RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Trustees of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board approved a crucial strategy change for work in Central and Southern Asia and rejoiced at testimonies of the movement of God’s Spirit around the world during a May 21-23 meeting in Richmond, Va.
They also appointed 53 new missionaries, recognized 72 retiring missionaries; received a report on factors affecting the length of missionary service; elected officers; and encouraged Southern Baptist leaders and students who have yet to participate in their first overseas missions project.
Central and Southern Asia’s 16 countries are home to 1.4 billion people — nearly one-third of the world’s population, noted Avery Willis, IMB senior vice president of overseas operations. Only a fraction of those people have any access to the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Vast differences in culture and in the way Christianity is developing in the area convinced board strategists that missions efforts would be much more effective if they were organized in two regions: Central Asia and South Asia.
In addition, the number of Southern Baptist workers focusing on people groups in the region has grown from 200 to more than 550 in the past four years, he said.
“God is moving in unprecedented ways in Central and South Asia. We are just trying to adjust our plans to his,” Willis said. “These two parts of the world were put together in 1997 in the reorganization because we had only about 200 missionaries in both of them. Now in just four years we have more than 550.
“This change allows us to make two regions so that each can focus on the opportunities God is giving us. Obviously, a region with 1.4 billion people needs to have a concerted effort to be sure every person hears, understands and is given an opportunity to respond to the gospel and that every people group has a church planting movement.”
The current leader of the combined region will direct the South Asia work, and a search process has begun for a Central Asia leader.
Trustees appointed 53 new missionaries in a May 22 service at Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond. The IMB also recognized 72 retiring missionaries in a May 20 service at Richmond’s Derbyshire Baptist Church. Wanda Lee, executive director of Woman’s Missionary Union SBC, thanked the emeritus missionaries for their servanthood in fulfilling the call God had placed on their lives.
“We’re glad that you have served so faithfully,” she said. “But there is an invitation: Come along and help us now. Your work here at home is just beginning. We want you to work alongside us and help us continue to prepare the next generation” for missions.”
The week’s activities also included a three-day gathering of members of the board’s Global Priority Church Network. Church missions leaders convened for updates on the most recent developments in IMB work around the world and briefings on how to mobilize Southern Baptists to reach a lost world.
As of May 21, 777 congregations have joined the Global Priority Church network, which encourages churches to develop God’s heart for the nations and step up global outreach ministries. The board helps GPC churches tap into available missions resources and maximize their potential for God’s kingdom.
Southern Baptist missionaries with previous experience overseas fare much better than workers without such experience, Avery Willis told the trustees.
“The 2000 attrition rate for long-term personnel with previous experience was 1 percent,” said Willis, senior vice president for overseas operations. “This is in sharp contrast with the 6.6 percent attrition rate for long-term personnel with no such experience.”
Last year, Southern Baptist workers with previous overseas experience in the International Service Corps or Journeyman programs comprised 31.7 percent of the total force. However, they accounted for only 6.5 percent of the long-term attrition.
The overall attrition rate for IMB workers in 2000 was 5.1 percent of the total missionary force of almost 5,000 people. While lower than the 1999 rate of 5.3 percent, the number still is slightly higher than the average rate of 4.4 percent since 1990. The IMB attrition rate is substantially lower than those of other evangelical missionary agencies.
Attrition rates varied widely according to the category of service, Willis noted. The rates ranged from a high of 7 percent among Journeymen to a low of 1.4 percent among apprentices. The reason most frequently cited for resignations was to accept a job back in the United States (24 percent).
Trustees elected Bob Claytor of Fair Play, S.C., to serve as chairman, succeeding Tim McCoy, pastor of Ingleside Baptist Church in Macon, Ga., who resigned from the board to devote more time to his church and family. Claytor, who teaches missions and theology at Toccoa Falls College, is a member of Northside Baptist Church in Anderson, S.C. He also founded the Carpenters for Christ missions organization
Also elected were Stephen Davis of Russellville, Ark., first vice chairman; Lee Malloy of Paducah, Ky., second vice chairman; and Paulette Blankinship of Williamsburg, Va., recording secretary.
The trustees’ mobilization committee encouraged Southern Baptist leaders and students who have yet to participate in their first overseas missions project. The committee voted to continue the Mobilization Assistance Program for another two years.
In July 1998, trustees appropriated $3 million to help pastors, directors of missions, seminary students and ministers of college students participate for the first time in a volunteer missions project. In their March meeting, trustees added seminary professors to the list of Southern Baptists eligible for the funds.
Eighty-six percent of the Southern Baptists assisted by the plan say they would be willing to join future overseas missions projects and 62 percent are open to future missionary service, said Pam Blume, chairman of the mobilization committee and a trustee from Boone, N.C. Almost 80 percent said they are stronger prayer advocates and missions supporters because of their experience.
Testimonies of the movement of God’s Spirit around the world always are among the agenda items for IMB trustee meetings. At this meeting, Bill Fudge, who leads Southern Baptist work in East Asia, relayed amazing reports of people responding to the good news of God’s love.
In one locale, receptiveness to the gospel has been so great that the number of Christians has grown from just 200 to an estimated 4 million in eight years, Fudge said. Another area has seen 500,000 people profess Christ in the past 12 months.
As the IMB has helped translate information on unreached East Asian people groups, East Asian believers are answering God’s call to take the gospel to them, Fudge added. The board provided cross-cultural missions training for 145 national Christians who have since taken up missionary assignments.
But as national believers take up the missionary task, they often meet persecution, he noted. Some have been jailed and deported from their place of service, while others have been severely beaten and heavily fined for making disciples.
Southern Baptist workers focusing on the region estimated they would see 2,800 churches started in 2001, Fudge said, but some are finding God’s plans exceeded theirs.
One couple, who had been in their assignment only two months and were the only members of their team, thought their estimate of 200 congregations for the year was challenging. They recently reported, however, that God had worked in such a remarkable way that they saw the 200th congregation launched by Easter.
Though God is moving in powerful ways, the need for workers is overwhelming, Fudge said.
“We need 20 people this year to come serve as strategy coordinators and we would like to see 70 come in three years,” he said. “With your approval today of one worker’s transfer, we have one person who has responded.”
Southern Baptists are accountable to God for their response to a lost world, IMB President Jerry Rankin told the trustees.
“When we reach 5,000 missionaries, Southern Baptists will have one missionary unit for every 4 million people,” he said. “How many of the 16 million Southern Baptists would God call in order to reach the nations? Has not God blessed us in numbers and finances in order to play a significant role in fulfilling his mission?
“A lost world is waiting. The opportunities and response are unprecedented. Southern Baptists have been blessed with unlimited potential. Our accountability will be to the Lord for how we handle this responsibility.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: MISSIONS PARTNERS. Information on becoming a Global Priority Church can be found at http://www.imb.org/GlobalVision/GPC/FormGPC.htm.