CARY, N.C. (BP) — The Executive Committee of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina approved a recommendation Jan. 26 to set up a $500,000 reserve fund to employ International Mission Board retirees returning to North Carolina.

Executive Director-Treasurer Milton Hollifield Jr. said, “This reserve will provide additional funding for strategic efforts to impact lostness through disciple-making … as we seek to capitalize on the expertise of IMB missionaries who are returning to the United States.”

Meanwhile, the Baptist State Convention (BSC) forwarded approximately $400,000 more to Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries for 2015 than it did in 2014, bringing the Cooperative Program dollars they forwarded in 2015 to $10.7 million, according to a report during the BSC’s Board of Directors meeting. When missions giving through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and hunger funds are added to the SBC share, it pushes the total amount forwarded to the SBC to $1.6 million more than the previous year. The 2016 BSC budget includes another $1.07 million increase for SBC missions and ministry through CP, which could mark a record high for the state convention.

“I am deeply encouraged to hear of this serious turnaround in North Carolina’s CP giving,” said Frank S. Page, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee. “I appreciate the stable, strong leadership of Milton Hollifield in leading my home state! God bless the churches of North Carolina who are catching a new vision of reaching the nations for Christ.”

‘Generous gift’

During the BSC’s Board of Directors meeting, the BSC’s executive committee reported they had approved a new strategy to help retiring IMB missionaries who are transitioning to the state.

IMB leaders announced in August 2015 a plan to reduce personnel expenses in an effort to balance the entity’s budget. The mission board had been liquidating global properties to make up for its substantial budget shortfalls in recent years. The IMB’s organizational “reset” included a voluntary retirement incentive for personnel that met certain tenure and age requirements. The deadline for employees to decide whether or not to accept the incentive was Dec. 11, 2015.

Missionaries who accepted the voluntary retirement incentive and are relocating to North Carolina will be considered for positions as contract workers for the BSC if they desire to continue in vocational ministry among international people groups. Potential jobs will focus on strategic efforts facilitated by the five BSC ministry teams: church planting, strategic focus, Great Commission partnerships, church revitalization and disciple-making.

IMB president David Platt said of the BSC’s plan, “This generous gift from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina will go a long way toward meaningfully redeploying retired IMB missionaries as they transition to a new season of ministry in which they are engaging lostness throughout North Carolina.”

“I praise God for the generosity of North Carolina Baptists and for their support of the IMB during these days,” he said. “I am confident that God will use these designated funds to fuel disciple making and church planting throughout North Carolina to the glory of His name for years to come.”

Hollifield noted, “I can tell you with all honesty that it gives me great, great, great joy. I give thanks to God that North Carolina Baptists rallied behind our mission board and rallied behind these returning missionaries at a most critical time.”

The money will be transferred out of undesignated reserves to a new reserve account managed by the executive director-treasurer. Requests for contract workers will come from BSC’s executive leaders.

The BSC has been reducing staff in recent years in order to increase Cooperative Program support for international missions, Hollifield said. Any new workers from the IMB pool of missionaries will become contract employees paid from the new reserve fund. However, if there are staff vacancies available, “We are very willing and eager to consider some of these returning missionaries [for current vacancies],” he noted.

There are many international “unengaged and unreached people groups” in North Carolina, Hollifield said. IMB missionaries have the skills and experience to reach internationals in the state with the Gospel, creating the potential for some to return to their global homelands as followers of Jesus Christ.

“Some of these missionaries know the language,” Hollifield said. “They know the culture; they know how to reach these people and will be a great benefit to us…. We need their help in reaching the 154 nations of the world that are represented right here in North Carolina.”

If they have skill sets that can help the BSC in these particular areas, Hollifield said, they will be considered for contract ministry jobs.

According to Caleb Bridges*, BSC people group engagement catalyst, the U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2014 that 755,741 people or 7.6 percent of the state’s total population is foreign born. In Durham, Mecklenburg, Orange, Wake and Duplin counties those estimates increase dramatically, up to 13.9 percent. The report said 1,083,892 North Carolinians speak a language other than English in the home.

North Carolina has been one of the fastest-growing states through in-migration in recent years. In-migration is a term researchers use to indicate an immigrant moved from another state after moving from their home country. From 2000 to 2013 the immigrant population grew 69.1 percent. “That is astronomical growth,” Bridges said. The trend is expected to increase in the next 10 years. A majority of the immigrants are not refugees but instead have moved for better vocational opportunities.

Two other Baptist state conventions recently reserved additional funds in response to IMB’s financial woes. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention set aside $1 million to facilitate returning missionaries as church planters or church revitalizers for the convention’s Reach Houston initiative.

The South Carolina Baptist Convention pledged to send a $1 million year-end gift directly to IMB in December 2015.

In an Oct. 7 meeting, the North American Mission Board trustees approved a $4 million budget reduction so those funds can assist IMB missionaries.

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary recently announced it plans to waive tuition and fees for the first two years of any doctoral degree or the first 12 hours of a master of theology degree for returning IMB missionaries who opted for the voluntary retirement incentive.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary offered 10 housing units rent free to returning IMB missionaries, and they took up a special offering at their annual Global Missions Week last November.

Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tenn., offered 30 housing units to returning missionaries for free for one year.

*Name changed.