RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Large numbers of Southern Baptists continue to offer themselves for missionary service despite the events of Sept. 11, but the number of Southern Baptists involved in volunteer projects has dropped sharply during the past year.
If present trends continue, 30 percent fewer volunteers will serve in overseas projects this year, said Bill Cashion, director of the International Mission Board’s volunteers in missions program. The largest drop will be among high school students.
“Immediately following Sept. 11, we didn’t see a big drop-off in numbers,” Cashion said. “But January through March, things really fell off.”
In the first six months of 2002, 13,180 Southern Baptists worked on International Mission Board volunteer projects — a 25 percent drop compared to the 17,687 volunteers who served during the same six months of 2001.
The key reason for declining numbers seems to be the concern of parents and church leaders for the safety of teenage volunteers, said Bron Holcomb, who leads the board’s youth mobilization team.
Students are still eager to participate in overseas volunteer projects, but “often trips are canceled because of the influence of one or two people in the church who may or may not be involved in the trip,” he said.
Holcomb’s group is seeing as much as a 50 percent decrease in the number of teenagers participating in volunteer trips this year. The IMB had been recruiting volunteers for 24 International World Changers projects; 11 were canceled for lack of participation.
“I think this puts us three years behind — if nothing else happens,” Holcomb said. “It’s the hardest thing to tell a missionary, ‘I’m sorry. We can’t come this year because no one signed up.’
“It’s disappointing to the missionaries and nationals, but it’s not defeating.”
“This doesn’t mean the job is not being done,” he said. “God’s work will be done. We’d love to see numbers increase, but we know God is sovereign and can work through those he chooses to send during these difficult times.”
God still is motivating numerous Southern Baptists to answer his call to career missions.
“The real issue is that it’s a non-issue,” said Jim Riddell, who leads the team that consults with Southern Baptists interested in career missions.
The number of Southern Baptists seeking appointment as career missionaries nearly mirrors the number who were appointed last year, Riddell said. In fact, only one couple has backed out of the appointment process as a result of Sept. 11.
A few couples, who will be appointed this year, have indicated that Sept. 11 helped confirm their calling:
— A couple serving as International Service Corps missionaries in Pakistan’s mountains were temporarily relocated following the Sept. 11 attacks. Since then, they have been appointed as career missionaries and returned to Pakistan.
— A single woman who had served in Pakistan for two years was struggling with the idea of returning to Pakistan as a single career missionary. She told Riddell that Sept. 11 gave her the resolve she needed to return.
The events of Sept. 11 had a minimal effect on young Southern Baptists committing to two years of service, said Glenn Prescott, who works with the International Service Corps and Journeyman programs.
“I think it had an effect on us early in the year, but it’s difficult to know to what extent,” he said.
He compared the effect of Sept. 11 to the Y2K millennium scare.
“When the Y2K scare came, we had a conference scheduled for Jan. 5; only 50 came,” he said. “That was just a little blip on the screen, and then we were back to normal.
“I don’t think Sept. 11 will have any long-term effect on us. Numbers will be back to normal and continue to climb.”
College students have responded to the events of Sept. 11 with a fervency to minister in Muslim nations, said Mike Lopez, who works with collegiate volunteers.
More college students have participated in volunteer trips already this year compared to all of last year, Lopez reported.
“State conventions are saying their numbers are down, but we haven’t seen it,” he said. “If anything, we’ve seen volunteers express more commitment that now is the time. We still have a lot of people asking to go to Muslims.”
Cashion encouraged Southern Baptists to not allow fear to influence their decisions regarding overseas service.
“What we need now is to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and move as he directs,” Cashion said. “We need folks who are willing to say ‘yes’ to requests, who believe God will supply all their needs and will use them for his glory.”
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