[SLIDESHOW=39278,39279,39280]PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic (BP) — Facing what some called a “God-sized” challenge, a group of IMB missionaries far exceeded their offering goal of $100,000 for international missions.
More than a quarter of a million dollars — $277,217.92 — was collected at a gathering of 240 IMB families serving among American people groups around the world. Of the total, $125,000 came from outside donations while $152,217.92 came from IMB missionaries.
The amount, given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions is unprecedented, said David Steverson, IMB vice president for finance. He described it as the largest offering ever received from a single gathering of IMB missionaries in the organization’s 169-year history.
The gift far exceeded the goal of $100,000 set by Terry Lassiter, strategy leader for IMB’s American peoples affinity group.
Understanding that discretionary income for missionaries is limited, Lassiter said such a lofty goal might generate some doubt. Reaching the $100,000 goal meant each family would need to give an average of $416, nearly 20 percent of one month’s base salary for an IMB career couple.
“That way,” Lassiter said, “if (the goal) was met, people would know God moved.”
Although Lassiter expected skepticism, he became concerned that the goal would not be met when he received little response to the monthly podcast in which he presented the goal.
“I started doubting a bit,” Lassiter admitted.
Some of the missionaries under Lassiter’s leadership did, too. “How can a group of ordinary missionaries collect this much money in a time of budget cuts?” some asked. Others applauded Lassiter’s vision and considered $100,000 to be an attainable goal.
A few weeks before the July meeting, a few missionaries began donating, but amounts were small. Elliott Baze,* IMB director of finance for the Americas, described the giving as “an initial flurry of donations followed by a slow but steady march upward.” Lassiter was getting worried.
Then came the conference — and daily messages about how God accomplished his purposes through ordinary people without much to offer.
“You could feel the energy of the group build on itself,” Baze recalled. “The offering gained momentum as the meeting unfolded.”
That momentum only continued to grow when the group learned that an anonymous donor was willing to match the goal with a $100,000 gift, if it was reached. Another outside donor committed an additional $25,000.
Then, Baze said, the group “blew past the goal,” and excitement grew.
‘We want to reach our people’
To fuel the missionaries’ enthusiasm, John Brady, IMB vice president for global strategy, offered to shave his head if the offering reached $225,000. Steverson followed suit, also offering to shave his head if the offering reached $250,000.
“I figure my hair is worth a quarter of a million dollars,” Steverson said with a grin.
The missionaries said while the head-shaving stunts were fun and increased excitement, the offering was really about getting the Gospel to every language, people, tribe and nation.
At the conference, missionaries had the opportunity to give their money with the same “heartfelt passion” with which they had given their lives for this cause years before, Baze said.
For Marty Childers, who serves in Mexico, an experience three weeks before the gathering cemented his desire to give 20 percent beyond the amount he initially planned to give.
“I had the privilege of being among a people group of about 100,000 people with less than 75 Christ followers,” Childers said. “I met with a group of five of them, and we talked about sharing their faith.”
With tears in his eyes, one of the leaders of the small house group said to Childers, “We want to reach our people, but we don’t know how. Can you teach us?”
As Childers gave his offering, he remembered this conversation, realizing his gifts could help send more teachers and trainers to the more than 3,000 unengaged, unreached people groups around the world. This firsthand awareness prompted him to give more.
Missionaries also saw their opportunity to give as a model of sacrificial giving for another reachable goal: this year’s international missions offering.
“If field workers do not give sacrificially, how can we expect our SBC constituency to do the same?” Tim Kunkel, who serves in Paraguay, said.
IMB’s 2014 goal for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is $175 million.
In 2013, Southern Baptists gave an unprecedented $154 million, breaking the record for the largest total in the offering’s 125-year history. While this was good news for the more than 4,800 IMB missionaries worldwide who depend on the offering to fund their work, an additional $21 million will still be needed to reach this year’s goal.
If the 16 million people purported to make up the Southern Baptist Convention will give just $10.93 each, the $175 million goal can easily be reached, Kunkel said. While American families spend about $750 on Christmas, most Southern Baptist churches base their missions giving goal on an average gift of $10 per person.
“If we can show that missionaries are leading the way in sacrificial giving, might this not spark a change?” Kunkel asked. “This is what we are hoping for.”
In the final tally, IMB missionaries in the Americas gave $152,217.92 and anonymous donors gave $125,000. On average, each IMB family gave more than $630 — nearly 30 percent of one month’s base salary — to the offering. The total amount, $277,219.92, will support five missionaries for a year.
“This tells other pastors, deacons and lay members that we believe in what God has called us to do: It’s about taking the Gospel to the lost,” said Eric Reese, who serves in Brazil. “We put our money to the task to demonstrate that we don’t just talk, we believe!”