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Johnson’s years as IMB treasurer were ‘opportunity of a lifetime’

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–He’s been described as a denominational statesman and the mechanic who kept the International Mission Board running.

“My family would get a big charge out of that last one,” Carl Johnson said. “I’m not mechanically inclined.”

After 21 years of serving as the International Mission Board’s vice president of finance and treasurer, Johnson retired at year’s end to spend time with his family. He decided to wait for a clear message to signal him it was time to retire, and he said the sign came two months later.

“An administrative decision was announced that was so drastic that it sent a clear message to me that it was time to retire, that I was no longer moving in sync with the senior leadership of the board,” Johnson said during his retirement celebration. He added with deadpan humor, “[That decision] was that casual dress was being extended five days per week.”

During Johnson’s tenure, the board’s budget increased from $79 million in 1979 to more than $250 million this year. He accelerated the International Mission Board’s involvement with stock market investments and is credited with strengthening pension plans for missionaries.

Don Kammerdiener, the board’s executive vice president, recounted that when he came to work for the board 20 years ago he received a letter promising him $74 each month after retirement.

“No one today will receive that kind of letter,” Kammerdiener said. “It was [Johnson’s] personal concern to strengthen pension plans of missionaries. All of our missionaries have had the opportunity to benefit from the growth of the American economy.”

Johnson’s most valuable experience, however, may not stem from his professional handling of International Mission Board finances but from his involvement with Baptist life in Richmond, Va.

As deacon chairman and president of First Baptist Church’s endowment, Johnson has an understanding about community churches, Kammerdiener said. Johnson also has served as moderator of the Richmond Baptist Association and president of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.

Although Johnson often jokes about being the “token layman” on the IMB’s leadership staff, other board leaders say his concern for missionaries is unsurpassed.

“Those of us who have served on the mission field … before coming to the board do not exceed [him] in commitment and passion to our global missions task,” said Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board.

The number of missionaries and countries supported by International Mission Board funds has drastically increased through the years as Johnson invested money donated by Southern Baptists through wills and trust funds.

“The Lord has extended his reach through the board through the increase of missionaries and increase in countries,” Johnson said. “In the 21 years that I’ve been here, the board has not had to turn down a single missionary for appointment because of a lack of financial resources. Southern Baptists should get the appreciation and thanks for that.”

Johnson said most of his memories about working at the board will be of donors with whom he has had the privilege to interact.

For instance, a man sent a check for $100,000 to the board with no notes about how to use the money, so a board representative called him.

“His reply was, ‘I certainly don’t want you to spend it on long distance telephone calls,'” Johnson recounted.

This story was later shared with a group at Glorieta, a LifeWay conference center in New Mexico. Two weeks later Johnson received a letter from a lady who had been there.

“She said, ‘I really appreciate the story about the man who gave $100,000. I don’t have $100,000, but I do have $20. Enclosed is my $20. You can spend it on anything you want, even long distance telephone calls,'” Johnson recalled. “That’s today’s version of the widow’s mite.”

Johnson also remembers a grandmother who sent in $100 to memorialize the death of her granddaughter. The check arrived in the fall, when mail at the board tends to be heavy. Part-time employees were brought in to help open the mail, deposit the checks and send back receipts.

“We did not do a good enough job to train the part-time workers to be sensitive about any letters included with the checks,” Johnson said. “The grandmother was very careful to tell us why she was sending her check, but all we ended up sending the grandmother was a very cold, very impersonal, computer-generated receipt.”

The grandmother’s story made its way back to Johnson, who wrote her to apologize and explain the situation.

“The grandmother wrote me back and said how pleased she was that Southern Baptists were being so generous to the board that we had to hire some part-time people,” Johnson said.

She included another $100 with her letter.

Johnson said working for Southern Baptists and the International Mission Board was “the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“It’s been an extraordinary opportunity,” he said. “I will miss it a great deal, and I hope to continue to be involved with the board on a volunteer basis.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: RETIRING.

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  • Brittany Jarvis