TYLER, Texas (BP)–With a final tally of $136.2 million for the 2003 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, trustees of the International Mission Board approved a plan to expand the IMB budget for specific overseas needs during a July 12-14 meeting in Tyler, Texas.
The board also elected a new leader for work in West Africa, clarified their policy on non-Southern Baptists participating in IMB projects and appointed 58 new missionaries.
David Steverson, the IMB’s vice president for finance, expressed profound gratitude for the millions of Southern Baptists who pooled their gifts and raised the largest-ever international missions offering.
“Let me remind you that the total was $136,204,648.17,” Steverson said. “Some of my colleagues give me a hard time when I attempt to be so precise. However, we believe that the 17 cents is just as important as the $136 million. Scripture teaches us that the widow gave her mites — probably about two cents — and that gift was honored. We appreciate all those who contributed, regardless of the amount.”
The amazing 18.4 percent increase in the Lottie Moon offering shows that more Southern Baptists are understanding the staggering lostness of the world, but they have only begun to tackle the challenge, trustee chairman Tom Hatley of Rogers, Ark., said.
“Last year, we awakened a giant,” Hatley said. “When the need for more finances was personalized to the churches by the number of people who could not be appointed, they responded with generosity.
“The success of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering last year, however, is not a laurel upon which we can rest,” he said. “We still have many hundreds of people in the pipeline, awaiting their turn for appointment. That translates into many points of spiritual darkness which we could illuminate if we had the resources to do so.
“If they will go, we must find a way to send them. In all that we must do, let us do it with urgency. Dark corners of this world have yet to know of our Savior’s love.”
Steverson, in his comments to trustees, added, “We recognized fairly early on that we were going to have a tremendous Lottie Moon offering this year. We want to continue to express appreciation to all those who had a part in this year’s offering. Southern Baptists are to be commended for responding to the challenge.”
Steverson acknowledged the presence of Janet Hoffman, national president of Woman’s Missionary Union, and expressed particular appreciation for WMU’s contribution to promoting the offering in churches across the country.
Finance committee chairman Ken Whitten of Tampa, Fla., brought a proposal to expand the IMB budget by $3.2 million to include:
$1.7 million for overseas operating expenses primarily related to sending additional new missionaries and assisting missionaries adversely affected by the declining value of the dollar in some places.
$1.5 million to bolster efforts to take the Gospel to more than 1.3 billion lost souls in South Asia. Southern Baptists have only one missionary unit in South Asia for every 8 million unsaved people.
‘TOO MANY ZEROES’
Randy Arnett, a Missouri native who has served 17 years in West Africa, was elected to lead 292 IMB workers in that region. He succeeds Bill Bullington, who is retiring Sept. 1 after 38 years of service.
Arnett, 48, and his wife, Kathy, were appointed by the International Mission Board in 1986. He has served as director of research and human needs response coordinator for the region and taught at the Baptist School of Theology in Lome, Togo. Prior to missionary appointment, he was pastor of churches in Turney and Strasburg, Mo.
As research coordinator, Arnett gathered and compiled information on 1,100 people groups in West Africa — half of them with 15,000 or fewer members.
“As I typed in numbers on those people groups, there was one key on my computer that I used far too much,” Arnett said. “It was a key that brought tears to my eyes. It was the zero. ‘Number of Christians – zero. Number of churches – zero.’ After pushing that key a few hundred times, it became painful.”
While West Africa is a region of massive lostness, God is drawing people to himself, Arnett said.
He told the story of a village in a remote part of the Sahara Desert, where a seed project had helped dramatically improve the residents’ quality of life. When Southern Baptist workers returned for a follow-up visit, the local religious leader came to them, expressing a desire to accept Christ — even though he knew it would mean the loss of family, lands, herds, perhaps even his life.
“That day, a zero became a one, and we all played a part in it,” Arnett said. “I assure you that I am going to do my level best to change the zeroes into ones and tens and hundreds and thousands and five thousands. The victory is not won yet. We haven’t prayed enough. We haven’t given enough. We haven’t gone enough.”
Trustees clarified their policy on enlisting non-Southern Baptists to serve in volunteer projects, following concern expressed by their overseas committee in May about an increase in those numbers.
The policy now states that only members of Southern Baptist Convention churches can fill positions on projects that involve church planting, preaching, teaching and similar functions. Exceptions may be made for members of other evangelical churches for projects that include activities such as human needs ministry, prayer and Scripture distribution. Only members of SBC churches may serve as leaders for volunteer teams.
The policy also states that all groups working with IMB missionaries are expected to work within the parameters of the Baptist Faith and Message, just as the missionaries do. The BF&M is Southern Baptists’ statement of core beliefs.
‘CLIMB ON THE ALTAR!’
During a July 12 appointment service at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, 58 new missionaries shared how they came to understand God’s heartbreak over a lost world and made the decision to obey His call to live a missionary life.
“Three years ago, during an early service at church, God opened my eyes to a lost and dying world,” one appointee said. “I committed that morning that I would give my life and future to go and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus wherever He would lead,” the young woman said.
“Twelve years ago, God called me to be a missionary,” another appointee said. “At that time, He said, ‘I died on the cross for you. What have you done for me?’” he recounted.
One young couple said, “Silence is a peaceful soul knowing God has His best in store for us. It is awe of an almighty Lord who would die for our sins and call two ordinary people to serve Him overseas. It is contentment in leaving behind all that is familiar to embrace people we don’t know. It is also the absence of worship from a tribe that has never heard the name of Jesus.”
Gordon Fort, the board’s new vice president for overseas operations, challenged the new workers to commit themselves to “the unending task of obedience” and to experience God’s power by “living crucified lives every day.”
“Do you want God to do something great with your life?” he asked. “Do you want Him to use you for the Kingdom? Then climb on the altar!”
The service brought the number of missionaries serving through the board to 5,346, of whom 3,859 are long-term career and associate workers.
‘I WANT TO BE FOUND’
In his first report to the board as overseas vice president, Gordon Fort said multitudes of lost people are waiting for Southern Baptists who are willing to come tell them how to be found.
“There is a tremendous harvest waiting for us around the world,” Fort said. “There are people who are going to be lost, not because they made a conscious choice to not accept Jesus Christ, but simply because they are waiting for somebody to come to their door and let them know.”
In Malawi, many villages have no street signs or house numbers, Fort said. When mission teams visit, they paste numbered stickers on doorposts to indicate homes in which they had shared a witness.
Several teams recently entered one such village to pick up where previous teams had left off, Fort said.
“One day, one of the teams was going down the road, and a man came running up. He had taken the sticker from his doorpost and put it on his forehead.
“He said, ‘Are you Baptists?’ And they said, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘No one has come back to my house, and I want to be found.’
“There are people around the world today who want to be found,” Fort said. “The one thing I live for, the passion of my heart, is that the lost people of this world may come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.”
Lost hearts can be so hungry for salvation that even a simple piece of literature is enough to lead them to Christ, said Don Dent, leader of IMB work in the Pacific Rim region.
In one country that refuses access to Christian missionaries, a believer recently left his home in the city to visit his family in their village, Dent said. There were no known Christians in the community, so the visitor was shocked when he began to meet believers everywhere he went.
“He asked them, ‘Where did you hear this? Did Christians come?'” Dent said. “And they replied, ‘No, we’ve never met Christians from outside our area.”
Plastic bags that contained Bibles, Christian videos and Gospel literature had found their way into the area, Dent said. “The people told him, ‘We watched those videos and read the book, and we became followers of Jesus who is in that book.'”
Over the course of many months, about 1,800 people had opened their hearts to Christ as God used the Bibles, videos and other literature to reveal Himself to them, Dent said.
The next meeting of IMB trustees will be held Sept. 13-15 in Richmond, Va. New emeritus missionaries will be honored during a Sept. 13 service at New Bridge Baptist Church in Richmond, and a missionary appointment service is scheduled for Sept. 15 at First Baptist Church in Roanoke.