JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (BP)–Family fun nights at Mark and Rejeanna Jones’ home in Jacksonville, N.C., used to include occasional evenings of “let’s pretend we are missionaries” with their four children.
Though their children, all under the age of 10, didn’t know it at the time, the Joneses were seeking missionary appointment with the International Mission Board. Through the special night, the couple wanted to see how their children felt about missions, without getting their hopes up.
“We’d draw pictures and play games,” Mark said. “They were extremely excited.”
Despite the family’s passion for missions, the Joneses have been unable to make their pretend missionary night into a reality.
This past summer, they were crushed when they received a letter sent by the International Mission Board to them and more than 50 other International Service Corps and Journeyman candidates saying there was not enough money in the budget to send them to the field.
In recent years, missions giving by Southern Baptist churches has not kept pace with the record numbers of church members coming forward for missionary service. This past year, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering fell $10 million short of its $125 million goal.
Jones said the news took a “big wind out of our sail.” He remembers the needs he saw as a volunteer missionary in Middle America.
“There is such a hunger there and so many villages that have never heard the Gospel,” he said. “I feel a real calling toward [Hispanic people].”
The Joneses are more fortunate than others. Some missionary hopefuls have been trapped in a financial limbo because of the delay, Lloyd Atkinson, vice president of mission personnel at the IMB, reported.
“There was a pastor who was appointed in September but because of budget his orientation had to be delayed until January,” Atkinson said. “His church didn’t understand that, and they were unwilling to keep him on. And so here he is, living with in-laws, living without a job.”
Another applicant used his supervisor at work as a reference while going through the application process. During that time, plans were put into motion for him to leave a position he had held since 1991.
“When the delay came, [his supervisor] refused to change that schedule,” Atkinson said. “So again, caught. There are many stories like that.”
On the other end, there are many stories of missionaries on the field who badly need more workers to join them in sharing the Gospel.
Despite the slowdown in sending missionaries to the field, Randy Rains, associate vice president of mission personnel at the IMB, encourages Southern Baptists to continue applying.
“We are still sending missionaries overseas,” Rains said. “Just because there are people who can’t go at this time doesn’t mean God doesn’t want them to apply and begin the application process.”
IMB President Jerry Rankin has challenged Southern Baptist churches to give with the same spirit of sacrifice shown by candidates like the Joneses in their willingness to lay aside their lives and follow God’s leading overseas.
Rankin has called for Southern Baptists to give $150 million to the 2003 Lottie Moon offering — $17 million more than the national goal for the 2003 offering. Encouraging churches and families to increase their gifts by 33 percent, he said such a gift is more appropriate to the size of the overseas challenge and the opportunities God has given Southern Baptists.
Such a gift also is more in line with their ability to give, Rankin said.
Last year, Southern Baptist churches reported receiving a total of $9.4 billion for all causes. Less than 2.5 percent was channeled to world missions through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon offering.
“God has given us the privilege of living in an age when He is at work like never before,” Rankin said. “Southern Baptists have opportunities to share the Gospel in places we would never have dreamed we would be able to go. People groups we thought were resistant to the Gospel are actually clamoring for us to come tell them about God’s love. He has given us the methods and the technology to take the Gospel to literally everyone in the world.
“One-fourth of the world’s people have practically no hope of hearing the Gospel unless we take radical action,” he added. “It is imperative that those of us who hold the ropes here at home be as completely committed to God in our praying and giving as these new missionaries are in their willingness to go.”
For their part, Mark and Rejeanna Jones hope Southern Baptists will help them move beyond the “pretend” stage and obey God’s call to overseas service.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: MARK AND REJEANNA JONES.
— Opportunities for service: http://going.imb.org.
— Called to give: http://www.imb.org/Giving/default.asp.
— Praying with passion: http://www.imb.org/CompassionNet.
The International Mission Board (http://www.imb.org) is a Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program (http://www.cpmissions.net) and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (http://ime.imb.org).