vision He’s given us, which really is to help implement the vision that’s in the heart of Dr. Rankin and this board, and we’re so grateful to be joining ranks with you folks.”

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  • Michael Chute