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Platt: IMB to handle added VRI, HRO costs

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — The International Mission Board is “fairly confident” it will be able to handle additional costs incurred by a larger than anticipated reduction of its workforce in the organization’s “reset” to balance its budget, according to IMB President David Platt.

The 2016 budget already had a $23 million deficit, based on an anticipated 600-800 personnel taking the Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) and Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO). But 1132 missionaries and stateside staff opted to take the incentives, Platt announced Feb. 24.

“Our 2016 budget as approved by trustees in November 2015 was projecting an approximate $23 million deficit for 2016, but that deficit is explained … almost completely by the one-time VRI costs that will be covered by reserve funds,” he said in a Feb. 24 press conference.

IMB had not yet determined the additional amount of money needed to cover the costs of the 983 missionaries and 149 stateside staff choosing to take the incentives, Platt said, but emphasized the entity can likely sustain the higher one-time expenditures.

“When it comes down to it, we’re hopeful,” he said, “fairly confident that in the end, our budget projections are going to be fine, in light of all the variables at play.”

Specifically, 702 missionaries and 109 stateside staff took VRIs, and 281 missionaries and 40 stateside staff took HROs in the plan to create a balanced budget for the organization that had operated with a $210 million deficit over the past six years by utilizing reserves and selling property. The VRI was offered to eligible retirement-age personnel and the HRO was available to everyone in the IMB.

With the plan, IMB will have a balanced budget in 2017, Platt has said.

IMB has monitored VRIs to make sure no missionaries are left vulnerable by the reduction in force, Platt said, and will make adjustments and relocations where needed.

“We want to make sure that people are serving, and as much as possible, they’re not serving in isolation or in ways that are unhealthy for them personally or for the work,” he said. “Even in the coming months, there will be a sense in which we’re getting our feet under us on some of those levels, giving the most time and attention to the most critical areas, and then, kind of triaging from there.”

Platt has long said that God may be reshaping global missions to incorporate a variety of avenues to spread the Gospel internationally.

“Maybe God has designed the globalization of today’s marketplace for the spread of the Glory among the nations,” he reiterated in the press conference. “And there are limitless opportunities for people to work overseas, study overseas and retire overseas. … As we’ve trusted the Lord to speak and to lead, this is where God has we trust led.”

The work is larger than IMB, he said.

“With 2.8 billion people who’ve never heard the Gospel, a God who desires their salvation so much that He sent His son to pay the price for their sins, truly this God is not calling just 500 or 1,000 more people to go, but tens of thousands of more people to go,” Platt said. “The last thing I wanted to do when I stepped into this role, was see hundreds less people on the field. I want to see thousands more people on the field. And I believe we can, if we work together.”

IMB will spread the Gospel by continuing to support the approximate 3,800 international missionaries who remain in the field, while surrounding them “with students, professionals and retirees who are leveraging their studies, vocations and relocations for the spread of the Gospel,” Platt said.

Communications office

Although the IMB placed on the table the options of VRIs and HROs, nearly all of the departures were ultimately voluntary, Platt has emphasized.

The exception is the closing of the IMB communications center in Richmond, resulting in the layoff of 30 stateside staff members, and the transition of 10 additional staff to other positions.

In an earlier meeting with Baptist state news editors, Platt explained his reasons for closing the communications office, which will operate through April 29. See related story.

“It became clear that a global network approach with a digital mindset aimed at limitless growth inevitably meant a diminished need for media production in a centralized home office. Not that we won’t still do media production at different levels — and we will still do things that are not 100 percent focused digitally — but shifting leadership and production of media to field-based mobilization teams made up of about 50 missionaries around the world who are dedicated to that, that would eliminate the need for approximately 40 communications positions in Richmond.”

The move frees more money to mobilize missionaries, said Platt, who hailed the communications staff as “some of the kindest servants and leaders in the Richmond office” who have been “nothing but incredible to work alongside.”

The IMB handled the closing of the communications office in a way to respect staff privacy, Platt told editors, and is working to help the employees make a smooth transition to the next phase of their lives.

“We’ve been working nonstop on implementation of this mobilization team structure while simultaneously working with our staff in human resources on potential open job positions, for personnel in the communications positions that were eliminated,” Platt noted to editors. “And I am fully convinced that it would have been dishonorable, irresponsible and unprofessional to communicate even hints of various changes externally prior to properly finalizing and communicating those changes internally with personnel who are directly affected by them.”